My mind, like that of every sane person, is still in a state of shock following last Friday's atrocities in Paris. For so long now, I have been commenting upon terrorism, terrorists and their methods. This year alone, we have seen innocents slaughtered in Paris, Tunisia, Egypt and finally Paris again. Yet again, I find myself struggling to analyse the aims and intentions of Jihadi killers - usually fanatics from ISIS. I shall do so again here, as I feel I owe it to the victims of these attacks to try and make some sense of such despicable crimes. So much has been said already in the media, but I shall make an attempt to bring a personal perspective .
I was pleased, if by no means happy, to see a terrorism expert recognise that the Paris attacks are meant as a provocation. He rightly said that ISIS want to bait France into a violent retaliation, either militarily in Syria, or by attacks on the Muslim community in France. This strategy, which I have written about before, is intended to further resentment against French society among already alienated Muslim youth, and thus bring Jihadi groups more recruits.
These crimes are also attacks upon European culture. Isis hate the very idea of people enjoying themselves on beaches, in concerts, restaurants, sports fixtures and concert halls, most of which were viciously assaulted on Friday evening. As Billy Bragg said on Twitter:
"This is an attack on anyone who goes to a bar, to a restaurant, to a gig or a game. Abhorrent."
When David Cameron talks of ISIS being an existential threat to us, this is what he means. Their aim is to create a miserable, joyless existence for all humanity, and they are prepared to inhumanly slaughter innocent people of all ages to do it. They are also prepared to die to bring this about; only one terrorist was shot dead on Friday evening, while the other seven committed suicide. This is because, like Hitler's Einsatzgruppen or Stalin's NKVD, they believed they were doing the right thing. We must not lose sight of that. You cannot change beliefs unless you understand them - especially fanatical beliefs.
These, I believe, are the main aims of ISIS strategy, but there is also the question of their tactics. As has been noted, ISIS are slowly giving ground militarily in Syria and Iraq, and as a tactic, and perhaps also a morale raiser, are launching increasingly bloody attacks on the European mainland. As we have seen, they like "soft" targets, where there is little or no chance of effective resistance. By massacring unarmed civilians, they are baiting European governments, effectively saying:
"See how weak you are. Despite your military muscle, you cannot protect your own citizens from us."
To their (twisted) minds, last Friday in Paris will be a great achievement. For the loss of just eight "martyrs", they have killed 129 "infidels", and wounded hundreds more. They might be losing on one front, but they will seek victory on other "fronts". It is not too far-fetched to say that all of us in Europe are on the front line against terrorism.
One aspect of these crimes puzzled me: how is it possible for terrorists in France to acquire AK-47 rifles so easily? The AK-47 has been a favourite with guerilla and terror groups for some time - the IRA called it "the widowmaker". France, like the UK, has strict gun laws. As Al-Jazeera says:
"In France individuals, except for certified collectors, are prohibited from owning military-class arms. Those hoping to possess a handgun or hunting rifle in France must pass a stringent background check and a mental health evaluation and must obtain a license."
The answer would appear to be: smuggling and the Internet. It is only too easy to move illegal goods and weapons around Europe. I am reliably informed, for example, that it is possible to drive from Brussels to Paris without any customs checks. The source of these weapons appears to be so-called "failed states" and conflict zones. Again, as Al-Jazeera says:
" Weapons left over from wars are also often trafficked across borders, which was the case after the Libyan revolution in 2011. The New York–based nonprofit Foreign Policy Association says that there are millions of weapons from the conflict and there is little regulation by government officials. "
The "dark internet" is also a means to an end of buying illegal guns. But this is not a French problem; it is a European problem, and we must unite to deal with it.
Personally, I see no alternative now other than to eradicate ISIS by all means necessary - even if we have to forge alliances with Russia and (I can't believe I'm saying this) Iran. Even then, we are in for a long, hard battle, and ISIS will fight like cornered rats on steroids. Nonetheless, they must be defeated, despite tragedies like that in Paris on Friday evening. I suppose people will object to this view by pointing out, correctly, that ISIS only came into being because of the invasion of Iraq. That does not preclude action by us now - if we caused the problem, then we should help to solve it.
I don't know if anyone in Paris or France will get to read this blog, but, should they do so, I wish to send my condolences and those of my regular contributors and readers. Our hearts are with you, and we know that the City of Light will be victorious over the forces of darkness. Through your tears, you will triumph. As your national hymn says:
"Aux armes, citoyens !
Formez vos bataillons !
Marchons ! Marchons !
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !"