Datelined London

Photo: The Guardian

Harry C. Blaney III

Last night Friday on a TV screen in London we watched in real time the horrific unfolding of the terrorism acts which at this report time cost the lives of some 129 persons and many more wounded as the total is likely to grow over time. The analysis is that it was an organized series of such attacks which were designed to cause major fear not only in Paris but in France and beyond. It has had already reverberations throughout Europe and even in America.

Friday night UK time, President Obama said while the events were still active, that this was an attack on all humanity and this view was echoed by statements by President Holland and Prime Minister Cameron and others.

This attack has had many implications for both France’s own security and the possible impacts on its politics, economy, and not least the relationship with Muslims in France that constitute, by some estimates, 4.7% of the population, the largest in Europe.

ISIS almost immediately took “credit” for these acts of brutality. ISIS said this was a retaliation for France’s acts of bombing against it. President Holland in the immediate aftermath said that this was “war” and promised swift action and France will be “merciless against the terrorists.” These were acts of war Holland stated on Saturday that the attacks were planned abroad. Two people were arrested in Belgium and two attackers were said to come from Syria and Egypt. An American student and a British London School of Economics student were killed at last reports.

This act has been called a massacre – the worst attack in France’s recent history. Paris is in shock but the reactions take a wide range of anger, horror, revulsion, fear, and a determination to both carry on and to respond against the terrorists. But people in Paris are clearly very uncertain and cautious. Holland has taken a hard stance, which is understandable given the brutality of the attack. Holland has called a state of emergency and the French Prime Minister has said on Saturday that France will enhance its attacks on ISIS and will not be deterred by threats.

If ISIS thought the attacks would frighten France and other countries to stop their attacks it looks that this has likely backfired. But the other danger is that the attacks increased polarization and racist and right wing groups may use these attacks to instigate hatred for migrants, the domestic Islamic community, and citizens and create even more fear for political reasons. This could backfire and increase the sense of alienation which has already led to disaffected and angry Muslim youth joining ISIS. Thus national authorities need to find a fine line between cracking down on likely terrorists but at the same time assuring regular Muslim citizens that they live in a welcoming and safe environment.

The reaction from other countries was with statements of sympathy and solidarity. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron promised to be of help in any way they can. Here in London tonight there was a large vigil and gathering of citizens showing solidarity with Paris and France, with the tricolor lights of the French flag projected against the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square which I and my wife went to. I could not be but aware of the irony that a few weeks earlier there were many statements related to Britain leaving the EU by the Tory leaders, including Cameron, about how UK was different from the Continental Europeans. That party’s majority MPs desires to separate from countries like France that they wish little ties with that are seeking for more European unity.

One interesting element which some have commented on is that at the moment when ISIS is under siege at their home base in Syria/Iraq, they have carried out their most successful major and effective massive attack in Paris and created a sense of fear throughout Europe and beyond. This brutality gives ISIS major international profile and forced focus on their presence abroad while at the same time facing increased military action against them. This pressure is due to American bombing and more effective moderate reinforcements on the ground of allied groups fighting in their home bases.

As for Paris, one concern is that if this can happen in Paris, it could happen again and anywhere. Thus the international dimension has now been established and it is clear that the G-20 meeting in Turkey this week attended in advance by Secretary Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister with President Obama soon arriving, will strongly focus on what can be done on an international level to deal with such horrific and massive attacks and what are the implication of these more professional and devastating attacks on citizens and how to prevent or mitigate them. But also how to solve the basic problem of how to put an end to ISIS and get rid of Assad and create a more safe and stable region.

What does all this mean? As noted, one danger is a backlash over Europe against Muslims and this anger being exploited by right-wing racists parties like UKIP and the Le Pen party in France.

The other question is where does the Western nations and their Islamic allies go next against ISIS both in their Syria/Iraq stronghold and to counter their international reach. This is not a new question but the Paris attacks gives it new urgency and profile to these questions. What has been said and I think still stands is that what is most needed is a viable diplomatic solution likely backed up by some sort of military action also.

Many are saying too little is being done while others think American engagement in the region is too much. Will the attacks in France change any of this? Will changes on the ground change anything also? The Question for the major powers and many members of the G-20 and also Muslim nations in the region is can there be a way of putting the necessary elements together to achieve sooner rather than later a dismemberment of ISIS and a political structure on the ground to replace the present chaos and brutality. This will take major decisions by all, that enough is enough and all are in peril if this ISIS and other Jihadis forces remain powerful and dominant and attract each day new and committed recruits.

