I have a confession: After hearing of the Brussels attacks this morning, riding my bike past parliament to the The Hague Central and seeing a dozen Royal Marrechaussee armed with automatic weapons, and hearing that Hoofddorp station near Amsterdam had been shut due to an ‘incident’, I got on to a train. A young Middle Eastern man sat next to me, speaking in Arabic on the phone. He was wearing a thick coat, and had a big square bag between his legs. And for a moment I felt a flash of fear. I thought about the possibility of a bomb being in the bag, and images of Brussels ran through my mind. The moment passed very quickly, and I felt stupid and guilty, not believing that I really had been worried for a minute. But I did feel fear, for a brief moment. Continue reading
Over the last few days it’s been hard not to think about Paris. I heard about the attacks in Oxford, in the evening after a gala hosted by the Oxford Model United Nations conference. When the news came through that over a hundred were dead and that Paris was in lockdown, the joy slipped out of the room. As removed from the events as we were, we were horrified, lacking words for a response. That’s still the way I feel now about the actual shootings. Just like after the Peshawar school shooting, it’s impossible to understand the sheer hatred, the cult-like dedication, that can bring someone to execute 19 people at a café, or 89 people enjoying a concert. It’s so far removed from war, from politics, from a cause, that you just can’t get a grip on it, on the violence of the act.
In the aftermath as well, it feels like this time is different. There’s still the expressions of solidarity and of “we are not afraid”, but they seem a little empty. This could have been absolutely any one of us. People across Europe are scared, and it’s hard to just say “that’s what the terrorists want”. Well, this time they’ve succeeded.
The reaction in France this time is not one of peaceful marches, but one of war. Hollande has declared war on Islamic State – whatever that may mean – and it is looking like it will actually make a difference to their policy. This, together with the recent bombing of the Russian Metrojet in the Sinai, may finally line up the West and Russia on the same page. Assad can wait – Islamic State must be destroyed.
And while I still fully stand behind the idea that only tolerance and inclusion can defeat the ideology of terror, the response to IS itself must be one of full on confrontation. There can be no doubt that they pose a significant and direct threat to not only the Middle East (which has been obvious for years), but to the West and to Russia. When 129 people are massacred in a European capital in the name of a self-proclaimed state, mere calls for tolerance will not suffice.
At the same time though, continuing respect for and inclusion of Muslims is incredibly important, both practically and morally. They have absolutely nothing to do with this, and any response must not be aimed at them. It is too easy to allow ourselves to be caught up in anti-Muslim sentiment, and we must make the right distinction between Muslims and the group which perverts and twists their faith. It is an organization despised by almost everyone, with nothing to offer the world but hate. Again, for them, there can be no tolerance.
Destroying Islamic State by no means easy, as I’ve pointed out many times on this blog. But the events in Paris make painfully clear how quickly the cost of letting the Syrian Civil War run on can spread across the world. There are few good answers to the situation in Iraq and Syria, but the West must truly engage in helping to bring peace to these states, not just bombing them, no matter how complex this will be. If the killings in Paris can help eventually bring an end to one of the worst wars of the 21st century, maybe some good can come out of this evil.
I might significantly revise my opinion on some of this in the coming days and weeks, but this is what I’m thinking now. Besides, it’s always useful to get ideas out of my head and on to paper.
More than a year after Islamic State took over Mosul it is easy to get used to the fact that one of the most violent, extreme and expansionist theocracies in modern history rules over 10 million people. Today I’ve collected four different articles from this week that in some way relate to the rise of IS and its horrifying treatment of its ‘citizens’. Continue reading
The Islamic State’s motto may be “remaining and expanding”, but lately they haven’t been having too much success with that. Their advance in Iraq was halted by Iranian backed militias and US airstrikes, and they have been pushed back in the north by the Kurds. Even the Iraqi army has been getting back into action in the IS held city of Tikrit, though they’ve been taking heavy casualities. In Syria they’ve still got the ‘remaining’ part together, but their invincible image was dented by their failure to expand into the crucial town of Kobane. So is Islamic State on the back foot? Well not entirely…