In January, I wrote that the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris were excellent news for only one group of people – those who would see more violence, more killing, more war. This is even more true of the latest round of murders to be inflicted upon the people of Paris.
At least 127 people are dead as of the afternoon of Saturday 14th, with around 80 more in a critically injured condition. The radical Salafist Islamist organisation Daesh (or ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the massacre, and French President Francois Hollande has vowed a ‘merciless’ response to the barbaric attack. The borders of France have been ordered closed – though at the time of writing this appears not to have been fully implemented – and virtually every public building and landmark in Paris has been closed. As the city’s lights went dark, the monuments of other world cities blazed with the Tricolour in solidarity with the dead. The streets of Paris itself are beginning to fill with crowds of people who are determined not to let the threat posed by Daesh cow them.
All of this is highly emotive, and most people are – quite reasonably – currently feeling a boiling emotional cocktail of sorrow, anger and, if we admit it to ourselves, fear. But it is essential to pull back briefly and look at the probable consequences of this brutal attack, and how they can and must be managed to avert more senseless death and suffering.
Perhaps the most troubling reverberations of the attacks in the immediate aftermath have been the anger and vitriol being directed against the tens of thousands of refugees who have been displaced from their homes, mostly in the Middle East and Africa, and who have come to Europe – often by desperately dangerous means – to try and find safety. Social media has been flooded by declarations that the refugees are to blame for the attacks, despite the fact that this has not been confirmed (of those identified, one is a French national, while another may be Syrian or Egyptian).
Even if some of the attackers have slipped into Europe disguised as refugees, the solutions proposed by the online right-wing community are nothing short of idiotic. Facile calls to ‘leave the EU’ and ‘close Europe’s borders’ are nonsensical non-solutions; they are, moreover, the same objectives that most of the people arguing for them had before the Paris attacks took place. Using such a tragedy to score political points is a sickening business.
Nonetheless, these people seem to be having some effect. Poland has already pulled out of the EU-wide quota scheme to deal with the refugee crisis, and it is possible other states may be forced by vocal right-wing groups to do the same. The quota system is already inadequate, and if states start pulling out then the refugee crisis will only increase in severity. This is not a problem which is going to go away. We cannot allow fear to force us to lose our common humanity. To do so is to give in to the perpetrators of terrorism.
Hateful rhetoric spread over social media is certainly not representative of most of the wider population, but there are a substantial proportion of people in this country and others across Europe who are scared, and whose fear is making them react with anger at people whose fault this is not. Remember, these are the people that the refugees are running away from. Authorities in all European states must do more to help bring about a solution to the refugee crisis, and in the meantime we must all be vigilant and challenge hatred wherever we find it – whomever the target.
What was until recently a remote possibility – a significant ramping up of NATO involvement in the Iraq-Syria conflict – has overnight become rather more likely. Hollande’s rhetoric is responding to the attacks, while understandable in light of the public reaction to the conflict, is likely to increase tensions. Iraq-Syria is a dangerous mess, and the practical considerations of intervention are essentially the same as they were two weeks ago, when the Foreign Affairs select committee published a report saying that there was not yet a clear plan for increased intervention.
Make no mistake, the Iraq-Syria conflict must eventually be brought to an end. Daesh is a vile and violent organisation, and its ideology is inimical to democracy, progress, peace and liberty. David Cameron is right to call for a redoubling of efforts to eradicate it. But the triumphalism following the suspected killing of Mohammed Emwazi (a.k.a. ‘Jihadi John’) by US airstrikes on Friday morning, followed so soon by this terrible attack in Paris, demonstrates that our plan for action is woefully inadequate.
There are so many actors involved in the maelstrom of the Iraqi-Syrian conflict that any coherent plan will be hard to form. One thing is for certain, however: any proposed course of action must involve Russia as well as NATO, and must at least attempt to bring the major regional powers – Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – onside. Considering the vastly differing policy objectives of these different actors, this will be no easy thing, but the experience of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya tells us that Western intervention without international and – crucially – regional support is doomed to failure, and will result only in greater suffering.
A major concern is that this tragic incident will fuel the growth of radical right-wing extremist groups, who will position themselves as the only solution to an imagined ‘Islamic’ conspiracy. For France, this means the Front National and its charismatic leader Marine Le Pen; for the UK, it means the far less well-organised but still dangerous Britain First. Other countries have their own brands of right-wing extremism, from AfD in Germany to Jobbik in Hungary, to the openly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece.
Le Pen has already begun her propaganda campaign, saying that the Paris attacks prove that France needs to leave the EU and launch a campaign against radical Islam by taking away French citizenship from radicals and closing Mosques where radicalisation is thought to be taking place. Britain First’s reaction thus far has been limited to the typically eloquent ‘MORE TERRORISM!’, but with their conference being held today, it can only be a matter of time before they fold this into their own advertising schemes.
The far-right purports to have the answers, but it brings only hatred which is equal and opposite to that of Daesh and others. This incident is likely to spur an increase in right-wing groups’ popularity, so it is all the more important that the rest of us stand against their unhelpful and counter-productive vitriol.
The deaths in Paris are a great tragedy, and we must stand in solidarity with the people of France and work to defeat the violent extremism of Daesh and other groups like it. It is important to remember, though, that not all Muslims are responsible for this violence; nor all refugees. The snares of the far-right must be avoided and their rhetoric challenged, as the states of Europe help France to recover from this blow and prepare a coherent and workable plan to deal with those who would do us harm.
We must not let fear cow us, nor hate drive us.