Once again a large-scale terror attack hits France and it’s currently determined that the disreputable Iraqi- Syrian, Islamic terror organization Isil was behind the attacks. Despite France’s large efforts to build a strong security apparatus, it has not been able to protect itself against a repetition. The perpetrators have used the weak spots of the open, democratic society and succeeded in infiltrating and planning a massive terror attack. Thus, the security services do not have the capacity to fully protect their citizens.
SHORT-TERM CONSEQUENCES. Martial law was imposed in France following the attacks, which means that the democratic norms are set aside. These measures are undoubtedly necessary to quickly make the anti-terror campaign more efficient in the short run, but also risk to expose common citizens with a Muslim background to discrimination and persecution.
Intensified warfare in Syria and Iraq concerning France as well as allied powers is likely. Perhaps there will be increased demands on ground troops in Syria combined with a stronger will from the international community to find a diplomatic solution of this armed conflict that has raged for almost five years, a conflict that increasingly has started to spill over into Europe (through refugee crisis and terror attacks). Regarding Isil, a diplomatic solution is not possible, they can only be combatted militarily. However, military intervention alone is far from enough to create a long-standing peace in the Middle east or, consequently, to reduce the long-term terror threat against Europe.
Risk for increased hatred against Muslims and immigrants with Middle Eastern/North African descent is probable following terror attacks of this kind, which might lead to violence against these groups. Increased support for anti-democratic extremist parties in France and other European countries can also follow, a consequence that in a worst case scenario can threaten the peace, security and economy of the entire EU.
CAUSES. The causes for the terror attacks are several, and the primary ones are derived from the failed states and armed conflicts of the Middle East, conflicts that tend to spill over into Europe. These concern conflict between states and armed groups as well as between armed groups, most of which have arisen from ethnic and religious divisions. In turn, these conflicts have several causes: lack of civil rights and socioeconomic divides between ethnic groups and etcetera. Furthermore, there are historical and colonial causes in how these states were formed and which elites gained power at the time of independence. The armed conflicts that erupt in the wake of the mentioned societal errors at last create a power vacuum where extremist Islamic tides get a hold onto society and manage to grow.
Syria, for example, has since independence in 1946 constantly been in the claws of a ruthless dictatorship, more or less stable. The Assad family has ruled the country with a hard hand since 1970 and has systematically favored its own ethnic minority, the Alawites (a Shiite religious group). Despite massive repression with its horrific torture chambers, Hafez Al-Assad (current president’s father) managed to hold the Sunni majority in check, for instance by letting them do business and make money in a fairly open business climate.
With Bashar Al-Assad’s overtaking of power following his father’s death in 2000, however, the Alawite power elite started to seize assets and thereby created a widespread dissatisfaction among the Sunni majority. Encouraged by the Arabic Spring in North Africa, also the Syrian people raised against the dictatorship, a system that made it impossible for the people to utter discontent in other ways than taking it to the streets.
The response was immediate and exceedingly violent. The Syrian regime was one of the world’s most repressive already before the revolution, and the fierce reaction with extreme assaults on its own population radicalized the opposition and led to a spiral of violence of mighty proportions.
Except the above mentioned outer factors, there are factors also within France. These are unproportionally high unemployment rates among immigrants (foremost Muslims), which have led to social exclusion and rejection that in turn have led to radicalization of young men with Middle Eastern and North African descent. Hence, these are induced to organizations like Isil where they, arguably, obtain a feeling of meaning and importance.
SOLUTIONS. A final solution to end Islamist terrorism in the western world requires several far-reaching, extensive and coordinated measures within Europe/western democracies as well as in the Middle East. The ongoing armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq necessitate an enormous military international intervention, including the Muslim states of the Middle East/Arabic peninsula as well as the EU, the US and probably also Russia. In a best case scenario, this should occur through a resolution in the UN Security Council to give it judicial resilience.
In order to reach a lasting peace there need to be great diplomatic efforts from both the large powers and the warring parties (even though all parties are not receptive for negotiations).
A military effort will be hugely extensive and expensive and would probably require more than 100 000 troops. Above this, an enormous civilian effort from the United Nations and international NGO:s is essential to capture the actual sources of conflict, i.e. an effort to keep an accomplished peace and to build democratic (or in the short run functioning and uncorrupt government bodies). All these efforts would require colossal political will from the considerable powers in region as well as from EU/USA/Russia.
Furthermore, extensive reforms of the western societies are needed to stifle radicalization of under-privileged groups, which in turn require broad deals between different political parties (from left to right) regarding job-creating and social inclusion measures, and actions to hamper ethnic conflict.
Political will to a sufficient degree is thus the key, nationally as well as regionally and globally, with military, diplomatic and nation building measures from several significant powers. Is that political will present today? Not likely. But that is the only way to stop the kind of international terrorism that has struck France and that likely will strike a European country soon again.