Most people would love to have a wakeup call from Paris; the city of love, the city of the Notre Dame, and the city of the Eiffel tower radiates love, friendship and the good life. This was, however, not how people were woken up on the morning of November 14, 2015. The evening of Friday the 13th of November indeed lived up to its dreadful connotation and led to the largest and most devastating attack on French soil since the Second World War. Over 130 innocent people lost their lives, and scores were injured. Paris was burning and hurting.
In this article, I want to touch on two aspects of the fallout from the Paris carnage. First, the fact that Paris should be a wakeup call for the whole world in dealing with the menace of extremism and secondly, that we need to be alarmed by how people, especially in Pakistan, reacted to the attacks.
The Paris attacks showed clearly the power of the Islamic State. It not only controls swathes of the Middle East, its tentacles can be felt as far as mainland Europe. Thus, it is no longer something which is ‘over there’, it is here, there, and practically everywhere, and it needs to be countered now.
The fact that ISIS is a ‘state’ [in a sense] makes it a very different adversary than the extremist organisations the world had been dealing with up till now. Al Qaeda, for example, did not have a territorial claim, nor did it have a Caliph or seemingly a governmental apparatus. The IS has all of these hallmarks. Since it is a form of a state — albeit a medieval version of it — it must be dealt with like a state. IS is not a non-state actor as some people have remarked. It is a real entity with borders, a population and an administration.
As a historian, the nearest example I can compare IS to is Nazi Germany. Both were led by megalomaniacs, had an extremist policy towards people they didn’t like [Jews and others in Nazi Germany, and everyone they don’t consider Muslim in IS], and had a bloody vision they were following and executing. Hence, the way in which IS needs to be dealt with is similar to how the world dealt with Nazi Germany.
Related article: Paris and after
While there are a lot of arguments against a ground offensive, in the current situation — if we are to prevent IS from getting stronger and spreading, there is no option but to create a grand allied force which would launch a ground and air offensive against IS. These ‘Allies’ need to be as broad based as possible. They should include obviously all the five permanent members of the Security Council, and also certainly the neighbours of IS — Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
The allied forces should also include a sizeable percentage of forces from majority Muslim countries [in addition to the Muslim neighbours] such as Pakistan, Egypt, and Indonesia. Such a grand coalition will ensure that the support for action is not just limited to a few countries, but represents the combined will of a vast number of people who want to stand up to such acts of terror and tyranny. It will show resolve and commitment of the international community to uphold the values it often provides lip service to.
I am arguing for a ground offensive primarily because IS is an ideology which is driven by it having a state. The IS Caliph rules over a state and hence demands allegiance of all the Muslims of the world. Take away that state and IS would have little to stand on — and quite literally too.
Furthermore, after IS has been dismantled the lands it now governs should be returned to the countries they have been carved out from and concrete measures taken to ensure democracy and reform in these states. The failures in Afghanistan and Iraq have taught enough lessons for those not to be repeated now. Also, if the allies again create a broad based reform formula in these territories, it should begin to work.
Some might say that these things have been tried, tested and failed. However, let us see what the alternative is? The alternative is the strengthening of IS [it already has a turnover of over $2 billion!] and its spread all around the world. The option of containing it or slowly decimating it is no longer possible.
This brings me to the second issue I want to comment on. I was simply horrified by the reaction of a number of people [I am concerned with mainly Pakistanis now], in social media to the Paris attacks. A number of people made remarks after people changed their Facebook profile picture with a filter of the French flag. They argued that why were people remembering the French victims, but unconcerned about say the Beirut or Baghdad victims a few days earlier. It is as if one should commemorate either all or none of the attacks.
Seen from the Pakistani lens, the whole country was shocked by the Army Public School attack in Peshawar but there was little reaction to other similar attacks. So according to these people those who were remembering the Peshawar victims could only do so if they did a similar thing for every other attack. This is plain silliness. Expecting people to react in the same way to every attack is absurd. People are humans not robots. Different attacks elicit different reactions. Yes, all people should be mourned but some at times are highlighted more. So usually attacks in which children are killed become more emotional — not because children are more important than grownups, but because of the fact that they were young and so full of life. It does not belittle the tragic death of the grownups — it is just different.
Similarly, the attacks in Paris horrified people so much because they were the first such attacks on Paris after the Second World War. Had there been intermittent attacks in the meantime, the reaction might not have been that strong. Beirut and Baghdad, for example, have not been that lucky in the recent past. I recall that the Governor of the Punjab, Sir Evan Jenkins in his fortnightly report to the Viceroy in the summer of 1947 noted how then the killing of hundreds had become just figures while a few years ago even one murder in a district was too much. Different situations lead to different reactions and the reaction in Paris was a result of such a difference.
I was further amazed to see how there were some people on social media justifying the attacks on Paris by referring to France’s colonial past, Iraq or Afghanistan. It is as if there were no French Empire or attacks on Iraq or Afghanistan, IS would not exist. That is a very simplistic understanding of IS. As if the Army Public School attacks only occurred because of the Zarb-e-Azab operation or Pakistan’s policies in the past.
Blaming current events on events in the past is taking a very narrow view. While experiences of the past are used to fan extremism in the present, the roots of such extremism do not simply lie in the actions of others in the past. Modern extremism bases itself in a particular ideology and therefore does not really need the crutches of historical wrongs.
I will end with reference to the excellent article by my friend, Yasir Peerzada, in Jang last week. It should certainly be translated in English and shared widely. In it Yasir mentioned that the difference between Pakistan and France is that in France no one calls the terrorists ‘our people’, no one will ask for the offices of IS to be opened in Paris, no one will argue that negotiating with terrorists is the only way, no scholar would use the terror attacks as a reason to curse democracy, no one will be called on television channels to argue what kind of a system the country should have, and there would be no doubt what the policy of the government should be. That is the difference between Pakistan and France. I hope we wake up now, the world and especially Pakistan.