Opportunism on left and right make us accomplices in Isis' terror


In the wake of a terror attack, patience and calm are our virtue. They are the precise opposite of what terrorists want. They want panic, quick-decisions and change. That, after all, is the purpose of terrorism: propaganda through violence in the pursuit of policy change. We are very good at making it easy for them.

The reaction to the Paris attacks has been grimly predictable. Many of us spent the weekend glued to Twitter, which was simultaneously the fastest source of news, a place to share in outrage and, unfortunately, the staging ground for the worst aspects of political debate. It seemed as if that latter category was very common but really it was over-represented. Decent people had been stunned into silence, so the voices of those trying to make political capital out of the events seemed disproportionately loud.

And on a certain level it’s understandable. This type of bloody chaos is hard for the mind to process. We can’t imagine going a gig and suddenly being slaughtered. It is beyond comprehension. The arbitrary madness of it seems impossible. So we try to fit it into whatever intellectual framework we have: the lack of surveillance powers, western foreign policy, open borders, gun control. It makes the world seem less chaotic, it makes it manageable. And with all this anger at what’s happened, it can feel good to direct it as something tangible - the EU, Washington’s bombing campaigns – rather than the shadowy, elusive men who carried it out.

But by using the attacks for political ends, we are playing directly into the terrorists’ hands. It’s happening everywhere: on the right against open borders and the refugee wave, on the left against the coalition bombing campaign in Syria, in the establishment to push for more online surveillance, in the libertarian right to push for fewer gun controls, among atheists who see religion as the cause of all evil. We are all the useful idiots of Isis propaganda, doing exactly what they wanted, bitterly lashing out and creating further division.

After all, why would a Syrian refugee passport be found on the body of an attacker? Whether it’s genuine or not, whether it belongs to attacker Ahmed Almohamed or not, what was it doing there? Isis militants do not even believe in these nation states. They do not recognise the distinction between Iraq and Syria. The only state they recognise is the caliphate. Why would he take his passport out on a suicide mission, conveniently located on his person for investigators to find and a willing media to promote?

Because they knew what the reaction would be. And they were right. As the attacks were happening, in the period during which everything was chaos and people were being executed in the Bataclan, anti-immigration campaigners had already gone to work.

Ukip’s Suzanne Evans, supposedly a respectable voice in the party, was linking the attack with refugees before the blood was dry. In fact, that’s wrong. It hadn’t even all been shed before she sent her tweet.

Steven Woolfe, Ukip MEP and migration spokesman, waited until the next morning to proclaim that scrapping freedom of movement would reduce the terror threat. By this point, as now, there was still no evidence to draw any conclusions.

Andrew Pierce of LBC had the same message a little later, in even more despairingly cynical terms. By Sunday, when news reports of that passport emerged, the tabloid press jumped on it with depressing predictability.

Isis have always hated the refugees fleeing Syria and the feeling is mutual. After all, it is the bloody horror of Isis violence they are fleeing. We have been asking ourselves for months what would make someone put their child onto a rickety boat to cross the Mediterranean. Well now we know. We’ve seen it. Between the rickety old boat and the Bataclan, we all pick the rickety old boat.

Analysts of Islamic extremists’ communications found they despaired when Europe was united in compassion for refugees this September. This sight of Muslims and Europeans living and working together is a direct challenge to their black and white view of the world. Alas, it seems many on the hard right – from the Front National in France to Ukip here - are willing to play their game.

The subplot to this is a broader atheist debate, conducted mostly online by Richard Dawkins, who happens to have always been a bit of a hero of mine. None of his powers of kindness or good humour were on show over the weekend when he spent his time blaming the attacks on Islam and religion generally in increasingly ludicrous ways.

It is an extraordinarily dimwitted argument, which is obvious even to me, as an avowed atheist. The vicar down the road from me is very nice and has never killed anyone. Stalin, Hitler and Mao were not nice and killed very many. The variable in acts of terror is plainly not religion and one would really have to become dangerously obsessed with the subject to think otherwise.

There is almost no overlap between the anti-immigration lot and the atheist lot except for the fact that they both do exactly what the terrorists want: respond with division across cultural and religious lines.

