Europe needs to attack the Caliphate´s credibility

24.03.16 Publication:

After terrorist atrocities such as those in Brussels
yesterday or in Paris in January and November last year, the political pressure
to react, to act, to fight back is always intense. We will never give in to
terror, everyone says, but we must fight. But how? The answer is: patiently,
with determination and in collaboration. 

            Patience is
both the hardest of those and the most important. Yet the experience of every
act of terrorism that has occurred in Europe in the past, whether in Britain,
France, Belgium, Italy, Germany or Spain, is that the biggest mistakes have
been made through hasty, harsh reactions that serve only to help the terrorists
to recruit more supporters. 

            The right
thing to do is to try to imagine what the bombers, what Islamic State, would
really be helped by, and then to avoid doing that. They would be helped by
measures that alienate the local Muslim community or by arbitrary and poorly
directed retaliation.

Like the Irish Republican Army in
my country during the 1970s and 1980s, what Islamic State would most like to
see is for Muslims, their potential supporters, in Belgium or France or
anywhere else, to be arrested and imprisoned without trial, or deported simply
on suspicion. Nothing would be likelier to create the next set of suicide
bombers than that.

values need to be defended, not suspended and subverted. Part of that defence needs
to be real attention to the existing, long-standing causes of alienation.
Principal among those is economic failure and with it the lack of jobs and
opportunity, a grievance shared with the rest of the population in many
Eurozone countries.

though, is a long-term issue, important as it is. The more short-term problem
that European governments can and should address with determination and
collaboration is the current appeal of Islamic State as a cause to follow and
to fight for.

Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, have achieved during the
past 2-3 years is to make itself credible as a force, and in particular as a
force with the chance of establishing itself as a real state, governing
territory in Syria, Iraq and perhaps Libya. Its success in capturing the cities
of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria in particular has acted as an inspiration
to many Muslims, whether they are in the Middle East, Africa or Europe.

            This is too
often overlooked. Islamic State is not just, or even mainly, appealing for its
ideology or religion. It is appealing for its credibility. In effect, it has
been doing in Syria and Iraq what Israel’s creation, and then successful
defence, did in Palestine for Jews.

            The ability
to pull off terror attacks in European cities is part of that credibility, but
not a very important part. Such attacks were, after all, carried out previously
by other groups, including Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, and by unaffiliated
individuals. The really significant part of Islamic State’s credibility lies in
its name: its success in seizing territory and creating an embryonic state.

            So what
European governments need to focus on, following the Brussels attacks, is how
to degrade and eventually destroy that credibility. Stopping further terror
attacks in their own cities is an understandable aim – and, certainly, better
intelligence is required for that – but ultimately one that can never be fully
achieved. Degrading Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and Libya is something that is
possible, and can be achieved.

            It isn’t
easy, or else it would have been done already. It won’t be achieved by means of
sporadic bombing raids on Islamic State targets by British, French, American or
Russian air forces. But it could be achieved if European governments really
showed determination, and if they worked harder to persuade the Obama
Administration that taking a serious part in military action during its last
year in office was a risk worth taking.

            The plan to
send forces, under Italian leadership, into Libya is an important part of this.
But if it is to be done, then it must be done with larger numbers of troops and
military assets than are now envisaged. Then, European governments should give
serious consideration to combining forces with Turkey, Sunni Arab states, and
the Iraqi government to drive Islamic State out of Mosul.

            The goal is
simple: Islamic State must be shown to be a loser, a declining and essentially
hopeless force. Lower oil prices have already reduced its income. Military
defeats, one after the other, would then make it a far less appealing entity to
fight for, whether in the Middle East or in European cities. That can only be
achieved by sending real troops, in league with Arab nations, to bring about
those defeats. 

It is not a nice prospect. But the
alternative is a continued flow of terror attacks in European cities.