There’s a lot to think about. Some preliminary reflections for today:
- Islamist terrorism is a non-state phenomenon. It is transnational, transcends borders etc.. This suggests that the most effective response may be non-state too i.e. one mounted by the enormous majority, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who reject such violence. People not states. Today’s huge demonstrations might be a start, and may dissuade some of those who might otherwise have chosen violence. Other popular responses might also be considered, such as mass debates or anti-violence campaigns. Traditionally, people have looked to the state to protect them and solve such problems. This may be a mistake in this instance.
- Indeed the state-based response to terrorism since 9/11 has not only helped perpetuate the danger, it has helped it proliferate too, to new regions and populations. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to which the Paris killers were affiliated, did not exist prior to 9/11.
- It is very difficult to evaluate the state’s response to terrorism. The US claims that drone strikes, for instance, are effective in killing Al Qaeda members and reducing its threat. But this claim is impossible to assess given the all-encompassing secrecy around such programs. It may be that the opposite result is the case. The Paris killers seem to have taken the drone killing of one Islamist “preacher” Anwar al-Awlaki as their motivation.
- After such attacks, and as the French state is now doing, states must declare their determination and capability to destroy terrorism. They cannot admit to weakness; on the contrary. In such circumstances, over-reaction and bad judgement by officials are more likely.
- Islamist terrorism is political violence. It has political causes, even if it may manifest in statements about religion. The objective of ISIS to create a caliphate is a political objective. This means that a political response will be more effective than a security-oriented response. Increasing security may limit the threat, but it will never eradicate it.
- Overall, there needs to be a much more thorough debate about how to defeat this danger, including assessing evidence and avoiding the over-stated claims that governments (and indeed others) are prone to make in such agitated circumstances. Current approaches do not seem to be effective.
Obviously, these observations are not conclusive.