Sections of the left were up to similar nonsense. Stop the War published a statementfollowing the bombings in which it essentially victim-blamed France for being attacked. “Paris reaps whirlwind of Western support for extremist violence in Middle East,” it said. It was clear the group has no capacity for compassion and no right to call itself Stop the War. It is, to all intents and purposes, just an anti-Western front organisation which occasionally issues convoluted apologetic statements on behalf of Vladimir Putin.

Wikileaks was at it too, saying: “At least 39 dead in French terror attacks this evening. France has closed borders. US, UK, France fed Isis Not so funny now, is it?”

A picture did the rounds of President Hollande setting fire to Syria and the smoke turning into a jihadist stabbing him in the back.

What a grubby, inane, ignorant assessment of the situation that is. Syria was not set alight by western intervention. It was already alight. Only someone who thought the West is the source of all evil, or who did no reading of foreign affairs whatsoever, could believe the anti-Isis bombing campaign created the group it was intended to stop.

Yes, the idiotic decision to invade Afghanistan created the background conditions for our current predicament. And yes, the grotesquely stupid decision to invade Iraq created a chain of events which led to Isis. But that was in the past. It has happened. This is now. And right now, hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Yazidi will be killed and raped if the West pulls back. Just yesterday a mass grave of Yazidi was found east of Sinjar after Kurdish forces claimed victory over Isis militants in the area. They had separated the men and the women and then the young women from the older ones. The younger women were taken into sexual slavery, while the older ones were probably shot. That is what they will do to all of them if we do not stop them.

The extraordinary bravery of the Kurdish fighters has pushed back the Isis tide. That is also true – although unsayable in Western mainstream media – of Hezbollah, who are a highly disciplined and effective military outfit. You may remember that they single-handedly fought the Israelis to a draw when they attacked Lebanon in 2006. That’s no small feat. When they encounter Isis, they are very good at killing them.

Bombing is not precise and it does not single-handedly win wars but it exhausts an enemy over time, especially one whose territory is miles of stretched-out desert where settlements are rare and supply lines hard to maintain.

There is a deep naiveté to the pacifism of the left sometimes. If they want an end to bombing, then they should explain how they intend to help the Kurdish forces who have benefitted from it. If not, they are merely proposing a slaughter with us as Isis’ de-facto accomplices.

But just because parts of the left sometimes succumb to irresponsible pacifism, does not make the over-eager armchair generals right either. Although it’s understandable, Hollande was not particularly useful when he instantly used the language of war to describe the attacks, as George Bush did after September 11th. That usually brings with it certain military responses and also a crack-down on civil liberties. In America’s case it brought Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. It killed, quicker than we would have ever thought possible at the time, the extraordinary surge of global sympathy in the wake of the attacks.

Isis thinks this is a war. But it isn’t. It’s grubby terrorism. It is a crime and should be dealt with as a crime. We must not give them the honour of describing them as warriors. We should not accept their narrative. We must have faith in our own: of arrest, trial and imprisonment.

Many are demanding the UK up its presence in the anti-Isis bombing campaign to include Syria as well as Iraq in the wake of the attacks. But there is no particular reason for Britain to vote on it right now. The US, France and Australia are already operating on both countries. For us to do so too would be symbolically useful but operationally unnecessary. These decisions should be taken calmly, after reflection and convincing argument, not in the heat of an emotional backlash against barbarians. Showing that we respond to terror just encourages it.

One also hears demands from politicians and journalists alike for a speeding up of the snoopers charter, the policy idea which raises its head every time there is an attack anywhere. If anything, the attack is an argument against it. After all, France already has extremely broad powers of surveillance over electronic messaging. They did not prevent this atrocity. But still Lord Carlile, the former reviewer of terror laws and a reliable rent-a-gob every time there is an attack, demanded the investigatory powers bill was passed within a month.

In each and every one of these cases, people want us to do what the terrorists want: Firstly, by a panicked response undertaken during a highly emotional time; secondly, by turning against one another and blaming refugees and Muslims; thirdly, by clamping down on our freedoms, whether of movement or communication; and finally by making our foreign policy – whether it is a retreat or a doubling up – responsive to the apocalyptic hysteria of a bunch of fascists.

All of these responses effectively make us unwitting accomplices of the terrorists. We are playing our part in their terrible game. The only moral response is one of sadness and horror, an overwhelming and fast-moving police investigation, and then a calm assessment of what can be done to prevent another attack like this in the future. At the moment, we do not have the evidence to make that assessment. Those who want action before evidence are not Isis’ enemies. They are its pawns.