What’s the world to do after Paris?

Friday 20/11/2015

The last few weeks have witnessed a series of terrorist tragedies. The Paris massacres on November 13th, the Russian airliner bombing over the Sinai peninsula on October 31st and twin suicide bombings in Beirut on November 12th. Hundreds of innocent people died in these atrocities. All have been claimed by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).
The terrorist attacks point to a change of strategy on the part of ISIS, making the terrorist organisation a serious global threat.
Until now, Western strategists have tried to treat ISIS activities as essentially a regional threat that could be contained in the Levant. Recent events have clearly shown that the “containment” approach was not a success.
Even before the Paris attacks, ISIS was showing signs of expanding in the Middle East and North Africa. Particularly worrisome were its growing activities in the Sinai and Libya.
A senior Pentagon official told the New York Times on November 15th that recent ISIS activities in Libya were “signs that Libya could provide a redoubt for the Islamic State even if the group was driven completely out of Syria and Iraq”.
Worse still, the ISIS narrative has not been weakening nor has the organisation’s ability to attract more recruits and to move up the scale of murderous sophistication.
In the face of the bloody demonstration by ISIS of its global reach, we will probably hear more of the same speeches about the need for more effective global cooperation. But maybe this time we will see more genuine resolve to diminish the military might of ISIS and choke off its economic resources.
The Arab and Muslim world will have to assume its share of responsi­bility. First and foremost, it must lead the crucial struggle for young minds. Drying up the appeal of the ISIS narrative should be one of its most immediate objectives. Nobody else can do that better.
Many places in the Middle East and North Africa are in a shambles. The West cannot look the other way. It must help extinguish the fires of war and civil strife in the region and help support the right development policies there.
On the immediate level, the international community cannot punish would-be refugees for the Paris bloodshed. It was predictable that voices would grow louder after the November 13th massacres calling on Europe to close its borders, especially after evidence emerged that at a number of Middle East migrants have been involved in the attacks.
Security precautions are necessary but “Fortress Europe” is no more realistic today than it was yesterday. Besides, as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on November 15th: “Those who organised these attacks, and those who carried them out, are exactly those who the refugees are fleeing.”
Once again the West must also be wary of the temptation to lump all Arabs and Muslims together. Humanity already walked that path after 9/11. Stereotyping and discrimination would only help undermine the bridges that the fanatical terrorists seek to destroy.