— Financial Times (@FT) November 14, 2015
Friday’s attacks on Paris show that the terror threat remains. Itâ€™s time to fight back with every means at our disposal and take the fight to ISIS writes Keiran Pedley. But do we have the stomach for it?
I thought quite hard before writing this piece. I wasnâ€™t sure whether or not it was too soon. To those that think it is I say fair enough. However, having had some (limited) time to think I wanted to post my initial reaction.
First things first, solidarity with France and with Parisians in particular. They are our friends, our brothers and sisters. With Paris but two hours from London by train, it is hard not to feel these attacks a little stronger than others. At the time of writing the shocking death toll is at least 128 according to the BBC. It will only rise. I am supposed to be going there with my wife and her parents in a couple of weeks. I would love to say that we definitely still will but I just donâ€™t know yet.
What happens next?
Once the dust settles and life returns to â€˜normalâ€™ (as it must) thoughts will inevitably turn to what comes next and how the West responds. I say â€˜the Westâ€™ because, as President Obama said with his typical eloquence on Friday night, this really is an attack on all of us rather than just France.
This is more than just rhetoric. We all know deep down that this will be London one day. It is just a matter of time. As someone that lives in London, works in Canary Wharf and regularly visits the capitalâ€™s pubs, restaurants and cinemas I feel this only too well. The point is that when we are attacked, we will expect the international community to unite in response and so we must unite with France today. Itâ€™s what friends do.Â But what does â€˜uniteâ€™ mean? What should Britain actually do? There are no easy answers but three points immediately come to mind.
The first point is that is we must stick together, with our allies and amongst ourselves as a country. People will use these attacks to further their own political causes and we must not let them. We must resist blaming the migrant crisis. After all, it is exactly this sort of violence (and worse) that these people are fleeing from in the first place. We must also resist suspicious glances at Muslims in general, 99.9% of whom deplore such actions as the Muslim Council of Britain has made clear. We must even resist the temptation to lapse into the lazy assumption that this is all Blair and Bushâ€™s fault. Debates about EU borders and Jeremy Corbynâ€™s fitness for the office of Prime Minister can also wait too. Of course the media has a responsibility here in how it reports events but we wonâ€™t hold our breath there.
The long war
Â Secondly, we have to prepare ourselves for the â€˜long warâ€™. By this I do not strictly mean military action alone but the less â€˜Hollywoodâ€™ but arguably more practical steps we can take to fight back day to day. This will be hard. It means being simultaneously vigilant and empowering our security services to keep us safe without sacrificing our civil liberties or alienating vulnerable young Muslim men and women in the process. Nevertheless, we cannot fight this war with one hand tied behind our backs. We are going to have to accept some degree of empowering the security services in ways we might not like to keep us safe. After all, this is governmentsâ€™ first responsibility. We are also going to have to look very closely at where ISIS gets it’s money from and follow those conversations wherever they lead.
And finally comes the hard bit. The military solution. I accept that this will upset many. Military action in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan has not made us safer people will cry and look at the human cost of those conflicts. I have a degree of sympathy here. Saddamâ€™s fabled WMD are already etched into British political history and it is hard not to look at the death tolls (and injuries) in Iraq and Afghanistan without asking â€˜is it all worth itâ€™?
But hereâ€™s the thing we must remember. We didn’t create ISIS and we didn’t create Al Qaeda. They are the result of a poisonous ideology that pollutes one of the world great (peaceful) religions. To these people there will always be a reason to attack us. When we intervene our troops are on Muslim lands and must be expelled. When we don’t we are enslaving Muslims by propping up corrupt tyrants. We are the evil West and it is always our fault. Sadly many in the British left agree.
However, what has changed since Friday is that it is fast becoming clear that this isn’t going away. Any hope that if we simply ignore ISIS and withdraw from the Middle East then we will be safe seems hopelessly naive. Perhaps it always was but with every attack this becomes more and more painfully clear.
Britain has to get over its Iraq hangover and reengage with the world properly. Right now we feel very hesitant and half-hearted.Â If, as I mention above, you accept Friday’s attacks are on all of us and that inaction doesn’t make the problem go away, then the West has to start contemplating the military option and Britain must play its part. This does not mean we can bomb our way to peace but that our response cannot include allowing ISIS to solidify its position in Syria and Iraq.
In all honesty Britain’s military policy in the Middle East is an embarrassment at the moment. Bombing ISIS in Iraq but not across the now largely artificial Iraqi / Syrian border makes no sense.Â It is why we had to rely on the U.S. to deal with the so-called ‘Jihadi John’ this week. The Prime Minister is going to have to put intervention in Syria back on the table. If it requires a fight with (and within) Labour then so be it.
â€˜Boots on the groundâ€™?
The problem is I have a feeling that bombing alone won’t be enough. We may end up facing the real prospect of British â€˜boots on the groundâ€™ in Syria and Iraq as part of a UN peace-keeping force (backed by NATO) designed to uphold any regional political settlement the international community arrives at. This won’t happen overnight – it may never happen at all – but if it does we must be prepared to play our part; however tough that might be for us to accept.
And perhaps here is the real question â€“ do we have the stomach for it? We are fighting an inter-generational conflict that wonâ€™t be over any time soon. It will take significant resources, time and human cost before it is over. It is no wonder that we want to believe that if we look the other way then it wonâ€™t concern us, that if we ignore it then it will go away. However, events this weekend suggest such a belief is woefully misplaced. This fight is with us whether we like it or not. It is now up to us how we respond. There are no easy answers. There is no one solution. Cool heads must prevail but nothing must be off the table.
You can follow Keiran at @keirapedley