Friday brought a night of horror for the Parisians as co-ordinated terrorist attacks in six different locations, including a stadium, a concert hall and two restaurants, left at least 153 people dead and a large number of others injured. Seven of the eight attackers blew themselves up while the eighth one was shot dead by the police.
A visibly shaken President Francois Hollande, who was watching a friendly soccer match with Germany at the time and was evacuated safely from the stadium, declared a national state of emergency vowing to wage a merciless fight against terrorism. Messages of support poured in from US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin and various other world leaders.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the atrocity. But it was not difficult to guess who could have done it considering that France recently joined the US and Britain along with some regional allies in a bombing campaign in Syria, targeting both the so-called Islamic State (IS) and Syrian government troops to help opposition groups fighting the Assad regime.
Earlier this month, the IS claimed credit for blowing a Russian passenger plane out of the sky over Egypt killing 224 people because of Moscow’s military involvement in Syria. Soon afterwards, suicide bombers struck in a predominantly Shia neighborhood of Beirut killing nearly 50 people and wounding over 200.
The motive behind those bombings was not only IS’ visceral hatred of Shias; Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah is fighting alongside the Syrian government forces against the IS and other opposition groups. The same reason seems to be the cause of the terrorist strike in Paris. In fact, according to an eyewitness, he heard one of the gunmen, who had taken 20 hostages, tell one of the hostages: “it’s the fault of Hollande, it’s the fault of your president. He should not have intervened in Syria.”
Unfortunately, innocent people everywhere are paying the price of Western governments and their Gulf allies’ ill-conceived policies. They did not draw any lessons from waging an unnecessary war in Iraq, toppling a secular regime and sharpening sectarian divisions in that country-from where has emerged the IS’s self-styled Khalifa Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The Qadhafi regime was overthrown with the help of religious extremists. As a result, Libya remains embattled between a pro-Western government and a parallel government run by radical religious extremists who killed the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens. Yet Western countries along with Gulf governments have been bolstering, with material and political support, disparate groups to fight a secular regime in Syria, turning a genuine pro-democracy movement following the outbreak of the Arab Spring into a civil war. What happened in Paris is a payback of bad choices. Earlier, centuries’ wars in distant lands remained distant for the people of invading countries.
Not any longer. Non-state elements now have the ability to avenge real or perceived wrongs, as they have repeatedly demonstrated. Surely, better intelligence can, and has, helped thwart some terrorist attacks in Europe and the US. But there is not a whole lot governments can do against religious zealots who are happily willing to kill and get killed. Those who suffer most on all sides are ordinary people, like the Syrians who are braving unimaginable hardships arriving in Europe to live in peace; and innocent people who got killed or injured in Friday’s terrorist strike in Paris. France and allied countries involved in misadventures in the Middle East, of course, need to do all they can to ensure security of their people. But they must also look for ways to get out of the imbroglio in Syria by helping the ongoing efforts towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2015