First things first: I think it’s difficult to discuss on the internet tragedies as fresh and brutal as the November 13th attack on Paris without coming across as a bit of a dick. Maybe this has something to do with Mark Zuckerberg’s determination to continue reducing global disasters to here-today-gone-tomorrow profile bling, or maybe it’s due to the fact that, unless you’re actually a news reporter, what you’re publishing online isn’t doing much more than making you feel better. At best, your sensitive memorial paragraph resembles a Like-this display of vague and dissolute sympathy or, at worst, an opportunity to weigh in about your social/political views and layer on some condescension for good measure.
With this disclaimer out of the way, sit down and get comfortable as I do all of the above anyway. I’m pretty sure putting this here clears me of any responsibility.
If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that the series of attacks on Paris were acts of brutality, cowardice, and savagery. This wasn’t a front-line assault, because this isn’t a traditional war; this was a systematic, amoral attack on a civilian centre motivated by hatred and blind faith. IS have claimed responsibility, and there’s little reason to doubt them – experts including The Guardian’s Jason Burke have verified the organisation’s public statement, and with ISIL’s simultaneous attack on Beirut, the western world stands united in its condemnation of violent Islamic extremism. On the other end of the spectrum, incredibly thorough news reports have rallied millions in sympathy for the dead and their loved ones. We join too in mutual admiration: for the French emergency services; for the hundreds of French citizens queuing to give blood; and for the enduring spirit of football fans and parliamentarians alike, filmed singing the national anthem in clear affirmation of will and resilience.
That’s pretty much where unanimous opinion ends though. Remembering the past month’s headlines – from the refugee crisis in Normandy and elsewhere, to the gung-ho American assassination of Jihadi John, to Jeremy Corbyn’s lukewarm response to that killing – it’s clear that two terror attacks of the scale seen in Lebanon and Paris are going to massively influence political and military protocol regarding Islamic extremism, both in Britain and globally. What exactly the French and Western reactions should entail, however, is a question being fiercely debated by politicians and laymen alike.
Although any act of foreign terrorism is always fodder for the Right, ugliness has already reared up on both sides of the political spectrum. On the Left, the Stop the War Coalition were heavily criticised for immediately blaming the terror attacks on intrusive Western policy in the Middle East, while the Twitter feeds of right-wing news sources are awash with anti-refugee rhetoric and demands to close the borders against those seeking asylum.
This is partly due to the fact that a Syrian passport was found near the body of one dead terrorist. My question is: who brings a passport to a massacre? Did he tuck it into his suicide belt? Feeling good about a flight home post-explosion? Also: how did the passport survive detonation?
The passport, like the Kalashnikovs the terrorists wielded, was another weapon. Cast the passport off before suicide – plant it where it will be found. Predict a terrified post-massacre public demanding no more Syrians. Once Europe is free from refugees, the national media loses interest and moves back to domestic affairs. Less coverage, less public awareness, less demand for action and aid. Governments no longer feel public pressure to intervene – IS is able to continue its operations in Syria outside of the now inward-looking public eye. Since embattled Syrians can’t get into Europe to upset its citizens, your Facebook feed reverts back to its natural state: motivational posters and pictures of food. Newspapers go back to covering David Cameron’s latest farmyard conquest, and the war returns to the shadows, surfacing only when drones immolate some notable terrorist or a European volunteer fighting alongside Kurdish forces gets shot.
The western world needs to keep this tragedy in memory – this can’t go the way of Kony 2012 and slip off-screen (although that’s pretty unlikely with all the white people dead). Cynical left-wingers need to perhaps admit the necessity of boots on the ground, while the vengeful right need to drop the missile-drones and stop trying to kick out those who’ve been fleeing extremism for longer than anyone.
This cannot be a war of collateral damage. This is not about vilifying Islam, but about the destruction of a hateful organisation and the rebuilding of embattled nations. In countries where fear has come to shape the culture – as in Israel, Palestine, and now Syria and France – hatred will always be an easy way out. We must remember it is hatred that we are rallied against. I hope France will lead the way.