The outpouring of bellicose posturing and rampant Islamophobia coming out of the right-wings in both America and Europe is very alarming. It tells ISIS (IS/ISIL/Daesh) that their despicable attacks succeeded. They have struck at the heart of cosmopolitan Western civilization and struck at our unity, giving those predisposed to discrimination an excuse to persecute our fellow Muslim citizens and fostering terror to the point where we see threats of violence in the hearts of fleeing mothers and children.
It would be wise for us to listen to Nicholas Hénin, a French journalist for the Guardian who spent ten months in ISIS captivity. In a recent op-ed, he makes a very compelling case for why we absolutely must not overreact to the Paris attacks, why we must not respond with violence and hate, for that simply feeds them confidence and confirms that their atrocious methods will get them what they want.
It struck me forcefully how technologically connected they are; they follow the news obsessively, but everything they see goes through their own filter. They are totally indoctrinated, clinging to all manner of conspiracy theories, never acknowledging the contradictions.
Everything convinces them that they are on the right path and, specifically, that there is a kind of apocalyptic process under way that will lead to a confrontation between an army of Muslims from all over the world and others, the crusaders, the Romans. They see everything as moving us down that road. Consequently, everything is a blessing from Allah.
With their news and social media interest, they will be noting everything that follows their murderous assault on Paris, and my guess is that right now the chant among them will be “We are winning”. They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.
Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance – it is not what they want to see.
And yet more bombs will be our response. I am no apologist for Isis. How could I be? But everything I know tells me this is a mistake. The bombardment will be huge, a symbol of righteous anger. Within 48 hours of the atrocity, fighter planes conducted their most spectacular munitions raid yet in Syria, dropping more than 20 bombs on Raqqa, an Isis stronghold. Revenge was perhaps inevitable, but what’s needed is deliberation. My fear is that this reaction will make a bad situation worse.
While we are trying to destroy Isis, what of the 500,000 civilians still living and trapped in Raqqa? What of their safety? What of the very real prospect that by failing to think this through, we turn many of them into extremists? The priority must be to protect these people, not to take more bombs to Syria.
Canada withdrew from the air war after the election of Justin Trudeau. I desperately want France to do the same, and rationality tells me it could happen. But pragmatism tells me it won’t. The fact is we are trapped: Isis has trapped us. They came to Paris with Kalashnikovs, claiming that they wanted to stop the bombing, but knowing all too well that the attack would force us to keep bombing or even to intensify these counterproductive attacks. That is what is happening.
Isis will collapse, but politics will make that happen. In the meantime there is much we can achieve in the aftermath of this atrocity, and the key is strong hearts and resilience, for that is what they fear. I know them: bombing they expect. What they fear is unity.
Like the American far-right ultrareligious conservatives who believe a conflict between Iran and Israel that will bring about the End Of Days written in the Book of Revelations, ISIS is doing everything they can to goad the West into invading Iraq and Syria, to overextend and get bogged down in a series of quagmires like the United States did following the 9/11 attacks, to finish out the great struggle between Christian and Muslim that began even before the Crusades.
George W. Bush’s response to the 9/11 terror attacks gave Osama bin Laden everything that he wanted. We overextended and wasted trillions of dollars on useless foreign wars, destabilized entire regions, killed hundreds of thousands, and turned the world against us in a drunken rampage across the Middle East and Central Asia. We abandoned our own values and turned to torture and murder to get what we want. We must not fall into that same trap and make those same mistakes again, especially not to a group of “street kids drunk on ideology and power.” We cannot give in to fear and terror; peace and unity are our strongest weapons in the face of unspeakable hatred.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.