And so the year ends with similar tragedy and universal outcry for solidarity and condemnation as it began in the French capital. World leaders in symphony proclaim, on behalf of their own nations, that they feel France’s pain – that this was an attack on all of us, against humankind and our Western way of life. Social media is draped in the tricolour, and opinions on a response push all extremities of reasoned thinking. The question over Europe’s liberal characteristics and humanitarian nature must undoubtedly now stand against hard pressed pragmatism and the reality of the threat being faced.
The evidence pointed to a potentially chilling but plausible conclusion. French and Belgian citizens, as well as a recently arrived refugee, are among the dead terrorists. It was no knee-jerk reaction that one of the first decisions taken on that horrific Friday night by Hollande and his advisors was to close the borders.
It was always going to be only a matter of time until we saw these scenes on European streets once again. Sadly Paris, once again the target, suffered as ISIS pointed the finger regarding its Middle Eastern policy. Significant rhetoric came from the French President in relation to ISIS, the first of its kind from a western leader, declaring the events of terrorism as ‘an act of war’. The shock of events at the start of the year in Paris have now turned to anger. The utter terror that played out at The Stade de France, the street cafes and the final act, so brutally played out at the Bataclan Concert Hall, have left Europe and the wider world once again realising what they are dealing with, a problem that threatens not just our way of life, but life itself.
Significant rhetoric came from the French President in relation to ISIS, the first of its kind from a western leader, declaring the events of terrorism as ‘an act of war’ .
The declaration from Hollande highlights that after 4 years, the situation in Syria and the cancer of ISIS has not been dealt with. Again, the UN and NATO have been shown up as to their staggering inadequacies and inability for decisive action. Many are currently asking what lessons can be learnt from this latest attack, how can we be better prepared next time. Surely it must be evident now, finally, that this is the wrong approach. French resistance is something to be proud of, Parisians refusing to stop their way of life, the queues to give blood and an unrelenting spirit that is determined to move on.
Sentiment and flags however, are maybe no longer enough.
French poet Valery’s infamous quote about Europe, “we hope vaguely and dread precisely” rings more true today than ever before. The dread of further attacks is perfectly real and what we have seen in the last months and years, let alone the last few days are new laws, new powers for security agencies, disputes with social media companies regarding data, the strengthening of borders and increased man power to deal with the threat. All the while a seemingly endless half-hearted bombing campaign against ISIS continues. We dread the idea of more attacks and the design they will take, the aftermath they will leave on us; yet we still, ultimately, only vaguely endeavour to deal with the root cause.
ISIS is a tangible living entity; it’s not a myth nor a flash in the pan. We are happy to spend money and time on protecting and educating children in our schools from radicalization, working in communities, youth groups, increasing our home counter-terrorism operations, surveillance and response, but yet still, we do not deal with the cause of the problem, only its symptoms.
The French now have a clear mandate, a mandate that they probably don’t need to take to the UN, a mandate to put significant military intervention into action and take the fight to ISIS. The truth is many from the armed forces have known that a time for military intervention on the ground would come and it was always inevitable; air strikes alone will never be enough, we don’t have to look further than Europe and the wars in the Balkans for proof of that!
The news from Iraq and Syria is that ISIS are now on the back foot and significant gains have been made by the Kurdish forces, supported by the air advantage supplied by the alliance. That advantage must now be pushed, consensus is growing for further airstrikes – but surely we now must extend to the ground as well.
Between these atrocities, people easily forget what we are dealing with. An almighty beast that denounces our way of life, preaches a dystopian society where only a paradoxical fantasy image of Islam still exists. ISIS will not surrender, will not compromise around a discursive table; it will instead continue to be a tangible evil that is capable of radicalising Muslims across the globe, reaching out to the lost, disenfranchised and young.
So many of the world’s major players are involved or connected to this crisis: the US and Russia, Europe, North Africa and numerous allies in the region itself that have a vested interest in dealing with the purge of this barbaric organisation. If liberalism is to succeed, and to even endeavour to survive in Europe, liberals must now see the pragmatism that sits in front of them, that they must tackle ISIS appropriately in Iraq and Syria, and not on our own doorstep.
Europe is now at a significant crossroads, and it’s possible to claim at a point, comparable as a continent only to World War II. The migrant crisis has put pressure on countries and spread unease in even the most liberal of states. If Europe wants to continue in any realistic format, if it wants an identity of any real substance politically, it must unify over the reality of the situation and not take the possibility of ‘boots on the ground’ off the table. The walls are going up in Europe, not being pulled down any more.
For me, it’s much less meme pas peur and much more, J’ai peur – at least for now.
By Ed Marsh, Director of Aerospace, Defence and Security at Frost & Sullivan, and Junior Writer for Daily Political View.