"We are at war," said Francois Hollande last November, after the attacks in Paris. The images from Brussels -- the bombed airport, the bodies at the metro station, the empty streets, the dead city --- reproduce a stereotypical image of war.
But, if we are at war, who is the enemy? Where is the front? Who are the members of the opposing army? If the European democracies have to fight to survive, where must that battle be fought? In the neighborhoods of European cities, like Brussels' Molenbeek, where the two brothers Abdeslam ran a small café, in which they served tea, sold drugs and recruited young, first and second generation immigrants, before they themselves became involved in the attacks on Paris? Or in Syria, where ISIS has installed a reign of terror, is gaining power and inspiring a maniacal dream of the revival of the caliphate?
"Most analyses lead to the first choice: The battle must be fought -- they say -- in the self-same European cities."
We must find the answer. What leads young children, 16-17 years old, brought up either in the multicultural model of British cities or in the ghettos of Paris and Brussels, into the arms of those who seek death and violence? What could explain their rapid radicalization? Where did Western Europe fail in winning over these young people?
We must also find solutions. How may the battle be fought successfully against such a shadow army? How to penetrate networks of familial and friendly support, such as those who managed to hide for 125 whole days the most wanted man in all of Europe from daily police raids, just a few meters away from his mother's house? And if despite the arrest of Abedslam (or as a reaction to it) they were able to execute such a hit while Brussels already was on high alert, how can the repetition of such murder and mayhem be prevented, anywhere and at any time?
The monster that threatens the West, the enemy that the West has to fight is largely a product of criminal errors and inexcusable failures in the Middle East.
But there are also voices which support the second approach. That the battle must be fought and won, primarily in the Middle East, and secondarily in the European mainland. This is a view which is for instance supported by Patrick Cockburn, a veteran correspondent of major media in the region and perceptive analyst of the ISIS phenomenon.
What is ISIS? According to Cockburn's analysis, it is a product of a triple failure of the West in the Middle East. The failure of the war in Iraq, the failure of peace in Iraq and the failure in Syria.
Thus, a core of gunpowder smoked warriors who combine ideology with religious fanaticism and military experience formed an organization that sprang to life in Iraq. The outbreak of the civil war in Syria made them sought after there and provided them with territory, fans and easy victories. They were then able to transfer over to Iraqi soil against a ghost-army that the Americans had put together, spending untold sums from which emerged hundreds of super-corrupt officers but not one warrior soldier. Born in the violence and of the violence of war they dominate through the most extreme and perversely ostentatious violence. And they offer billions of Sunnis in the Middle East, as well as in Europe, a victorious standard (for the first time) of a Sunni force that excites the imagination and a dream of reviving the caliphate, and recruits people ready to sacrifice themselves for a crazy idea.
If this analysis is correct, the root of the problem is in the Middle East, not in Europe itself. The monster that threatens the West, the enemy that the West has to fight is largely a product of criminal errors and inexcusable failures in the Middle East. And if the West can not defeat it there, no matter how many policing measures it may take in European cities, no matter how many surveillance systems it installs, even if it abolishes the Schengen Area or shuts the refugees who frighten it in ghettos, or turns Greece into Europe's Ellis Island, the problem will recur. The front at which the West should fight this battle is primarily in Syria. After three failures, the West needs a success -- the success of the peaceful transition of Syria into the next age and the operational squashing of Islamofascism.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Greece. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.