Analysis: The West should weigh carefully its response to the Paris carnage

Paris FranceParis is still reeling from Friday’s unprecedented carnage, which left at least 130 people dead and over 350 wounded. The six separate incidents included the first known suicide bombings in the country’s history and marked the deadliest coordinated attacks on French soil since World War II. The magnitude of the attacks prompted the French government to close the country’s borders and declare a nationwide state of emergency —the first since 1961. The shock from the mass killings is today reverberating throughout Europe, a continent that had not seen such a deadly incident since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, when a group of al-Qaeda-inspired militants killed 191 people in the Spanish capital. A response from France and its Western allies is to be expected. However, the West should pause and think very carefully before deepening its engagement in a chaotic and unpredictable war that is like nothing it has ever experienced. Specifically, Western leaders should consider the following:

I. The adversaries know and understand the West, its culture and way of life, far better than the West understands them. Ever since 9/11 and the London bombings of 2005, a number of Western observers have cautioned against the so-called “Islamization of Europe”. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the events of 9/11 caused a widening gulf between an increasingly Islamophobic West and Muslims; the latter are viewed by European critics of Islam as foreign bodies. What is far more prevalent and important is the Europeanization of Islam, which means that adherents of radical Islam are studying and interacting with European culture, norms and values, more intensely than ever before. Consequently, armed attacks carried out by Islamist militants against Western targets reflect a deep understanding of Western culture that far exceeds the West’s understanding of them. The November 13 attacks in Paris typify this: they were not “indiscriminate”, as some have suggested. They were carefully selected to achieve core political objectives, while at the same time sending a symbolic message against the Western way of recreation, which Islamists view as decadent. That was highlighted in a statement about the Paris attacks issued by the Islamic State, in which the group singled out the Bataclan Theater as Q Quotea venue where “a party of perversity” was taking place. Europe’s response to this phenomenon is dismissal and indifference. Most Westerners are still at a loss trying to understand the basic differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, let alone the ideological and spiritual underpinnings of groups like the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, and others. The idea that radical Islam can be defeated before it is understood is naïve and dangerous.

II. The West does not have the intelligence and security infrastructure that is necessary to take on the Islamic State. It should not be forgotten that last Friday’s attacks took place despite the state of heightened alert that France has been under after the Charlie Hebdo shootings of January 2015. Since that time, French authorities have reportedly managed to stop at least six advanced plots against civilian targets, while alert passengers were able to prevent a mass shooting aboard a French train in August of this year. However, if France deepens its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, these attacks will continue with a scale and complexity that is bound to stretch —and possibly overwhelm— the country’s security infrastructure. Nine months after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the presence of thousands of police officers and even troops in the streets of Paris has become common. But that did nothing to stop Friday’s attacks in a city of 2.2 million people, which features 35,000 cafés, 13,000 restaurants and over 2,000 hotels. The sheer number of these “soft targets” makes Paris a city that is virtually impossible to defend against determined suicide assailants. The French are also used to traveling with ease within their country and across Europe, as the borders between France and its neighbors, such as Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, have become practically meaningless. Moreover, French authorities estimate that at least 13,000 radicalized Muslims live in France —a fraction of the country’s nearly 6 million Muslim citizens, but large enough to overwhelm the French security services. In these conditions, heightened levels of surveillance are to be expected. But surveillance alone is meaningless without a radical overhaul of the French —nay, European— intelligence services that will allow for the quick and efficient sharing of actionable information that will stop terrorist attacks before they are carried out. Attempting to stop these attacks after they begin is immensely difficult, especially when their perpetrators are prepared to die.

III. The Islamic State is resource-rich, has advanced planning capabilities and is more operationally sophisticated than any other Islamist group the West has ever faced. It is believed that at least eight militants were involved in Friday’s attacks. This number almost certainly represents the tip of the iceberg in what must have been a sizable group of planners. These individuals became radicalized, established contacts with each other, planned the operation, trained together, and were supplied with weapons and explosives, without nobody in the French intelligence and security services noticing. The fact that such a logistically complex attack was successfully organized and carried out in the post-Charlie Hebdo operational environment is shocking. It also points to the advanced planning capabilities and operational sophistication of the Islamic State, whose geographical territory in the Middle East is bigger than all of France and Britain combined. It currently appears that Islamic State planners were able to bomb a Russian airliner in Egypt, attack a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut killing and injuring over 100 people, and strike at the heart of Paris, all in less than two weeks. These are not simple operations, nor are they cheap. But the Islamic State’s resources are virtually unlimited, and this is something that sets it apart from any other Islamist organization the West has ever faced.

