A Paris Placard with Good Advice: Don't Be Afraid
The massacres that struck at the heart of Paris constitute an attack on all human-kind and the values shared by human civilization in modern times. The massacres are the latest in a decades-long series: Beirut, Sinai, Kabul, Peshawar, Baghdad, Damascus, Palestine and so on. Terrorism is limitlessly monstrous, almost always killing noncombatant civilians, but also burning up democratic reason itself, leaving in its place hatred. In the name of all that is common to human beings across the globe and throughout history, we must stand united against any and all perpetrators of terrorism; but we, and our governments, must not feed hate and prejudice. In the coming months, the political direction assumed by France and the European Union will show us the real extent of the damage from these horrendous terroristic attacks. France has all the means necessary to face this wave of terror while preserving its beauty and dignity based on the Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen -- the declaration of the rights of mankind and the citizen -- without limiting these rights. Paris knows how to remain the ville lumière, the city of lights: The lights of reason, art, joie de vivre.
Only a Matter of Time
Daesh (ISIS,ISIL,IS), al-Qaeda and related groups, although scattered apparently all over the world and capable of sporadic waves of terror, amplified by the hyperventilating media, essentially remain limited in number, geography and military force.
Even after a war of conquest as in Iraq, terror groups fail to convert the local populace. They resist, and must be subjugated by the systematic violence that Daesh has made its retrograde creed. Attacks on some "distant enemy" like France seek to produce fear and hatred. Alienation makes disaffected youth easier to recruit, and the more recruits, the more locales can be terrorized, so Daesh can try to tighten its shaky grip on its would-be Caliphate. Yet despite several obstacles, the contradictions of some zero-sum geopolitical calculations and the disunity of governments about how best to combat terror, the self-proclaimed Caliph, Al-Baghdadi, has undertaken a war that he cannot actually win. Expanding or even stabilizing his Caliphate of Terror is an impossible challenge. Defeat is simply a matter of time.
Preying on Paranoia
To combat Salafist-jihadism (whether manifest as Daesh or in whatever form), the International Community, even though enraged by sympathy for the innocent victims, should maintain its composure. Calm and considered policymaking is required in the coming days, weeks and months. Acts of terror, whether directed from the center or undertaken by homegrown autonomous cells, seek to generate fear, hate and all kind of phobias. By polarizing social and political life into Us versus Them, they know many young people will feel more and more alienated; rejected by mainstream society, they more easily fall prey to the Myth. Fear of refugees, Xenophobia, paranoia about specific religious creeds -- this is falling right into the trap of the Caliphate. The way to avoid the trap is to remember that "we are all in the same boat." Governments should enforce the rule of law equally and justly, while diligently and accurately monitoring subversive activity and creating coordinated international intelligence networks. The military response should be proportionate, coordinated legally with international partners, and respectful of national sovereignty and borders. While searching for a political solution for the Syrian civil war, the Iraqi government should be supported by international actors. The Caliphate is undertaking all sorts of trafficking, from trading human organs to selling antiquities and energy products. This trafficking is financed and handled by well-known Godfathers and directed to specific countries. The names of these financiers of terrorist groups are universally known. Likewise known are the muftis and clerics supported by powerful circles within some regimes who back slavery, promulgate Salafist-Takfirist jihadi teachings, and reject science and modern state structures.
Propaganda is not a Strategy
The apocalyptic vision of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of creating a Universal Caliphate is not a strategy, but pure propaganda aimed at attracting people whose clouded minds would disguise their criminal vocation behind a political mask, but also naïve adventurers -- some fanatically religious, some not so much -- from the world basin. Baghdadi's real goal is to stabilize his control of the territory between West Iraq and East Syria. This is the strategy originally developed by the former cadres of Saddam's Baathists, who despite all religious appearances are coldly calculating and who comprise the bulwark of the Caliphate's leadership.
The security structures of the Caliphate are run by ruthless officers from among the 400,000 troops expelled by order of Paul Bremer during the process of de-Baathification. The Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict, provoked by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the emissary of bin Laden in Iraq) and sustained for years by Prince Bandar bin Sultan and other regional power brokers, is continued by al-Baghdadi: The Caliphate is focused mainly on the suppression of minorities; besides the secularists, they suppress Yazidis and other Kurds, Christians, Jews, Alevis (including dissident Sunnis) and other diverse groups, yet most especially Shiite Muslims. Defeating the Caliphate and its rule of terror will require all international actors to recognize this cold reality and develop a strategy on this basis.
Suicide Bombs are Signs of Weakness
Despite all the atrocities amplified, even spectacularized, by a hyperventilating media, the Caliphate is not strong and could be defeated in a matter of days. It operates entirely without an Air Force or Navy and its real effective forces are estimated at 30,000 to 40,000, although some sources put their number higher, at about 100,000. In opposition: The Syrian Arab Army and local militias, along with motivated Kurds and the Iraqi Army, and militias trained and supported variously by the US and Iran. And then there is Iran itself: Although having no intention to enter into direct war against the Caliphate, Iran has about 900,000 military units, even without its regional militias.
Despite their ruthlessness, the fighters of the Caliphate in reality are waging a desperate war. Suicide attacks are not signs of strength, but rather a clear demonstration of weakness. Caliphate forces have been defeated on several fronts, by the limited but motivated Kurdish forces in Kobani and elsewhere, and by the Syrian and Iraqi Armies. This is why their propaganda must rely on shock and awe. These desperate suicide attacks aim to divert pressure on Daesh by internal, regional and global actors, to distract attention from its loss of territory, and boost declining morale within its shaky ranks.
How long will it take for al-Baghdadi's young conscripts to realize they are pawns being played by a ruthless, power hungry, money-mad strategist? However much they are deprived of their rights by the politics of their home governments, suicide attackers will eventually come to understand that the Caliphate is going to deprive them of their most basic right: Life itself. It may take a while ... but not forever.
Moreover, governments should realize that terrorism cannot be considered just another geopolitical tool in their own games, because there is no guaranty it can be controlled - witness the US miscalculation on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia and its allies could understand that extremism out of control may turn and attack the womb from which it was born. It should be explained to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies that the time of double games is finished and they should undertake socio-cultural reforms based on inclusiveness, and especially reform of the destructive teachings of their religious schools, to reduce sympathy for the Caliphate's propaganda. Europe might come to understand how it could expand eastward by being more open toward Turkey, which in its turn should understand the need for a clear, unequivocal policy toward the Caliphate, as demanded by the international community.
For a Selective Collaboration of Coalitions
There are two coalitions currently active against the Caliphate: (1) The international coalition led by the U.S., operating exclusively by air, and therefore not in a position to achieve the final defeat of the Caliphate in the field, albeit very useful, affording air cover to Kurdish anti-Caliphate fighters; and (2) The regional intelligence coalition comprised of Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, with Russia acting from the sky and motivated local forces trained by Iran acting on the ground. If the two coalitions will coordinate under the aegis of the UN, with France undertaking action alongside the US and Russia, the days of the Caliphate should be numbered. The Paris attacks could be the beginning of the end of the Caliphate. It is just a matter of time.