OPINION | Paris Attacks, Europe's 9/11: A Radical Game Changer by Imre Bártfai
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OPINION | Paris Attacks, Europe's 9/11: A Radical Game Changer by Imre Bártfai

By Imre Bártfai 

After the first Boeing crashed into the twin towers of New York in September 2001, the world has changed forever. Many grasped this immediately, for some it seeped gradually. 9/11 brought the world to ground zero-a terror attack of historical magnitude. Since then, many attacks-bloody or horrible as they were- did not earn the same rank in history. The question therefore is “Why?”. What makes 9/11 still an epitome of terrorist carnage.

OPINION | Paris Attacks, Europe's 9/11: A Radical Game Changer by Imre Bártfai

Image Attribute: Wikimedia Commons

The answer to this very question lies in the structural dynamics. For 9/11 changed America’s approach to Islamist terrorism drastically. The enemy was now through the gates, but in the very home. That is, it is no more about a terror attack here or there, on a plane, in a European stadium, or in Iraq. And what made it so ingrained is that the Islamists achieved what the Soviets never did (and possibly never desired anyway), that is, they got into the American heartland.

America reacted with a ’war on terror’. A war on an invisible enemy, which is difficult to catch, and like the mythical hydra, even more difficult to decapitate, as the heads eventually grow back. The result was something which Osama bin Laden may have planned from the very beginning: America got into another Vietnam-like war, which it could not end, which created a political crisis and which cost an enormous amount of valuables. It curtained liberty and spread militarism.

However, American democracy survived this, just as the state. Iraq did not turn to be another Vietnam. But the hasty withdrawal of American forces and the lack of stable Iraqi democracy sowed the seeds of new dangers. As a result, terrorism gained a new foothold in Iraq and Syria. And with the advent of ‘Arab Spring’, the situation got further destabilized in the already unstable regions of Middle-East, Africa and most Islamic countries.

Given the fall of events, there lies some valuable lessons to be learn from this dismal chain of events. There lies a strong warning about the future. The terrorists who planned the last attack in Paris on November 13, could not hope to frighten the whole West into giving up the fight against them. Given the bloody retaliation for the French air attacks or the recent killing of ‘Jihadi John’, however, the terrorists had known that this is but a little wound on Europe’s body. They cannot destroy the West by arms, but they can awake an all-consuming fear in the souls. Like most totalitarians and anti-democrats, the terrorist groups view Europe and the USA as decadent communities of weaklings.[1] And with their profound knowledge about the nature of mass media and power of Internet, they use it to their advantage. And  with these tools and techniques, they are gradually opening a second front against the West in its heartland.

Here, the question is “How so?”. First, their strikes will enrage Europeans in the time of the greatest mass migration after the Second World War. They get high publicity as messages about their infamous actions spread over the Internet. Also, the mass media will relentlessly deal with their actions. The more blood they spill and the more horrible way they do it creates greater sensation. They learned this already in Iraq when Western media was spreading news about their actions endlessly, and it communicated a powerful imagery about their deeds. This encouraged their supporters and the possible targets of their indoctrination.

Secondly, they help European nationalists to rise, especially in Eastern Europe, which lagged behind Western development (partially because it joined capitalism only recently, and possess not enough knowledge and capital to ripe the now diminishing fruits of advanced capitalism.) Not only in the East, but in the West as well: Germany’s PEGIDA movement rallies people against Islamist refugees and migrants. While in Eastern Europe, the number of Muslims is rather negligible, a rusty but effective nationalism and dissatisfaction with an unequal European Union creates high tensions and an overall Islamophobia. Enemies of liberal democracy or nationalists will use the last attack in France to their advantage. But in Western Europe, where a large mass of Muslim immigrants live –some second generation-such quarrels may create more than hate speech or political tensions.

It can rather encourage greater Islamist terrorist activities, and right-wing militancy. When the Left tries to protect the Muslim minority, against this ideological onslaught which has been just boosted by terrorism, it may bring an ineffective propaganda into this fight. For in today’s multi-culturalist leftism, there is no firm ground to stand on when an unprecedented challenge arrives. Since the fall of Soviet Union and the recent Great Recession there is no Western democratic ideology which has universal acceptance, or some form of political consensus, which would provide a stable ground for political debates. The exemplary is the debates on Islamist terrorism, where in there exist a lacunae in the understanding which is mainly drawn from overly attached or simplified ideologies. The right-wingers usually blame Muslims, sometimes all of them, with little regard to actual facts, details, history.

