The lessons of Paris

Friday 27/11/2015

Following the terrorist attacks of November 13th on Paris, France is introducing a series of stringent measures to provide additional security for its citizens and visitors. What is surprising is how willingly the French allowed the state new powers in exchange for a promise of more security.
The French are driven by fear and they are not alone in their willingness to trade liberties in ex­change for security. Much the same happened in the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The American public was so shocked that it agreed whole­heartedly to grant the federal gov­ernment unprecedented powers, hoping it would protect them from the bad guys.
And if the Americans were worried about potential terrorist attacks despite the fact that their country was protected by two vast oceans, Europe is far more vulner­able. Terrorists do not need aero­planes to infiltrate the European continent. They can take the train or they can drive a car. Heck, they can even walk across the borders into Europe.
Although the recent flow of refu­gees may be changing this state of affairs, border security policies in Europe have been rooted in wish­ful thinking. There were no real safeguards to offset the risks inher­ent in freedom of movement.
Concealed with the hundreds of thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Europe, some terrorists were bound to infiltrate migrant ranks. And they did. Still entering Europe remains far easier than entering the United States.
Europe needs the Arab world much more than the United States does. European powers have maintained strong ties with those former colonies in economic, cul­tural and financial fields.
Europe also needs Arab migra­tion to rejuvenate its ageing popu­lation. At the end of the day, it will have to find a way to come to terms with its growing Muslim population.
Islamist terror­ism is not uniquely a European prob­lem. It has become a global concern. And for the first time possibly in recorded history, the United States, Europe, the Chinese and the Russians all agree — at least in the UN Security Council — that the Islamist threat is a common concern.
But more than anywhere else, the jihadist problem is that of the Arab world.
Arab regimes have gener­ally been sidelined or rather have mostly sidelined themselves in the fight against terrorism, allowing Europeans and the Americans to take the lead.
This will have to change if the problem of Islamist terrorism is to be solved. The powers that be in the Arab world need to wake up to the fact that nobody can clean their houses better than themselves. They also need to understand that putting your house in order does not mean levelling entire cities in your own country or continuing the disenfranchisement of your own citizens.
The West should think twice be­fore engaging in military interven­tions aimed at re-engineering Arab political systems. The results since the invasion of Iraq and the NATO-led campaign in Libya should have been dissuasive enough. Such interventions have created a fertile ground for jihadists.
It was only a matter of time before that new “realism” would prod Europeans to a focus on stability rather than democratic proselytising in the MENA region. That was in fact the essence of its new EU neighbourhood policy. You can bet, no senior Algerian and Moroccan officials will be arrested again, anytime soon, at French airports and questioned about torture allegations, as was the case in recent times. Moroccan intelli­gence cooperation was very crucial to track down the leaders of the Paris attacks.
Beyond fear, there is now a fundamental rethink in Europe. Some politicians will probably pay the price for the mistakes made. Many Europeans are wondering why it came as a surprise to the governments of Paris and Brus­sels that home-grown jihadists returned home to wreak havoc after lethal stints in Syria and/or Iraq. As expected, and as predicted in this very space, it was only a matter of time before the chickens would come home to roost. And they have.