The Paris attacks are yet another piece of savagery by young alienated Muslims but the question we need to ask is what is the real cause? Should we be searching the Koran or should we be looking at what motivates young idealists to die for a cause and why are these ones doing it? We may not like their cause and we may condemn their cruelty but that is not the point. Should we perhaps be looking at the Red Guards, the IRA, the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge the Holy Inquisition, the young Europeans who fought for the Spanish Republic and hosts of other examples?
Just as the Christian Devil can cite scripture to his purpose so can Shaitan do the same with Islamic scripture. Are these attacks really about Islam or are they political, emotional and psychological? The illegal invasion of Iraq by the Coalition of the Willing opened Pandora’s Box and let loose sectarian hatreds and fanatics of dubious sanity. It built on decades of Western aggression in the Middle East. Thus, the attacks are not just on Westerners but also by Sunni on Shia and vice versa. Shades of Belfast! The creation of Israel is seen by Arabs not as freedom for an people oppressed by Christians and who have through the centuries been treated decently by Muslims but as an invasion of Arab lands. This simply adds fuel to the fire.
Of course this kind of terrorism simply invites the victims to hit back and may well push Europe and North America to up the ante. However, is there a viable military solution? Even if we could eliminate ISIS the Sunni/Shia conflict would remain and this is complicated by tribal allegiances. Then what are we going to do about the Kurds who want a homeland which is surely a reasonable demand but is opposed by Turkey, Iran and Iraq? As the Israel/Palestinian conflict has shown every time one side attacks the other the immediate response is a revenge attack dressed up as teaching the others a lesson.
Finally, the attack is likely to lead to an emotional response from Europeans which will make it harder for their governments to take more refugees and quite possibly lead to violence against refugees who have been accepted or who arrive illegally. Will it make young people more or less likely to get involved with messianic cults like ISIS or will it make no difference?
Australians naturally feel sympathy for France and so we should but we are a marginal player in this game. We can talk about it being a world problem and about how we will play our part but nothing we do is going to make a difference. Our participation in the military action in Iraq and Syria simply makes us a potential target for terrorists as a proxy for the US. We are also selective. Compare the media coverage of the terrorist bomb on a Russian aircraft which killed twice as many people as the massacre in Paris.
These are all very hard questions to answer and governments naturally want to reassure their people that they are doing something. But what are they doing and is it effective? By focusing on police and military action are we attacking the symptoms rather than the cause? Certainly we need to treat the symptoms but if don’t know what the disease is, how can we do more than treat the symptoms?
Cavan Hogue was former Australian Ambassador to USSR and Russia.