Can Europe Make It?

We don't need another "war on terror", we need a policy change

We need a serious debate about the failure of the "war on terror". Here are a few proposals for an alternative strategy.

René Wildangel
20 November 2015

Tributes to the victims in Republic Square. Demotix/ Nesrine Cheikh Ali. All rights reserved.As the world still mourns Paris, a new war on terror is being declared. French President Francois Hollande, on the day after the attacks, spoke of an “act of war” and declared a state of emergency. For the French opposition this was not enough: Former President Nicholas Sarkozy declared he would act tougher than his successor and right wing icon Marine Le Pen called, once more, for stopping immigration to France.

Since then, the race for the harshest verbal reaction to the ISIS attacks is on.

Pope Francis spoke of the “Third World War”, while Secretary of State Kerry called ISIS terrorists “psychopathic monsters”. Europe’s rising right wing extremists abuse the horrific attacks in their populist campaign against immigrants; those same immigrants fleeing from ISIS terror in Syria and Iraq and other war zones. In Hungary, right wing Prime Minister Victor Orbán also implied it is time to stop receiving immigrants while he sees “Europe’s existence is at stake”, which was echoed in Germany by leaders from Bavarian’s right wing party CSU and the new Neonazi-backed AfD.

However, the demand for closing borders is not the only fallout from the Paris attacks; political leaders quickly announced to invest more money into the security and military sector and support harsher military reactions to ISIS and other terrorist organizations; increased bombing raids on ISIS positions by French fighter jets were an expected and almost obligatory reaction.

Of course, the continued effort of well equipped security forces, police and a functioning justice apparatus is indeed needed in order to protect citizens and bring murderers to justice. And it’s obvious, that a coordinated military answer ISIS, which still controls wide parts of Syria and Iraq, is also necessary. But a new “war on terror” – this time possibly including a massive bombardment of ISIS territory or a ground invasion – has little prospects for success.

The dejá vu is obvious. On September 21, 2001 then US President George Bush also spoke of 9/11 as an “act of war” against America and declared a “war on terrorism” at home and abroad. But in other countries too, the discourse on security changed after the deadly destruction of the World Trade Centre. After the coordinated attack on several passenger trains in Madrid 2004 left 191 people dead - 60 more then the most recent attacks on Paris – Europe followed suit.

In the wake of the terror attacks of the early 2000s we did not only get used to taking off our shoes at airports or being filmed in public spaces across Europe; groundbreaking laws like the “Patriot Act” in the US rolled back on civil rights and freedoms, with security and surveillance agencies getting ever more far reaching competencies and support. Some of those measures, as we now, are difficult to take back. A prime example is the US facility in Guantánamo Bay which was opened for the “most dangerous terrorists” and denied them a fair legal procedure. Until today President Obama failed to deliver a central promise of his 2008 campaign: closing Guantánamo.

9/11 prepared the ground not only for the US led intervention in Afghanistan, but ultimately also the invasion in Iraq. With the presence of foreign troops, but a lack of political solutions, ethnic differences and tensions and ultimately violent conflict increased dramatically, destroying a social fabric already hollowed by years of dictatorships and military rule. And nothing nurtured the growth of ISIS as much as the marginalization and humiliation of Iraq’s Sunni community in the gloomy dungeons of Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca.

The war on terror, in short, became both a substantial threat to civil liberties and did little to diminish the dangers of terrorism. If the post-Paris discussion will focus on security exclusively once again, it will be impossible to overcome the current challenges. This time, a more comprehensive analysis of underlying reasons and policies is necessary.

Interestingly, one European leader stood out in her reaction to the Paris attacks: German chancellor Angela Merkel, who in the past weeks largely stood by her policy of receiving asylum seekers from war zones (as stipulated by the German constitution), told Germans: “We know that our life of freedom is stronger than terror… Let us answer the terrorists by living our values with courage.”

No, values alone will not overcome terrorism networks, weapons smuggling, hate speech, and infiltration attempts. However, all of these acts are illegal and can and should be fought with the full force of existing laws. More important than a competition for strongest terms to denounce ISIS (or insisting on calling out the Arabic acronym Da’esh because of an alleged derogatory connotation in Arabic) Europe and the US need to think about some real policy changes, finally:

    Stop supporting dictators.

  • The fact that some people cynically but consciously accept Bashar Al-Assad’s propaganda of offering help in fighting ISIS and even consider him still a legitimate figure is almost a curiosity. The same dictator who helped grow ISIS from the early days of the insurgency in Iraq, can hardly be an ally in the “war on terror”. The current Vienna peace talks must be used to convince Iran and Russia to find a new formula for Syria’s transition. But it’s not only about Syria. The EU and US should stop to cater to Sisi’s rule in Egypt immediately. His policy of oppressing freedoms and rights, including both the secular opposition as well as non-violent Islamists, will backfire soon enough and another generation of Islamist extremists is being bred in his torture chambers.

    Stop exporting arms to the Middle East and stop pretending Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Countries are our “allies”.

  • Saudi Arabia has been the source of Wahabist Islam and until today has co-financed radical Sunni insurgent and terrorist groups through various channels. The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is gruesome and yet the country continues to be treated as an “ally”. Saudi Arabia needs to be pressured to play a completely different role in the region and change its internal discriminatory policies. Decisions to deliver arms worth billions of dollars to Gulf countries, as a recent decision to go ahead with exports to Qatar in the end of October, are harmful and directly contradict the lessons from Paris.

Invest in solving the Mideast conflict.

The "classical" conflict in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians almost seems forgotten these days. In the wake of the Paris attacks Israeli Economy Minister Bennett of the pro-settler “Bayt Ha-Yehudi” declared once more the death of the two-state solution and underlined Israeli control of Palestinian territories is necessary to prevent the rise of ISIS there. He said: “A Palestinian state is a strategic danger that must be uprooted.”

The current right-wing Israeli government should not get away with their silent burial oft he two-state-solution, as this far-reaching decision has the potential to generate a new wave of violence which will go far beyond what we have seen in Israel and the Palestinian Territories in the past weeks and which will continue to inspire extremist on a global level.

As the conflict parties in an asymmetric conflict cannot solve their differences, bold external conflict resolution is needed. It is true, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the core conflict in the region anymore. But with its global implications from the Middle East to the Islamic and Arab migrant communities in Europe a regulation of the conflict would an important cornerstone for a strategy to weaken extremism.

    Develop a human asylum and refugee policy and legal ways to immigrate and travel to Europe and the United States.

  • The right wing parties in Europe and Presidential candidates are quick to exploit the fears existing in the population after the Paris attacks. They blame those immigrants, who flee from exactly the kind of ISIS terror we have witnessed in Paris. Those overwhelmingly vulnerable refugees do not only need shelter, but a vision for how they can be integrated fully into their new environments, if they cannot return to their home countries.
  • A human and well organized integration of refugees will be a much more important contribution to the future of Europe’s safety and security and democracy then security measures at the borders or bombing raids on ISIS. The most vulnerable group of people fleeing from violence and conflict must not be victims in a new “war on terror”.

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