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November 15, 2015 9:29 am

Five Lessons From the Paris Tragedy

avatar by David Harris

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French police gathering evidence at the Bataclan theatre the day after the attacks. Photo: Wikipedia.

French police gathering evidence at the Bataclan theatre the day after the attacks. Photo: Wikipedia.

Once again, terrorists have struck, this time in Paris again and with devastating results.

The scenes were heartbreaking, as France faced its most deadly assault since the Second World War, and only ten months after three terrorist attacks in the French capital took the lives of 17 people.

Today, the focus is on mourning the victims, comforting their families, aiding the injured, calming the jittery public, and beefing up security, while, at the same time, ensuring there are no terrorist compatriots waiting in the wings for a new spree of violence. At the same time, the authorities must put together the pieces of exactly what happened, who the perpetrators were, where their training and weapons came from, and whether French intelligence missed signals of what was clearly a sophisticated plan, not a spontaneous action.

Tomorrow, the focus must take into account five longer-term factors.

First, solidarity among likeminded nations needs to be permanent, not episodic. The civilized world is facing a transnational threat. Terrorists move around. They take advantage of the digital age, which knows no borders. They create both formal and informal networks that may span countries, continents, or beyond.

The response, accordingly, must ensure the maximum possible consultation, cooperation, and coordination among countries in the same boat.

Second, it’s high time to drop the evasive language too often used to describe the perpetrators of these heinous crimes and get specific.

They are not just “violent extremists,” though, of course, they are. They are not just “terrorists,” though, of course, they are that as well.

They are radical Islamists inspired by their interpretation of religion, however perverted it may be. They shout “Allahu Akhbar,” “God is great,” before killing. They believe in jihad as a legitimate form of violence. They aspire to a promised place in heaven as a “martyr,” and with their just rewards. And they believe they are fulfilling God’s will.

Third, this is a time of testing for France and, indeed, all of Europe. They dare not be found wanting. Too much is at stake. And those outside who cynically deride Europe or consign it to the dustbin of history are making a monumental mistake.

Europe must prevail in this epic struggle. If it falls short, the entire world – or at least that part of it which believes in democratic values, the rule of law, pluralism, and the protection of human dignity – loses. Europe, together with its friends, must find both the will and capacity to fight back, to defend itself, and to triumph.

It won’t be easy, nor will it be quick. But hoping the problem will one day go away is not a strategy, nor is tying the hands of, or eviscerating the budgets of, law enforcement, intelligence, and the military, nor is defending privacy rights at all costs, as some policy purists would do, even if it means endangering national security and personal safety. Some judicious accommodations must be made in today’s democratic societies, or else the consequences could be profound.

Fourth, as long as the Middle East and North Africa are unstable, the geopolitical challenges will remain immense. No, there is no obvious pathway out of this. The U.S. learned that in spades by trying to engage in nation-building in Iraq, which didn’t work, then by seeking an exit strategy from Iraq, which also didn’t quite go according to plan. And we also learned it in Syria, where there simply were no good options to pick from, only bad and worse alternatives.

That said, though, we, the U.S. and Europe, can ill afford to remain at arm’s length, praying that we will remain unscathed. Recent events amply prove the failure of that approach.

Europe is inundated with migrants from failed or failing nations, with no end in sight. Whatever Europe’s noble intentions, the challenges are immense – seeking to determine who these people really are; developing short-term strategies for their care and shelter; planning for their integration and acculturation, while knowing how difficult it has often been to absorb previous generations from these regions; and looking out for dangerous or disaffected individuals who could turn against their new countries.

In other words, if we don’t go to the Middle East (and North Africa), the Middle East will come to us, and in ways that could prove disruptive, not to mention deadly.

And finally, when will Europe finally wake up and realize that democratic Israel is part of the solution, not the problem?

At the end of the day, the terrorism faced by France – or Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, the U.K., etc. – is a kissing cousin of that confronted by Israel. Some European leaders go to great lengths to deny that obvious truth, seeking instead to draw distinctions that are, in fact, largely non-existent, or suggesting that Israel somehow “deserves” what it gets, while implying that Europe does not.

Let’s get real.

The authors of 9/11 detested who and what America is. They didn’t give a darn what political party was in power, because they attacked the Twin Towers when Clinton was president and again when Bush was in the Oval Office.

The same with Europe. The target is Europe’s value system – its democracy, openness, freedom, and secularism.

And, yes, the same with Israel. The terrorists of Hamas (with which the Palestinian Authority made a pact), Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and ISIS don’t want Israel to exist, period. They’re not interested in who’s in power in Jerusalem or how to get to a two-state accord, but rather establishing their rule over the entire land.

How, then, do we ensure that the barbaric tragedy in Paris isn’t quickly forgotten or simply added to a growing list of terrorist outrages?

