The terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, along with twin bombings in Beirut on the day before and the downing of a Russian jetliner over the Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31, show a new phase in the Islamic State’s war against the West, a readiness to strike far beyond areas it controls in Iraq, Syria, and increasingly, Libya.
The challenge for threatened countries is huge. The sort of attacks the Islamic State, or ISIS, has launched are hard to anticipate or prevent, yet in Europe each one intensifies the raucous xenophobia of far-right nationalists ever ready to demonize Muslim citizens, immigrants and refugees, and shut down Europe’s open internal borders.
The Islamic State must be crushed, but that requires patience, determination and the coordination of strategies and goals that has been sorely lacking among countries involved in the war on ISIS, especially the United States and Russia.
President François Hollande of France defiantly declared the attacks in Paris “an act of war” and vowed a “pitiless” response. On Sunday, French warplanes bombarded Raqqa, the Syrian city that is an ISIS stronghold. Mr. Hollande is expected to offer other proposals when he addresses the French Parliament at a special session in Versailles on Monday.
France already has some of Europe’s most intensive antiterrorist policing; adopting draconian measures of the sort demanded by far-right nationalists like Marine Le Pen of the National Front can only further alienate France’s Muslim population of five million, without offering any assurance against more attacks.
The discovery of a Syrian passport near one of the attackers, which matched one used by an asylum-seeker who had entered Europe through Greece, was bound to intensify anti-refugee sentiments and calls to close Europe’s open internal borders.
There is no proof that the owner of the passport was one of the gunmen. And even if one of the attackers had entered Europe in the guise of a refugee, the first gunman to be conclusively identified, Omar Ismail Mostefai, was not a refugee, but a French citizen born and raised in a town just south of Paris.
Pouring fuel on the passions swirling around refugees and Muslims in Europe was no doubt a major goal behind the ISIS attack.
The choice of the neighborhoods where most attacks occurred, an ethnically diverse area in eastern Paris increasingly populated by young professionals, seemed designed to send the message that tolerance would be no protection against what ISIS described in a communiqué as the coming “storm.”
France must take measures to protect its citizens, as must the United States, Russia and all the other countries — Western and Middle Eastern — threatened by the Islamic State’s murderous dream of a new caliphate.
At the same time, it’s clear that the prevention of further ISIS attacks will require threatened states to find a way to end the Syrian civil war, which has made it possible for this terrorist group to gain wealth, territory and power.
That means closely coordinating action among countries already engaged in the fight — most notably the United States and Russia — and it means persuading more European and Middle Eastern nations to join in the mission.
Until the latest spate of ISIS attacks, America’s focus on that terrorist organization as the primary enemy had not been fully shared by Russia, which has used its military actions more to defend its ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But there have been several promising moves of late toward greater cooperation.
At a meeting in Vienna on Saturday, representatives of more than a dozen countries with an urgent interest in ending the Syrian war, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia, agreed on a tentative plan for a phased transition to an interim government and elections in Syria.
And at the Group of 20 summit meeting underway in Turkey, Syria and ISIS have been a topic of urgent discussion, as they presumably were when President Obama met separately with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
The attacks in Paris sent a major shockwave around the world, and the Beirut bombings and the downing of the Russian civilian jetliner were every bit as horrific. ISIS has demonstrated that there is no limit to its reach, and no nation is really safe until they all come together to defeat this scourge.