Is there anything one can say about Friday’s sickening terrorist attacks on the people of Paris, that has not already been said?
Many times. Repeatedly.
The attacks on Paris are an attack on us all. It is natural to feel numb and revolted. Terrorists, irrespective of their creed, ideology, race, or religion, have no place in civilised society. IS and soulmates like al-Qaeda represent neither Islam nor a state, but are nihilistic death cults seeking to sow division, incite hatred, and spread panic.
All true, but we have been here before.
Bali, London, Madrid, Mumbai, New York -- everyone knows, not least Islamist terrorists themselves, for that is what they are, however little they care for the ordinary Muslims whose faith they claim to represent, that they get far more attention when they manage to attack Western targets.
And so it comes to pass that a small group of people has again succeeded in taking the brutality and carnage their brethren inflict with impunity on conflict-driven, war-disrupted societies across the Middle East and Afghanistan, to the streets and ordinary citizens of more peaceful, democratic states.
We should realise by now that these types of fanatics will not stop if peace suddenly dawns on Syria. They will always find a cause or conflict to adopt, to nurture transnational terrorism, as similar groups like Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have managed across Africa.
They are terrifying because delusions of grandeur and utopian fantasies make their recruits driven enough to kill themselves and uphold cruelty and murder as their divine right to inflict. But the world also needs to recognise that their brutality and nihilism are a sign of weakness, not strength.
The then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, got it right in his poignant speech hours after four suicide bombers killed 52 people in co-ordinated attacks on London’s public transport system on July 7, 2005.
After thanking emergency services and providing reassurance, the mayor addressed the bombers directly to point out that, not only would the city get back to normal, but it would continue to draw in people in from all around the world, and that “whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.”
It is this we should seek to remember when Islamist terrorists murder defenseless people. They do so not because they have strong moral claims or are militarily capable of overwhelming the world, but because they know that inflicting brutality and terror is the only means they have of cowing and controlling ordinary people, whether in the Middle East, Europe, or elsewhere.
That is why, difficult as it is to say sometimes, I believe that keeping calm and not overreacting is the best way to respond to terrorist attacks.
Unless you think the Bush administration’s reaction to 9/11 did more good than harm to the US, when it trampled on the fundamental values it was meant to protect in Guantanamo Bay, and used the atrocity to hype the 2003 invasion of Iraq, nobody should need to be told that keeping calm matters.
But, of course, that is not enough. France was resolute in warning of the unintended catastrophic consequences of regime change in Iraq, yet its people today still suffer a form of blowback from that same war.
It’s a messy world. And murderers without pity or remorse like ISIS do not hesitate to try and make matters even more complex.
Lest anyone forget, they are mirrored in their goal of driving a wedge between Muslim and non-Muslim communities by fascists and fundamentalists of other faiths and stripes who dislike Islam or use Islamaphobia as cover for prejudice against other ethnic groups.
The uncomfortable truth remains, however, is that it will be difficult to bring about a complete end to the threats Islamist terror groups pose to the world at large.
Heightened vigilance and security measures can help in the short term, but ending the geo-political and socio-economic conflicts, upon which their propaganda feeds, will take much longer.
This requires long-term peaceful political solutions to regional local conflicts. Military means can only go so far and can often make peace harder to find. Witness the feelings of victimisation which anti-militant drone-attacks-gone-wrong regularly cause in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Most difficult of all will be fulfilling the need to persuade the oil-rich states and emirates of Arabia at the heart of the Muslim world to reform their societies. It is from them that much of the funds and ideological support for radicalisation, both official and anti-state, as in the case of al-Qaeda, has often flowed.
The influence of oil money, the jobs it creates for migrants, and the investments it makes in the economies of the West has long dampened the criticism they deserve for breaching human rights and spreading intolerant ideals. Mutually assured collusion is the order of the day in a globalised world.
We must not get away from the fact that this background has only made it easier for extremists to cultivate feelings of alienation from society and prejudice towards other groups among Muslim communities. It is from such sectarianism that the hatred arises which enables groups such as IS to influence and embolden recruits to commit murder in the name of religion.
Intolerance and sectarianism are the real enemy. They must be defeated and overcome everywhere.