Q QuoteIV. There is more of this to come. The French government’s response to Friday’s attacks was to declare a state of national emergency and close the borders. This goes some way toward calming and reassuring the French population, but has little effect on establishing real security, or combating the Islamic State. Each time the latter attacks targets outside its territory, it makes sure to mobilize members or sympathizers who are willing to die for their cause, thus rendering traditional military- based security measures meaningless. The only way to successfully stop these attacks is to penetrate the Islamic State’s planning cells, which are typically leaderless and know better than to utilize the cell phone grid. This cannot be done overnight and will take collaborative efforts between intelligence agencies in Europe, Russia, America, and the Middle East. Until that happens, more attacks will strike Western “soft targets”. Meanwhile, the cohesion of the European Union is disintegrating before our eyes, while the French far right Front National appears set to win the local elections in France in three weeks’ time, a development that is bound to further marginalize and anger France’s Muslim community.

Perhaps, therefore, before vowing to crush the Islamic State and destroy Islamist militancy once and for all, the West should be trying to ensure that the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP 21, which is to take place in Paris in two weeks’ time, is secure. COP 21 is scheduled to be attended by over 80 heads of state, including US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. One can only hope that these and other powerful individuals can use that opportunity to begin a genuine collaboration aimed at addressing the common challenge of the Islamic State. After all, it was their recklessness and foolishness that permitted the Islamic State to emerge in the first place.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 November 2015 | Permalink

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

13 Responses to Analysis: The West should weigh carefully its response to the Paris carnage

  1. Juan says:

    It would be interesting to read something about the financial sources of the islamic state. A good analysis Mr Fitsanakis

  2. RJ Hawk says:

    There are too many so called rules of engagement in place to initiate an aggressive response. If the West is to take the fight to those nations who sponsor and finance terrorism, two things need to happen; (1) suspend all so called rules of engagement, and (2) declare acts of terrorism on Western states as an act of war and respond in a decisive military manner. It is long overdue that civilized Western nations abandon their good cowboy costume and eradicate this cancer wherever it is in the world.

  3. captnmike says:

    Never underestimate the stupidity of the West in these situations

    Safe haven needs to be taken away, not by force but by stopping the various wars going on so the civilian population will not tolerate extreme behavior – doubt it can be done with more bombing

  4. Red says:

    Two points. One: The “worst on French soil” might be suspect, as the Algerian War was in law fought on French soil and involved many thousands of deaths and so forth. Still, the business in Paris was very bad and very dramatic. Many may see it as a project to create a “strategy of tension” in order to get the multitudes to consent to a change in French national policy that, prior to Paris, they would have refused to countenance.

    Two: Stepping back and asking why and looking to large-scale geo-political theory – why indeed did the US and its suzerain clients create (under Brzezinski and Carter) the precursor criminal gangs of Islamic Fundamentalists? As is public now, they did this in order to entrap the Soviets in Afghanistan. Why trap the Soviets? Ah! To weaken and destroy the USSR. It worked, taken together with some 5th column efforts. Why do this?

    The project is to prevent by several means, including the denaturalization of Western Europe via violence and demographics at so on, any possibility of an economic unification of Europe, Germany, Russia, and Asia. This is entirely congruent with and derivative from English State (secret) Policy since 1912. To-day this Policy is an Anglo-American Policy, obvious, albeit unstated. The Policy follows the original Mackinder Thesis.

  5. tfh says:

    An attack like this does not just happen because some terrorist organization decides to be cruel, their minds (intel analysts, strategic planners) most probably have some possible results in mind. One desidred result is probably further polarisation between traditionally christian europeans and muslim immigrants. The organization (state even) in question wants native europeans to have little to do with the immigrants (preferably attack them) so they will not become intergrated with the mostly secular europeans.

  6. TFH says:

    @RJ Hawk: Military solutions, especially in the middle east seem to have only made problems worse. There does not seem to be many examples of western interference with middle east governance (even democracy), by military force that has resulted in anything better than the rule of men that see democracy as a joke.

  7. “After all, it was [the West’s] recklessness and foolishness that permitted the Islamic State to emerge in the first place”

    This is a most astute observation. French colonial history and its legacy of artificial borders combined with subsequent neo-colonialism playing the Middle East in a 21st Century rendition of ‘The Great Game’ has immensely tired the social psychology of a region in consequent ongoing chaos. But I seriously doubt the profound necessary wisdom to fundamentally change policy will arise short of catastrophic failure on the West’s part; per Einstein’s maxim: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”

    A social structure that essentially launders those who would lead, conforming its product [leadership] to special interests, for instance an arms export industry so integrated to the Western democracies economic engine that economic re-engineering away from armaments sales could in short term could collapse those very economies, necessarily cannot find a way forward in the mode required to solve the problems created; as it requires those very problems to self-sustain (even as it must ultimately self destruct.)

