"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Paris. Beirut. Baghdad. This has been a bad week. Terror attacks from the self-described Islamic State (also known as ISIS) have shaken several communities and killed hundreds so far. Paris, in particular, experienced several simultaneous shooting sprees, bomb blasts, and a hostage situation (which eventually turned into a mass execution). Truly, the depravity of ISIS knows no bounds.
Let's make one thing clear right away. This is not the fault of the hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to escape the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. For the most part, they want to get as far away from these attacks as they can. Don't let veiled racism make you think otherwise. Not that they should have to, but it should also be noted that leading Muslim organizations have fully denounced the attacks as well. ISIS has its origins in al-Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency, and currently controls large amounts of territory in both Iraq and Syria. Both France and the United States (among many others) have been working to dismantle the so-called Islamic State. Though some very recent successes in this effort have been made, progress is still painfully slow.
So the question on everyone's mind is, of course, why? As we have investigated before, terror attacks occur due to a number of reasons. In this case, it appears the attacks have a lot in common with the attacks of September 11th, 2001. In short, this is about provocation. ISIS wants to provoke a massive and hostile response by the French government (and its allies) to draw them into conflict against their "state." The ISIS ideology and worldview is essentially apocalyptic. They are actively looking to bring about their interpretation of the end times, and this depends upon a foreign "infidel" army invading their land. Like 9/11 did in Afghanistan (and Iraq), they want to recreate the same sort of hellish insurgency which America found itself involved in for over a decade. This would obviously be disastrous. We cannot give in to fear and hatred, condemning ourselves to an infinite cycle of violence and suffering.
The other obvious reason for this attack is to take advantage of the refugee situation in Europe. Several of the terrorists reportedly carried Syrian passports during the attack, likely in a deliberate attempt to increase the already prevalent fear of migrants entering Europe. Why else would someone carry a passport during a suicide mission and in the Eurozone country where travel is mostly unrestricted? They want Europeans to lash out against Muslims and migrants (and France already has a history of anti-Islamic policies). They want Europe to close its borders to migrants, leaving them homeless, hopeless, resentful, and stranded throughout the continent. Essentially, the perfect recruits for their operations. Allowing migrants to enter a country (and be given shelter and employment) doesn't necessarily radicalize them, but keeping them out might.
It will be hard, but keeping our collective anger and fear from spiraling out of control is possible. Lebanon, for example, has experienced more than its share of this type of tragedy. Earlier this week, a series of car bombs detonated in a crowded market in Lebanon's capital of Beirut. Lebanon has faced the full force of the terror and instability of Syria's war and ISIS, and yet it has managed to stay largely out of the conflict. This is extremely surprising given Lebanon's very tenuous political system, which is a mix of Sunni, Shia, and Christian groups. The country has had a history of sectarian violence (and a brutal civil war). If ever there was a place which could devolve into sectarian conflict, it's Lebanon. Yet, majority populations from all groups have stated they will not allow their country to be torn asunder by the problems of Syria and ISIS. Despite years of war in neighboring Syria, Lebanon remains (relatively) stable. We should learn from their example.
Now this doesn't mean we do nothing. We can and almost certainly will retaliate. But there is a world of difference between fighting back and launching a full scale invasion or closing off a nation entirely from migrants. For instance, France could step up its support for operations against ISIS. They could also launch airstrikes or special operations missions of their own against critical targets. But the worst thing we could do at this critical moment is to panic. To lose our sense of security completely and rush into war would give these people exactly what they are looking for. To think that a full scale war is the appropriate response, that our collective vengeance, our righteous indignation, and our moral high ground will miraculously translate into the complete and utter capitulation of an apocalyptic death cult like ISIS is exceedingly naive.
Likewise, closing borders and allowing ourselves to be consumed by rampant xenophobia only fans the flames of this ideological conflict. America tried these tactics once, and all it did was help create the circumstances we find ourselves in now. Let us not confuse a rational response with inaction or weakness. The stronger power knows when to use force and when to show restraint. Otherwise, we risk playing into ISIS's prophecy, creating the bloody and apocalyptic battle they have been hoping for all along.
In all, these tragedies remind us that the struggle to end radical ideologies is far from over. Though it has been said a thousand times on this blog, most Muslims despise ISIS. They fear for their lives just as everyone else (ISIS doesn't spare Muslims from their wrath after all) and those who are fleeing the region do some predominantly out of a desire to escape terror, not bring it along. Finally, remember that terror attacks are extremely rare (though highly publicized). You are still more likely to drown in a bathtub than to be harmed by a terrorist attack. This week, let's show solidarity with all of the victims of ISIS's wanton destruction. We are all French, and Lebanese, and Iraqi, and Syrian. Their hollow and inept ideology will someday crumble under the weight of its own brutality. In the meantime, don't panic.
TL;DR: Now is the true test of our values. Do we stand by the ideals of liberté, égalité, and fraternité? Or will we discard these in the name of vengeance and security?
Photos courtesy of NPR News.