Essentially, by pursuing two strategies at once – rededicating ourselves to the values the terrorists would destroy, and stiffening our spines and showing the resolve to defeat our adversaries.

They have their world – a world, as we have seen, of suicide bombings, beheadings, intolerance, repression of women, and suffocating religious doctrine.

We have our world – a world that aspires to human rights, equality, freedom of worship, and mutual respect.

Yesterday’s tragic events in Paris should be another urgent wake-up call that, whether we live in France or elsewhere, our world needs, and is worth, defending.

This article was originally published by The Huffington Post and The Times of Israel. 

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  • danny kid

    Allahu akbar is not “God is great”. It is “allah is tbe greatest”. There is an enormous difference.

  • DG

    Assad bombed a defenseless civil population just because they are Sunni; Western countries support for the moderate opposition was negligible. So Sunni families hit by Assad’s army realized that the only ones who can give them protection is ISIS; Or try to reach Western Europe.
    And both happened.

  • Franklin Delano Paskutnik

    Why is the Western media referring to the Muslim murderers in Paris as “terrorists”,but calling the Muslim murderers of Jews in Israel “militants”?I’m sure this double standard is fully supported by the Grand Mufti sitting in the Oval Office in Washington!

  • marta mikey frid

    If we all know the answer, why can’t we implement it? What are the sinister interests holding us back? Why are the so called democratic regimes frightened to confess those motives? Once we can separate ourselves from those interests, the fighting strategies should not be too difficult to arrive at.

  • Mordecai Ben Natan

    I cannot understand why the nations fighting terrorism, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, USA etc. do not form a massive air raid like the British did against Germany in WW2, and flatten all of Gaza, and other areas where the devil (Isis) resides.
    There should be no mercy on those satanist. There are no “innocent” people there. They are the world’s most evil of all time.

    And now, the USA has given the other satanists, Iran, the go ahead to develop the bomb to create another holocaust by slaughtering 6 million Jews in one fell swoop

    And the South African government invited Hamas leader to South Africa, where he was given a state welcome. Now, the deputy president of South Africa, is in Iran to form closer ties.

    I wonder how many members of ISIS are in South Africa (by invitation?)


    Excellent assessment of the situation.

  • steven L

    Islamists are by definition radical. The western world will ignore as usual, Israel predicaments

  • Charles D.Gelfand

    Well said David, but we need to all form a United force, including Russia, China, Europe, and of course. The USA.
    I would ask African nations to aid us in this battle together with the Arab nations in the Middle East and the eradication of these Jihadist groups should be a United cause.

  • Ann Ginsburgh Hofkin

    This is one of the most succinct and frank assessments of the world situation in which we find ourselves. Bravo to David Harris for his deep insights into how we must stand up for and defend our values and human rights.

  • Let us be honest, the West has become the Ostrich. It has buried its head so deep into the ground that it can no longer see the light. Albert Einstein defined Insane clear when he said that when an individual engages in the same behavior over and over again, each and every tie expecting together different result, yet each and every time getting the exact same result is INSANE.

    TheWest’s policy lead by the Obama Administration has done exactly that. Attempting to show compassion and caring toward who they consider the victim,the Arab world, has resulted in the same results. Those results have been more terror, death and destruction.

    Has the West raised their heads from what they believe is their underground sanctuary? The answer is a resounding NO.

    So much energy, resources and time have been spent blaming Israel and a blind eye and deaf ears have become the standard operating procedure. Nothing has changed other than more violence, an increased death toll and ever more destruction. The response, they just need more jobs.

    Europe is wobbling demographically. They are committing suicide. Wave after wave of Arab immigrants are rolling into Europe and these individual do not assimilate. This type of immigration without assimilation cannot continue because Europe will be changed that to turn itself around will be near impossible. America under the leadership of President Obama is following the example of Europe. The consequences will be the same.

    Western Civilization must be awaken for if not the results will be a 1000 1000 TwinTowers.

  • Jonnie

    The very last sentence, is there a word missing or am I reading poorly?

  • We are shocked. We are horrified. We are grieving. We are terrorized. We are in a terrible conundrum, “violence begats violence”, vs, “turn the other cheek”, the platitudes we have all learned which our terrified body/minds adapt to the purpose of assuaging uncomfortable feelings, so how can we apply knowledge to the problem of an implacable enemy who wants to terrorize us in order to weaken us and draw us further into their holy war? And I do NOT know the answer, and nobody else does either. We will do what we can to identify these barbarians and eliminate them, and we will perhaps succeed. And, perhaps not. Either way look to a further suspension of civil liberties and both greater risk and inconvenience in travel and soon, just living anywhere in the civilized world. You think it is bad now? It will get worse. Dr. Robert