  8. victorvanrij says:

    Very good analysis. But we should not exaggerate the power of Daesh. Attacks like we saw in London, Spain and now Paris are strongly connected to what is called “home grown terrorism” which is caused by the fact that on average children of immigrants have very limited chances in the European society to live the luxury life as the Parisians on the terraces. Many of them live in suburban neighbourhood of low living standard – in the beginning they all wanted to have the luxury of the surrounding wealthy society but soon found out that this could only be achieved by either studying harder than anyone else or by small criminality . But even when they got their university degree their chances stayed poor. With the economic crisis and the ever increasing unemployment their future perspectives become poorer and poorer. Some of them reacted by becoming successful criminals. Others reacted by seeking for causes – which coincide with their frustrations –many times after being caught several times for minor offenses. Daesh uses their emotions and desire for luxury, to recruit them (in prisons and in their neighbourhoods) and paradoxically succeeded even to transform a few of them to become suicidal killers. The last Paris attack shows that they also use immigrant children to assist the import of “die hards” from the killing zones in Syria. Although the damage done this way is enormous and horrendous their capacity to perform these kind of attacks in Europe is limited, because of the fact that the suicidal candidates are for sure limited (due to the deeper cause of frustration of the European recruits).
    The new wave of fugitives however may contain some additional risks for two reasons, smuggling “die hards” and creating future recruits (because of the poor prospects of fugitive children)
    To counteract Daesh, it is, indeed, very important to see their objectives as well as the (religious) narratives and incentives they use to create followers as well as to understand the sensitivity of their followers in Europe and in countries as Iraq, Syria and Iran.
    Their primary objective in Europe is quite clear and almost similar to that of the right wing extremists namely create discord in society , setting up people against each other – probably counting on more recruits (for Daesh) and voters (for the right wing extremists). Their final political objective is less clear –
    Best way to fight them for Europe is not giving in to the discord – which now is seen by many- , resolve unemployment and creating chances for a normal live of migrant children. “Helping” to restore real peace in zones of conflict and not trying to “make or build “ this peace by external forces. The outcome of the G20 seems promising for a beginning of the restoration of peace and will for sure be a target of the war mongering Daesh, But it will not resolve the feeding ground for recruitment of migrant children, the answer for that must be a socioeconomic one.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Well Ronald, that is a very dark view of things, that would mean slavery could never have ended, it would also mean we cannot shift form fossile fuel to renewables. I agree that western societies or rather all societies can create wicked problems that are very hard to resolve . Also I agree that western societies are indeed very connected to the what is called Military Industial Complex, which creates a situation in which battle fields (or wars) are welcomed or even fostered at least for testing reasons or for selling. But we can learn to bent this Industry towards global challenges as climate change, sustainable energy , disaster prevention , only it will take a lot of time and a gradual change of mind-sets world wide.

  10. Hello Anonymous

    I would be of the opinion we don’t have “a lot of time” to reshape this iteration of western civilization in its most recent cycle of collapse. Empires rise and empires fall… recalling Einstein again: “I don’t know what weapons will be used to fight World War Three but World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones”

    Certainly it is a dark view of things but if we cannot jettison the structural influences that see dull (Merkel), reactionary (Cameron, Hollande), and disingenuous (Obama) personalities pretending to leadership, your timeline is quite Pollyanna –

  11. TFH says:

    @victorvanrij, some good insights that I agree with. Made me think that different kinds of “extremists” trawl the same deep for “desperados.” Intel services of industrialized nations should in my oppinion have long since started to use their capacity to find youths that are at risk of suicide, if only to preserve the future pool of tax payers. Now there is an added incentive; there is someone else looking for them with for the purpose of weaponization.

  12. MY says:

    I would like to emphasize two points:
    1. Not only the Muslims are very familiar with Western culture and know where to hit it, they see the democratic regime as weak. Therefore, the Western democratic regimes must manifest and perhaps to develop something they still don’t have: an “immune system” against Muslim attackers who seek to destroy it.
    2. There is no doubt that in order to defeat Muslim extremists there is a need to attack and destroy its financial system, from which it feeds. The “question” is if financial interests in the West could prevent or halt operations in this area.

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