Fourteen Septembers ago, terror came home to America and soon after, the US declared war on terror. The US and its allies used their military might to go on hot pursuit of the terrorists, flushing them out their hideouts. They went to unfamiliar terrains and hunted down enemies — both perceived and real. They poured in billions of dollars in the hope of making the world a safer place.
Most countries in the world forged stronger counter-terrorism pacts with others that helped them foil possible terrorist strikes. Since then, the war on terror has stayed a sometimes tortuous course even as US President Barack Obama tried to exit two wars he had inherited from his predecessor in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the attack in Paris last Friday is set to change the way this war will be waged.
Unlike the US, the war on terror is different for Europe, both for governments and the people. The US is protected by two vast oceans. It has got a periphery free of major terrorist outfits. Europe is shorn of the advantage of helpful geography. Countries in Europe are more integrated. The Schengen Visa regime enables a traveler to visit 26 European countries without a passport and immigration controls points at their joint borders, even if France has recently put in place stricter border controls.
Unlike America, there are thousands of Europeans who have either joined the ranks of terrorists or returned home after an association with groups whose potential for mischief is tremendous. France alone is now investigating the whereabouts of 100 such returnees.
France is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe. The continent is also receiving a wave of refugees from the conflict zones including Syria. It is heard again that religion is the opium of the terrorists. Equating any religion with terror, especially Islam, builds a dangerous narrative that would promote both bias and phobia against a community.
History is witness to many selective interpretations of religious texts by those who want to use religion as a political tool to further their agenda.
Fighting IS in Syria for long remained a choice of convenience for many countries in Europe, including France, who wanted to oust President Assad in Syria. Make no mistake: That approach doesn’t work any longer. The war on terror and the primacy of national interest in pursuing interventionist policies have illustrated once again that the UN charter is not cast in stone. It would make good sense to jettison cold war rivalry in the war on terror: When Russia is targeted with sanctions for Ukraine, the war on terror in Afghanistan is also hit because it brings about a shortage of spare parts for Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban.
That realization seems to have sunk in. France and Russia are now busy bombing IS together.
The idea of promoting democracy needs to be balanced. The Arab Spring has shown that removing entrenched rulers created a sudden vacuum, and democracy did not bloom to fill that void. Some of the ousted, like Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, had fought the terrorist outfits. While democracy needs to be an idea to be promoted, it shouldn’t be at the cost of promoting an anarchy that often breeds terrorist ideologies.
Islamic State is no longer the terror outfit the way world understood it when it burst on to the scene in 2013. The strategies that have been employed to counter it haven’t borne fruit yet. For example, choking its funding: Al Qaeda was dependent on wealthy donors for funds, but IS operates oil wells. It actually has territory under its black flag under the name of the Caliphate. An all-out strike on these territories is not a feasible proposition as these areas are home to some 10 million people.
The French ambassador in Delhi, Francois Richier, has said the fight against IS will be long, difficult and global. That it will be. America has empirically become a safer place since 9/11, but the world hasn’t become so for others and for Americans who have become victims of attacks in other parts of the world.
The War on Terror, 2.0, has many more tracks to cover than its precursor.