On the other hand, left-wing debaters usually divulge into Europe’s Christian medieval past, showing how bad it was, to prove that Islam was and is better than Christianity, and that we shouldn't blame Islam as a religion for terrorism. This is rather oil to the fire. They have the tendency to blame the US or Western imperialism for all extremism, even by linking unrelated events together. There seem to have little understanding of the inherent problems of Islamic countries. That is, the lack of separation of politics and religion, lack of modernity and enlightenment, the arrested development of the state and civil society in Islamic countries. (About this Rainer Hermann’s The Islamic State is a good treatise[2].) By saying this, I do not deny the responsibility of Dick Cheney’s Middle East-politics. But people, who forget that events in the real world are often the interplay of various causes with different roots think irrationally and irresponsibly.

In a prolonged ideological fight fear, hate, and need for safety might overcome the language of mutual acceptance, respect of minority rights and understanding of the other.

Western Leaders –truth be told-rather neglected the so called ‘Islamic state’. Just as they neglected the rising threat of anti-liberalism (Putin, Erdogan etc.) It is understandable that no one wants to find and kill a snake, whose venom is deadly, while the snake being –as for now-seemingly afar. Now, war has come to Europe. The enemy is inside the gates. Before we would take aim at the enemy, we should know what we face and how must we deal with it. Petty political games for little gains are now outdated as Europe cannot afford this anymore. We should be damned if today’s European nations and the US can’t even agree with Russia and most of the civilized world on the treatment of this sickness of terrorism, which got way out of hand.

Yes, we can and shall think about mass immigration from Islamic countries too. We can think on it without resorting to hate-speech but it should be no more a taboo. Could Europe integrate masses coming from very different cultures? Does Europe have the will to integrate? The benefit from integration? These questions cannot be swept away by dogmatic declarations or funny Internet memes. [3]What professional politicians and civil society will not discuss populism and extremism will take for themselves and turn into acid. These are fundamentally political questions and they cannot be decided by dogmatically citing an ideological and ethical consensus which isn't there.

For now, it is evident that ISIS must be stopped, because it is the very node of Islamic terrorism. Even individual terrorists, not closely affiliated with it look up to it as a role model and a battle flag. ISIS will be the future of terrorism, a new, superior form of internationally organized terror, if we don’t bring an end to its life very soon. Bringing down this flag will need more than air attacks, and drones: it will need soldiers on the ground, and before that a series of hard-core political decisions.

Finally the US and the European Union must decide how to deal with Assad (and deal they should with him) and how to bring Russia into this coordinated effort to create greater stability and security against Islamic terrorism. Also the Kurdish question should be brought to some decision, unless the West refrains from arming them, and thereby, loses vital support for the war efforts. With Egypt being destabilized due to another recent terrorist attack and the events of the Islamic Spring there are no more grounds to lose. After Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, could we allow even Europe to be overrun by terror and panic? Sending just another squadron of bombers won’t do the trick. It would be foolish to think that they will not strike again, perhaps with even more efficiency.

These are just the first steps. The quagmire that is the Middle East is not to be stabilized overnight. But as Islamists spread terror and reshape Europe, by utterly destroying political consensus and civil safety even these first steps have the greatest urgency. If Western leaders continue this lackluster dealing with Islamist terrorism, right-wing extremism and nationalism will be revitalized, and there is a chance for a militant state to emerge. The consequences are unpredictable. How many murders until the concept of individual rights, religious freedom, or political stability are overturned by fear and extremist agitation?

The stake is now the idea of the West, which is now in danger of perishing from this earth. Let us think about this before starting another petty political game for another two cents of political capital, while terrorism is poised to strike.

As Ronald Reagan once stated and which summarizes the good fighting spirit and the rock solid resolution: [4] “Heres my strategy….: We win; they lose.”

About The Author:

Imre Bártfai (N-9214-2015) is finishing his PhD philosophy from Hungary and he works in the field of Information Technology



[1] See their proclamation calling France as a capital of prostitution and obscenity -http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/world/europe/isis-claims-responsibility-for-paris-attacks-calling-them-miracles.html?_r=0

[2] Rainer Hermann: Endstation Islamischer Staat?: Staatsversagen und Religionskrieg in der arabischen Welt, DTV, 2015.

[3] A German blog called Verfassungsblogalready started a very interesting philosophical debate about this. Many political debates end with ideological claims or dogmatic statements. http://www.verfassungsblog.de/radikaler-kosmopolitismus-eine-entgegnung/#.VkeNkr-8mUn

[4] This article argues for a consideration of a grand strategy in the war against terror instead of getting lost in details.  http://dailysignal.com/2011/12/10/we-win-they-lose-the-staggering-simplicity-of-reagan%E2%80%99s-grand-strategy/