The key must be in the long term to return the region to some sense of normality and hope for security and some decent economy and employment of youth. But also at the heart of any solution must be a mitigation of the religious and political conflict between the Sunni and Shia sects which really means Shia Iran, its allies, and Sunni Saudi Arabia and Gulf States and others. It may also mean bringing peace to the Israeli and Palestinian situation via a two state solution and now the sooner the better. On seeking security and security for the region here American power and European and regional allies and perhaps even Russia and Iran might just find some common ground. This is probably asking too much now, but if not now when? If one waits, will not all be caught by a maelstrom of disaster and destruction from which none will survive intact.

More in time on these issues and related events from Europe.

We welcome your comments!


  1. Harry C. Blaney III November 19, 2015 / 8:25 AM

    The two comments on this post set forth two key perspectives on how to deal with ISIS and the Middle East conflicts and challenges and address the wider question of American and allied action in a Post Paris world.

    Robert Lamoree makes the assumption that American military interventions mostly gets it wrong and argues for less intervention and notes we likely can’t heal the Sunni Shia divide but he said if we take military action it needed to be a unified effort. With this idea I share strongly.

    On the role of Russia, after the plane bombing, they seem to be more focused on ISIS but the reality is that Assad can’t stay he has slaughter too many of his own people, if there is to be peace in Syria. That issue is yet to be decided but for the moment there is more Russian cooperation. We shall see.

    I do not share his perspective of non-involvement in these conflicts and the current humanitarian crises and feel that absent outside powers the inherent conflicts and the rise of jihadists has more to do with internal conflict among Islamic groups and nations than outside recent actions by the West to degrade ISIS. The reality is that ISIS is already an international threat. The recent beheading of a Chinese civilian and many Muslims of every sect proves that point.

    Bob’s point that “it’s type of warfare we are not used to, and the only effective way to respond to it is greatly improved intelligence and proactive steps to stop it. The most intractable element is religion.” But we are using both diplomacy and some military, but Obama’s push has been for a strong diplomacy effort and it seem to be making progress.

    As for not doing well in nation building, the picture is a mixed one in Europe and Japan we did very well, in Vietnam there was no opportunity for “national building” and we made a major mistake in Lybia by getting out and not doing effective “national building.”
    But that was also a European mistake as they were the major powers in that effort.

    Noting Andrew Pierre’s thought on seeing the region whole and in all its complexity is right. There will never be a peaceful and secure and prosperous Middle east unless there is a common desire by all actors to put to rest old hatreds and recognition that ISIS and a leader like Assad need to be eliminated and more inclusive and responsible governments created. Here diplomacy is key and Secretary Kerry is doing a full court press here and recognizes the difficulties. All of this as Obama has said will likely take a decade or more. Do we have the wisdom to sustain such an effort over a long time?

  2. Bob Lamoree November 15, 2015 / 9:28 AM

    If we ask ‘why’ tragedies like Paris and the Russian plane bombing happen we might not like the answers, but it might help us understand why this is happening and what can be done to eliminate or reduce the number of incidences. If we got to the nitty gritty of why these incidents keep happening (or happened in the first place), I suspect the answer has a lot to do with the West (and others) having stuck their noses into places where it is not appreciated or welcome. Would the Middle East be better off had other nations not gotten involved? And, why are we involved?
    But we’re there, what now?
    There are numerous elements at play, the most immediate being ‘blowback,’ also known as ‘and eye for an eye.’ Another element is the type of warfare. One side uses the military, the other uses terrorism . . . they play dirty, and it’s type of warfare we are not used to, and the only effective way to respond to it is greatly improved intelligence and proactive steps to stop it. The most intractable element is religion. Who do you stop the radicalization of religion. Chances of one religion getting it’s way by telling those of another what they need to do . . . that will go nowhere. Ideally, religions should clean their own houses, but that doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere. Also, in Islam there is the great schism, the divide between Sunni and Shia. Who is going to heal that . . . ever? And, like religion, history raises it’s ugly head. Injustices committed are not forgotten.
    If that only way to restore some vestige of peace is the military solution, it had better be a unified effort. And, that unity needs to include the Russians. We certainly do not like Assad, but who are we to say that a dictatorship isn’t the only way to rule a country like Syria. Is the average Iraqi better off because we deposed Saddam? And, how have we done with nation building our way? We got the hell out of Vietnam, and how did nation building go there . . . without us being involved?
    There are lots of messages, and we need to listen to them, else we’ll never get things right.

  3. Andrew Pierre November 14, 2015 / 10:10 PM

    Bravo, on an excellent piece summarizing the new situation and correctly emphasizing the foreign policy consequences and implications for the future. There is now an important new opportunity for the EU to coalesce and develop a concerted and vigorous approach, along with the United States, towards ISIL. President Obama will need to make some adjustments which should incorporate a more vigorous approach to Islamic radicalism, the Saudi – Iranian divide, the Syrian inchoate mess and the the Middle East in general including the Israeli approach towards the Palestinians. Without some early and meaningful steps I fear that that what happened in France could easily spread to to Britain and elsewhere, including the United States.

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