I’m going to pick out a few bits and pieces on what I’ve been reading since the Paris attacks and then some thoughts.
The likely reaction to the Paris attacks is predictable: pledges to do more in the military campaigns in Syria and Iraq, more angst and division in Europe about the refugee inflow, more pressure on Muslim communities and more action to prevent foreign fighters from returning to their homelands.
This is a battle of ideas, not just a test of the ability of security and intelligence agencies to foil plots. So far, the religious-based appeal of Islamic State has attracted many thousands of supporters and fighters worldwide. Neither the West nor Australia is winning the battle of ideas. Moreover, they seem ill-equipped to wage it.
There is great emphasis on Muslim grievance, alienation of youths, economic deprivation and the role of social media. There is less focus on the battle over ideology and values, a problem compounded by the ambiguity of the response of Muslim leaders.
The issue is two-fold:
1. Military response – I’ll point to more below on this.
2. Ideological response – This is a battle of ideas.
Now for the wrong ideas. Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
Does this amount to “Fortress Europe,” with a new Iron Curtain to the east and a naval cordon sanitaire in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic? Yes. For no other strategy makes sense, given a threat like the one posed to Europe by Islamic extremism.
No. No. No. This focus of refugees and asylum seekers is a red-herring. Quite ironic actually – Ms Hirsi Ali, an asylum seeker herself, wanting to slam the door to all those asylum behind her.
Where I do agree with her:
European governments must do their own proselytizing in Muslim communities, promoting the superiority of liberal ideas. This means directly challenging the Islamic theology that is used by the Islamist predators to turn the heads and hearts of Muslims with the intent of converting them into enemies of their host countries.
Exactly – promote the enlightenment.
The cultural appeasement must end. Yes, everyone can argue for whatever they like. And those charged with directing the political and moral make-up of our supposedly liberal, free nations must argue for precisely those Enlightened values — unapologetically, judgementally, fiercely. Bombing death cultists in Syria or heaping further paternalistic pity on Muslim communities at home — the two proposed responses to all terrorism — will do little to solve the moral vacuum in the West into which backward, barbaric gangs are moving. Let’s start by refusing to be hesitant after Paris. ‘It’s too soon to comment on this attack’, say some liberals, who are really biding their time before trotting out the usual self-loathing narrative. But it isn’t too soon. This was a despicable act, an unspeakable assault. Neither French militarism nor alleged ‘Islamophobia’ comes even close to justifying it. Nothing does. And it was an attack not only on the good people of Paris but on everyone who values living in a free and open society where fear has no place. Let us now refortify those values of freedom and openness, in a real and direct way, angrily if we must, and in the process shrink the moral vacuum in which nihilistic Islamists have been able to place their bloody flag. That’s enough cultural appeasement; fight — really fight — for the Enlightenment.
Let’s fight for the enlightenment.
The Enlightenment is a long-term strategy. In fact, many westerners would have to discover the enlightenment. The Enlightenment encourages us to be reflective. But to reflect on whether we are doing the right thing, isn’t an invitation to stop doing the right thing. As a civilisation we have become paralysed by self-doubt when we should have become energised by self-reflection. As we have discovered (or as many knew all along) is that a moral and ideological vacuum will be filled by others – as it turns out savages and barbarians.
Islamic State cannot be contained; it has to be destroyed — because as long as it exists, the killings will continue. The more it grows, the worse the killings will become.
What should happen now is a redoubling of the air campaign concentrating on destroying the group’s leadership. A significant infusion of Western special forces should support local groups able to take the ground fight to Islamic State.
Yes – that does mean boots on the ground and fighting to win. Not to “contain” or “teach them a lesson”.