Paris attacks: We need calm and sense, not reactionism
Published date: 14 November 2015 15:46 UTC | Last update: 7 years 4 months ago
The sense that something must be done, and fast, is very understandable. But recent history shows that it is also terribly dangerous
France and civilisation are the same. Yesterday’s attack is not just an attack on Paris - it is a calculated, prepared, and nihilistic assault on our common humanity. Today all we can feel is grief, misery and dumb shock.
Over the next few hours and days, shock will change to anger and calls for action. People will want to understand how this happened and assign blame. They will want to strike back.
There will be those who will want to expel all Muslims from France. Others will call for Muslims to be ghettoised, or made into a permanent suspect community. There will be calls on Muslims in France to dissociate themselves from these horrific acts, as if they had any ownership of them in the first place.
The sense that something must be done, and fast, is very understandable. But recent history shows that it is also terribly dangerous. It risks playing into the hands of the Islamic State group.
We now know that after 9/11 the United States reacted in exactly the wrong way to the atrocious attack on the Twin Towers and beyond.
The group of neo-conservative advisers around George W Bush had prepared Iraq and Iran as a target before 9/11. When the perfect opportunity came along, Bush Jnr lashed out, ignored and unreflectively by invading Iraq, to the dismay, we now know, of his better informed father.
Without the invasion of Iraq, there would be no Islamic State, which is now claiming responsibility for last night’s horror.
So let’s ask what the Islamic State group would like us to do now. And consider this: the French branch of Islamic State is using exactly the same tactic used by jihadists to split Sunni from Shia in Iraq.
They want to provoke reactions to alienate French Muslims from their fellow countrymen. One IS video shows a group of heavily armed youths burning their French passports while appealing to French Muslims either to join IS and emigrate – or stay behind and fight the kafir (non-believers) in France.
They keep on saying: "What are you waiting for? Do something. Poison them, run them over in your cars.”
If Europe (we are all in this with France) reacts the wrong way we can help make this happen. There is a great danger that by reacting in the wrong way we will achieve just what the terrorist wants, which is to destroy the French state and the magnificent values that it represents. There are powerful elements in the West which would welcome exactly that response.
That is why I believe there are important lessons to be learned from the reaction by Norway after the horrific terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utoya Island on 22 July 2011.
The attacks carried out by the lone wolf Andres Breivik killed 77 people, mainly children, and injured several hundred others. It was by far the most terrible attack that Norway has suffered since World War Two.
Yet the Norwegians reacted with tremendous calm and sense. This is what Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian prime minister, said on that day: “We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values. Our response is more democracy, more openness and more humanity.”
Stoltenberg went on: “We will answer hatred with love.”
In the aftermath of the catastrophe, Stoltenberg commissioned a report. It did not blame the state security services and was very careful not to recommend a programme of reprisals.
The Norwegians did not even change their gun laws. They did not stigmatise the section of the population, from which Breivik, a white racist with fascist sympathies, had emerged. The Norwegians did not exaggerate the threat. They made certain that their society’s values were sustained.
However, it is idle to pretend that the atrocities in Paris can be equated exactly to the atrocities in Norway four years ago.
Friday's attack in Paris was not the action of a single deranged individual. It was a carefully coordinated military assault on a peaceful population. It was designed to cause mayhem and fear. This was the point emphasised again and again in the video of the lads around a camp fire in the forest. Cause terror in France, they urged. Make your fellow Frenchmen feel frightened going to the shops. This is terrorism in the purest sense of the word. It feeds off war and fear.
This means that there is every reason to assume that such an attack will be mounted again - either in Paris or in any number of European cities, including London.
The first duty of any government is the protection of its citizens, and the French President Hollande has no choice but to regard Friday's attack as a mortal threat to the French state in a way which did not apply to Jens Stoltenberg.
I believe that it is nevertheless terribly important that France emulates the example of Norway after 22 July. It must find a way of holding onto its superlative republican values at the same time as protecting its citizens.
That is why it is essential to place the attacks in Paris in the context of a wave of attacks carried out by IS in recent weeks - the dreadful bombings in Ankara, Beirut, Baghdad and elsewhere as well as the destruction of the Russian plane above Sinai.
IS is fighting a global war, in which Muslims are its primary target. Not just France, Britain and Europe. It has declared war on the world. It is committing its atrocities in Syria, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in North Africa.
It has made clear that it is prepared to kill innocent people of whatever nationality, race or religion. It represents evil in its purest form. It must be confronted and destroyed.
So far, the world has not been serious about waging its war on IS. Regional powers in the Middle East have been so consumed by their own rivalries, aided and abetted by the United States and Russia, that they have been tempted to use IS in order to further their own agendas.
As individuals, what can we do? Here’s one thought. We can travel personally to Paris to tell the French people that we love them and that we share their grief and are with them.
- Peter Oborne was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He recently resigned as Chief Political Columnist of the Daily Telegraph. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class; The Rise of Political Lying;and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo credit: Policemen lay flowers for the dead in Paris (AA)
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