With the understanding that we are in the midst of the fog of war, and many early reports may be wrong, here are my initial thoughts on the events in Paris — all subject to change with additional information.
First, a multi-pronged military-style assault on civilian soft targets is exactly the kind of terrorist attack I’ve long feared. Every western capital is vulnerable to attacks like this, and the combination of open borders and thousands of European and American citizens fighting for ISIS renders all of our cities open to assault. This is likely not the last major urban attack, and we may see another soon.
Second, while it is encouraging to see Kurdish progress in Iraq (with considerable American air support) along with seemingly an increased American commitment to fighting ISIS – complete with a modest number of boots on the ground in Syria – this is all too little, too late. ISIS has been allowed not just to live, but to grow. And now it’s demonstrating massive increase in its destructive reach. Within the space of days, it has apparently brought down a civilian airliner, bombed Beirut, and now reportedly launched a multi-pronged urban assault in a western capital. This is what happens when terrorists are allowed safe havens and given free reign to recruit and spread their influence.
Third, Francois Hollande is pledging to wage “pitiless” war. Good. Now let’s see if France backs up its words with actions. While France is often the butt of jokes about its military prowess, it not only has a centuries-old tradition of military valor, it breeds warriors still. May they be unleashed.
Fourth, if European leaders (and the Obama administration) retain a shred of sanity, they’ll rethink their approach to the migrant crisis and start to close their borders, quickly. There are almost certainly more terrorists who have recently arrived in European capitals, awaiting only weapons, organization, and an opportunity to launch the next attack.
Fifth, look for more firefights in Paris as the French police and military likely launch a crackdown orders of magnitude more potent than the crackdown after the Charlie Hebdo attack. If French intelligence services have been monitoring nascent terror cells, look for them to strike hard and fast to forestall any future attacks. For the time being, the gloves will come off.
Finally, my heart breaks for the victims of tonight’s savage attacks. France is our oldest ally, Paris is among the world’s most beautiful cities, and it is horrifying to think that its streets now run red with the blood of the innocent. May God bless and comfort the families of the fallen, and may God strengthen the hands of France’s warriors. It is time to grant ISIS the apocalypse it longs for.
From the Spectator comes a translation of the statement from ISIS claiming responsibility for the ‘blessed attack’ on Paris, a statement that promises more to come. Its revolting mix of religious and sexual hysteria (the rock concert attacked by the terrorists was apparently “a profligate prostitution party”…attended by “hundreds of apostates”) makes for profoundly depressing reading.
“Youths who divorced the world and went to their enemy seeking to be killed in the cause of Allah, in support of His religion and His Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) and his charges, and to put the nose of His enemies in the ground.”
Nothing to do with Islam, of course.
The Spectator reprints an updated version of an article on that awkward topic by Douglas Murray. It should be read in its entirety, but its conclusion reads as follows:
We have spent 15 years pretending things about Islam, a complex religion with competing interpretations. It is true that most Muslims live their lives peacefully. But a sizeable portion (around 15 per cent and more in most surveys) follow a far more radical version. The remainder are sitting on a religion which is, in many of its current forms, a deeply unstable component. That has always been a problem for reformist Muslims. But the results of ongoing mass immigration to the West at the same time as a worldwide return to Islamic literalism means that this is now a problem for all of us. To stand even a chance of dealing with it, we are going to have to wake up to it and acknowledge it for what it is.
And it is a return to a literalism that, like most religious fundamentalism, is shaped, however much its believers might deny that fact, by the times in which it finds itself. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Fraser Nelson argues that some of the more grotesque features of ISIS’ barbarism are a consequence of the way that such cruelty can be used, via social media and the Internet, to recruit new followers, something that says much more about human nature than we, let alone our politicians, are prepared to address. Burning people alive is a selling point, think about that.
I don’t agree with everything that Mr. Nelson has to say (I get the sense, perhaps unfairly, that he may be trying to take some of the edge of Islam’s past), but what he has to say about Sarajevo today is, to say the least, striking:
The veil has conquered Sarajevo, for example, a city that could easily have come into the West’s orbit after the collapse of communist Yugoslavia. Not so long ago, there was scarcely a veil to be seen in the whole city. A friend of mine, who was a foreign correspondent during the Bosnian war, came to know a young sniper in Sarajevo and stayed in touch with him. But soon after, he refused to meet her, saying he could not be seen with an unmarried non-Muslim.
In the space of a few years, veils had gone from being unseen in Sarajevo to being commonplace – yet it’s hard to call this “backward” when, for so many Bosnians, this is the way forward. When strategists in Britain and America were congratulating themselves on the “end of history”, their counterparts in Saudi Arabia were funding the construction of mosques, and even paying people who worshipped there. This strategy was a remarkable success, and a visit to Sarajevo now will confound those who imagined that the end of Communist rule would see such countries make their way to try to adapt to our way of life.
Ah yes, the Saudis. Our friends.
It suits us to imagine that history is going our way, and to dismiss the bad guys as an anachronism that is just too evil to survive – and will, therefore, soon be gone. Such a lazy, complacent view of the world allows us to cut back on defense spending in the happy expectation of having fewer problems to solve. But as the Saudis knew in Bosnia, history goes in the direction that people make it go.
And I’m afraid that in the course of his undeniably well-intentioned remarks yesterday Obama included a classic example of such intellectual complacency:
“This is an attack not just on Paris. It’s an attack not just on the people of France. But this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share…”.
Universal values? Really?
Those are the words of a man unwilling to admit (or maybe even to accept) that the world is not as he would like it to be, and, indeed, that humanity is not as he would like it to be. He is a man scrambling for a safe space that does not exist.
Meanwhile in the Financial Times, François Heisbourg writes:
The French will have to sharply ramp up their “too little, too late” efforts at bolstering their security services. The DGSI, the French intelligence agency that is the functional equivalent of Britain’s MI5, was set up less than two years ago and, despite substantial new funding, its financial and human resources are clearly insufficient.
The scale and the complexity of the November 13 attacks, with their multiple targets and modi operandi, speak of a threat level that is rising faster than the state’s ability to cope with it. To make matters worse, survivors have told how they were confronted by French-speaking terrorists rather than outsiders unfamiliar with the areas they were targeting.
There is no quick fix to this threat, but acknowledging its true nature would be a start.