The intimitable horror of the attacks we have just seen in southern Beirut and Paris follow in rapid succession the downing of the Russian passenger aircraft over the Sinai, which even though the Russian authorities are yet to conclude their investigation into this event and provide confirmation of what most of the world already believes – namely that the aircraft was destroyed by a bomb smuggled on board – is iikely to have also been connected to the conflict in Syria and Iraq against ISIS/Daesh.
I have already written an in-depth piece on the Paris atrocity and its political fallout, which can be found at Counterpunch here.
The point of this article is to explore the strategy being pursued in broadening the war out of theatre, so to speak, by ISIS/Daesh. Patrick Cockburn identified it in relation to the targeting of the Russia aircraft in a recent article at The Independent. In the article Cockburn suggests that the attack on the Russian airliner is evidence that Russia’s air campaign in Syria is having a significant impact, causing them damage and degrading their ability to operate.
With this in mind, it is no coincidence that southern Beirut was targeted, what with Hezbollah’s key role in the ground war, while Paris was attacked due to France’s role in conducting airstrikes against ISIS/Daesh in Syria but primarily Iraq.
These horrific attacks, carried out one after the other against these specific countries and/or communities, offer compelling evidence that ISIS/Daesh is being defeated in Syria and in Iraq, and is attempting to bring the war home to the civilian populations of said countries and communities with the intention of turning them against their government or organisation’s continued participation in it. It reveals desperation on the part of an organisation which this time a year ago appeared well-nigh invincible as it swept forward in convoys across a vast exapanse of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
Not now. Now they appear far from invincible; and with the SAA, Hezbollah, and NDF retaking territory in western Syria as part of a major offensive to clear the last pockets of resistance and thereby secure Damascasus, the Russian aribase in Latakia, and the country’s population centres – and with the Peshmerga, combined with Yazidis and other anti-ISIS forces, managing to retake the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq this past week – a point of critical mass appoaches for the first time in five long bloodsoaked years when it comes to the Syrian conflict and its echo in northern Iraq.
French President Francois Hollande spoke movingly in response to the horror that erupted in the French capital. However in describing, understandably, the attack as an act of war and pledging that France’s military involvement in the struggle against ISIS will continue, there are grounds for concern. Hopefully the French Government and its British and US counterparts are now waking up to the incontrovertible fact that unless they ally their efforts against ISIS/Daesh and al-Qaeda to those of Russia, Syria, and Iran, the absurdity of a status quo which has only prolonged the conflict, will continue to reap the lack of results it has up to now.
France has the added challenge of being home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, which stands at around 5 million strong. When it comes to youth unemployment, crime, health, and income in its Muslim community is suffering more than any other demographic, pointing to a failure of assimilation. This has had a deleterious impact on social relations in France over some years now, which has manifested in a rising tide of resentment within the French Muslim community on the one hand, particularly among young Muslims, and the entrenchment of Islamophobia throughout French society on the other.
Its political manifestation is reflected in the increase we have seen in support for the controversial Marine Le Pen’s extreme right National Front, while culturaly fames French novelist Michel Houellebecq’s latest bestseller – which in grotesque irony was published on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January – stirred up a lot of controversy both within and without France and became an instant bestseller. Submission sets out a future scenario in which a devout Muslim, with the aid of the country’s Socialist Party, becomes prime minister of France and sets about imposing Sharia law. That such a novel could be so widely praised and critically acclaimed in France is no fluke. Houellebecq’s reactionary views are far from marginal and have deep historical and cultural roots as a result of France’s egregious colonial history, in particular with regard to Morocco and Algeria. Of the country’s Muslim population the vast majority are of Algerian and Moroccan descent.
The point is that not only in France but throughout Europe, Muslims will now again find themselves under pressure within countries where their presence is, for the most part, tolerated rather than welcomed, with things likely to get ugly going forward.
The struggle against ISIS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria has for some time been a non negotiable condition of returning something resembling stability to the Middle East and eradicating one of the most potent threat to civilians, particularly minorities, there and throughout the region in decades. Now, with this spate of attacks in Paris, it is also the most potent threat to civilians in Europe we have seen in many years. The campaign to eradicate it must continue on that basis. With Russia’s intervention proving a significant factor in this regard, the days of this cancer as physical presence in both countries are surely now numbered. The ideology that underpins them, however, is another matter.
Eradicating this will take far, far longer, and presents even more of a challenge. Muslims and Islam is not and has never been the enemy of people in the West. Our enemy has and continues to be the hypocrisy of Western governments that have destabilised the Middle East over many years of hubristic-driven wars, occupations, and support for regional actors, such as Saudi Arabia, where this poison resides and is given the legitimacy of a state religion. If now is not the time to reappraise our role in this part of the world and change it so that it resembles something approximating to coherence – when?