Sunday, 15 November 2015
The Paris Attacks and Paranoia
The shocking and horrific actions of Friday night in Paris, where people enjoying end of the working week entertainment in bars and restaurants or sporting and musical events, were slaughtered by terrorists, the ramifications are still sinking in. With 129 people killed and over 350 injured, many critically, the sheer scale of the attack is difficult to fully take in. Investigations are ongoing and information seeps out bit by bit, but it does appear certain that the Islamic State (IS) terror group had a role in the atrocity of some sort.
It has brought back memories for me of the London transport system bombings of ten years ago. There was a very strange feeling about in London in the days after the attack where 52 people and the 4 bombers were killed. Travelling on the London Underground was a scary experience, everyone was nervous, but there was also a kind of camaraderie present among the commuters. People with rucksacks and bags left them wide open so all could see what was inside of them.
There was also a highly visible police presence in central London. I took a bus along Oxford Street a few days after the attack and two police officers boarded the bus and started searching everyone’s bags, including mine. It did occur to me at the time, that if I was a suicide bomber, this would the moment I would detonate the device taking a couple of ‘bobbies’ with me. It was a public relations exercise of course from the police, and I guess it did reassure some people. It took quite few weeks to get back to a normal feeling in the city.
The Paris attack comes only ten months after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and a Jewish supermarket, but from listening to the news reports it seems that the people of Paris have not by and large, taken Friday’s attack quite so stoically. The Charlie Hebdo incident was clearly an attack on one publication and a wider attack on the freedom of speech. Friday night was indiscriminate, anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time was caught up in it and it is clear that the terrorist’s intention was to kill as many as possible.
Two of the seven or eight perpetrators are said to have been French nationals and the French security forces believe that there are many sleeper cells in the country. But another report quickly surfaced in the media suggesting that one or maybe two of the assailants were Syrian, having entered Europe through Greece.
The worry now is that right wing politicians in France and elsewhere will want to bar further refugees from Syria and the surrounding countries from entering Europe. Indeed the new Polish governing party Law and Justice have already made this point. Will the Front National in France increase its support amongst the French people? Situations like this often lead to extreme politicians being listened to and the often simplistic solutions they make gaining popularity.
There will be renewed calls for stepping up military action from the West in Syria, which again will probably be received well by a nervous public. The fact that the Americans estimate that they have killed 20,000 members of IS since they started bombing Syria, but estimate that IS have recruited 50,000 over the same period is a sobering thought. The more IS is attacked, the stronger it gets.
There will also be calls in the UK particularly for increasing surveillance of internet users, with the so called ‘Snoopers Charter’ about to be debated in Parliament. Governments always use atrocities like Paris to force through draconian anti civil liberties legislation. That these type of freedoms are what we are supposed to be fighting to protect, often gets lost in the general paranoia.
It is a sad fact that before Western countries got involved in wars in Iraq and the region, IS did not exist, and we must accept that our foreign policy has had an impact on what happens in our own countries. If we are to defeat IS and similar groups we need to, as George Galloway has put it, (not someone I’m a huge fan of), ‘drain the swamp.’ We need to stop making IS an attractive organisation to our citizens so they do not want to join the group, and we need intelligence on the ground in Muslim communities, so events like Paris are foiled before they can be launched.