Roundtable: how should the West respond to the Paris attacks?
by Ian Sinclair
16 December 2015
Following the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015, the British Government has got its wish to join the air campaign against Islamic State (IS) in Syria, winning the parliamentary vote on 2 December 2015.
Ian Sinclair asked campaigners and academics to give their analysis on the on-going crisis.
Kate Hudson, General Secretary, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Seeking to continue or escalate western intervention and war in the Middle East, as our government does, is the worst response, either to the Paris atrocities or as a solution to the region’s problems. The war on terror unleashed this nightmare – the failures of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – following more than a century of colonialism which created the conditions for the rise of terrorist organisations. Further war and intervention will only make the situation worse, fuelling support for terrorist organisations; war is not the answer. The UN resolution outlines crucial steps to help achieve a solution, including closing off funding channels and recruitment routes to Islamic State (IS). These two initiatives alone would significantly assist in breaking the strength of IS. Increased bombing will only boost their support and result in the deaths of countless innocents. We must stand united against any attempts to divide our communities, to stoke the fires of racism and Islamophobia. We must stand in defence of refugees, so many of whom are fleeing the very forces that have inflicted this tragedy on France. Neither they, nor our Muslim communities, can be made scapegoats for the terrorists. Only a negotiated political settlement can bring peace to Syria and the region, and ultimately there has to be a rebalancing of international relations. As part of that we must fight for a new foreign policy for Britain, rejecting its imperialist past and present, rejecting its interventionism, whether military, political or economic. The long road to peace can only be built through respect, equality and solidarity amongst peoples.
Hugh Roberts, Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History, Tufts University
Mr Cameron’s proposal to bomb ISIS in Syria is wrong. It will inflict scant damage on ISIS, which will have evacuated likely targets in advance and, as for solidarity with the French people, is an entirely empty gesture. ISIS can be defeated only once sufficient ground troops are engaged against it. The only troops available in Syria are those of the Kurds, which Turkey, with NATO’s assent, is impeding, and those of the Assad regime, which can fully engage ISIS only once the other rebel forces arrayed against it have been defeated. This is what Russia is undertaking. The Western powers should have adopted a variant of this policy a long time ago and have themselves to blame for the fact that it is being pursued by Russia in its own interest instead of by an international coalition in the general interest. Since Cameron’s proposal does not have the agreement of Damascus, it suggests that London remains wedded to the regime change agenda that has brought so much destruction on Syria, not to mention Iraq and Libya. The pursuit of this agenda is the single most important cause of the terrorism which has hit Beirut, Paris and Tunis in the last three weeks. This agenda should be clearly renounced and our government induced to support and promote a negotiated settlement of the Syrian conflict as the indispensable prerequisite of dealing with ISIS.
Joe Emersberger, activist and commentator on Western foreign policy
Sadly, there are no quick and easy solutions to the problem of anti-Western terrorism. If the UK decided tomorrow to completely alter its foreign policy (refuse to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, refuse to support Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its war crimes; refuse to pour fuel on the fire of Syria’s civil war either through airstrikes or other support for non-existent “moderate rebels”) all that would greatly reduce the risk of terrorism against the UK but not eliminate it. The US and its allies have killed millions of Muslims since 1990, and have long made use of Islamic extremists when it has suited them as they are doing in Syria and as they did in Libya in 2011. Given that history, anyone offering a quick and completely effective way to keep westerners safe from terrorism is either ignorant of the history or ignoring it. Fixing the problem is a difficult and long term undertaking. A country like the UK (or France) would not only have to drastically change its own foreign policy but also pressure the US to change. That‘s very a tall order. On the other hand, there is a very quick and easy way to make the problem worse. Keep doing what has been done – with horrific consequences – for decades.
Christopher Davidson, Reader in Middle East Politics at Durham University and author of After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies
The attacks seem most likely the work of a Belgium-based cell which, in a sort of franchising system, has used the Islamic State’s banner. It has picked a ‘soft target’ in Parisian suburbs to demonstrate that no amount of French surveillance-state measures can ultimately block its attacks. As a hot-bed of Salafi-jihadism, ever since the beginning of substantial Saudi-Wahhabi donations to its mosques in the 1960s, Belgium has long been suspected of providing conditions conducive to such extremists. EU or British military action in Syria serves no practical purpose given that the ‘enemy’ is a transnational non-conventional force that can move freely between borders and regroup rapidly wherever states have been sufficiently destabilized. Indeed, a compelling argument can be made that such military action worsens the situation, adding a further layer to the perceived credibility of the Islamic State in its self-claimed anti-Western, anti-imperialist stance. The EU’s response should be to counter the root causes of such European radicalisation, which will involve revisiting its members’ de facto alliances with the state sponsors of such groups or their antecedents along with suitable pressure and condemnation of those states which foster a permissive environment for their wealthy citizens to serve as private sponsors. In their present state, the Western governments are unable and unwilling to develop strategies that can actually thwart the rise and expansion of such movements. Instead, the only workable solution is for the citizens of the Western states themselves to use the mechanisms available to them to force their governments to curtail the foreign policies that continue to arm, equip and provide diplomatic coverage for the states most responsible for the present-day spectre of extremist Islamism.
Symon Hill, socialist pacifist author and campaigner
Nothing can justify the actions of the murderers in Paris. Nearly all commentators and politicians have rightly condemned these attacks. Sadly, few seem willing to demonstrate consistency by condemning other killings of innocent civilians.
These include the killing of more than 2,000 civilians in Yemen by Saudi forces. The Saudi regime is morally comparable to Daesh. Far from bombing the terrorists who run Saudi Arabia, David Cameron and his ministers sell them weapons.
We can only stop terrorist attacks by tackling their causes. We can ask why there are people who want to kill us. To understand is not to justify. Successive UK governments have used UK forces as a tribute band for US foreign policy. To much of the world US forces are both murderous and hypocritical, with Obama and his colleagues condemning terrorism while helping their allies to practise it.
Fewer people are now fooled by the militarist’s trick of presenting the only alternative to bombing as “doing nothing”. The bombing of Syria will kill innocent people and it will not defeat Daesh. Putting pressure on Turkey to seal the border would make a greater difference. Ending UK support for the US and Saudi regimes would change international attitudes. Such options would not suit the aims of the British ruling class, who have far more in common with other elites around the world than they do with their own people. Militarism is international. Our resistance must be international too.