More than 100 killed. Nearly 200 more injured. The Islamic State wanted to make a statement on November 13, 2015. Perhaps the members wanted to show that, despite the remarks of U.S. President Obama, they are not “contained.” Perhaps they wanted to retaliate for airstrikes that killed highly influential figures within their propaganda network. Perhaps they merely wanted to spread terror in Europe, whether to feed the fires of anti-immigrant sentiments (which are likely a recruiting boon for ISIS) or to try and deter further European support in the Syrian arena. Whatever the reason for this desire of the Islamic State, it cannot be argued that their point was left unmade. Now comes the better question: what will the response be?
French President François Hollande was surprisingly blunt – or perhaps this should be no surprise at all, considering Hollande was himself in the stadium that was attacked. He termed the attacks “barbarism” and promised a swift and crushing response against ISIS. Furthermore, he condemned the IS’s “act of war” and promised a “merciless” French response. In his statement, the French president cited history’s examples of France’s strength in troubled times. He promised that same strength would be on display in the days following the worst terror attack in Europe for years.
President Obama himself strongly spoke against the attacks, promising to bring those responsible “to justice.” He also promised the aid of the United States to its ally, glowingly speaking of France’s response to the U.S. following terror attacks on U.S. soil.
But despite the stalwart words of their leaders, how much do the citizens of France and the United States actually believe that ISIS can truly be quashed? Is not Paris a most … awful reminder of the vitality that still flows through the veins of the Islamic State? Hemmed in by the Western coalition and its Mid-East allies, ISIS still found a way to organize a coordinated strike in the heart of France. Threatened by the technological superiority of the U.S. and Russia, by trained armies and hostile skies, ISIS resorted to the most ancient and effective of methods of warfare: psychological disruption. The Islamic State most likely knows that it cannot win a slugging match with all the enemies it has made for itself. What it can do is maximize the pain, suffering and blood that those who oppose it must pay to demolish its hold in Syria and Iraq.
This is the failing of the U.S. and the rest of those who oppose ISIS. This is the glaring weakness that ISIS will continue to exploit. Despite the poignant diction of Hollande and Obama, the West is not united, not strong, not undivided. And the Parisian killings will only magnify this. The Islamic State has the benefit of a cause – radical though it might be, there is no question of what the aim of IS is or of what lengths will be gone to for the achievement of that cause. What does the West have? The threat of a murder-minded jihadist showing up at a concert, at a sporting event. A war-weariness stretching back to 2001 and Iraq. Growing strains upon resources because of an influx of refugees fleeing ISIS.
If anything, the tragedy that played out in Paris last Friday manifested the weaknesses of the West. Now, of course, France and the U.S. and others will work to hide those weaknesses, to present an un-fractured front to the Middle East. Why must it be that way? Why must such actions be spurred on by innocent lives lost? Why must Western policy towards threats always be reactionary? There is a famous adage: “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Have the fires finally risen high enough for our Neros to do something? There is also an infamous quote that might be mentioned: “The great questions of the time are not decided by speeches and majority resolutions … but by blood and iron.” Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia, lived in a Europe much like today’s: petty, dis-unified, squabbling. He rose above this in a grand attempt to defend his beloved country against the threats he perceived. This is what the West must do today. There is no more time for speeches and votes. The question has been posed: we know you are weak; can you prove us wrong? The answer must be given: we may have been weak, but now we oppose you with iron resolve, with our blood afire at the indignities you have wrought. Give IS more than words, Presidents Hollande and Obama. Give them a reckoning in blood and iron.