The ISIS attacks on Friday the 13th in Paris, in Beirut, and when the Russia plane was attacked, were an attack on all modern civilisation and society from Lebanon to France. The target on Friday was the values first articulated on Paris streets in the 18th century that led to a modern liberal revolution and eventually liberty in speech and assembly, fraternity expressed in tolerance and plurality, and equality between genders.
Be clear about what motivates ISIS. It doesn’t massacre Yizadis to stop their drones and protest Yazidi imperialism. It kills them and enslaves their women because of their religion. Salmon Rushdie's Japanese translator was not murdered 25 years ago because of the invasion of Iraq. The mad ideology of ISIS began to be popularised through the insane ravings of Sayd Qutb in the 1950s and 60s. People who today argue this began in the last 12 years because of Bush are only dating the timetable of their own attention.
The Paris attack was a premeditated, professional and highly organised assault on the Parisian way of life, just as the attack on Charlie Hebdo was a direct challenge to freedom of expression. People were enjoying an ordinary Friday night out; at a pop concert, eating in restaurants, watching a game of football. If you have ever done any of those things, then it was calculated to be an attack on you too.
But while it is morally clear that we must stop ISIS, it is not obvious how. Here’s where we can start:
1. Step up air strikes against ISIS strongholds and increase no-fly zones so that moderate groups can better fight back themselves.
France has already stepped up its air campaign and bombed the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria. It’s not clear that boots on the ground would be lawful. However if more attacks are planned, international law says a country can act in self-defence where an ‘instant' and ‘overwhelming' risk exists which gives a country no ‘moment of deliberation.’
What’s certain, is that air strikes will continue.
To anticipate those who say that would be a repeat of Iraq: all the outcomes are bad, but some are worse than others. Boots on the ground in Iraq was a disaster, so was the half-way house in Libya. The failure to intervene in Syria has been possibly the worst outcome of all. We must stop fighting the last war: The 2003 misjudgment over Iraq does not mean any intervention today against ISIS will also be a disaster.
2. Follow the money.
ISIS is well-funded. Money trails must now be ruthlessly followed.
The governments of Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have funded anti-Shia political and military movements in the Middle East without any real resistance from the international community.
Even when beheadings and slavery produced a queasy pause or reduction in official funding, wealthy individuals within those countries continued to fund ISIS while their governments turned a blind eye.
If the technology exists to track everyone's emails and cellphone calls then it must also exist to track the bank accounts through which the funds are flowing.
Following the money isn’t easy, because ISIS areas are like states run by gangs. Oil money is smuggled in oil trucks and suitcases - you can get up to $1-2 million in a suitcase. Eight million people pay taxes, or fines for not going to prayers on Friday - mostly in cash. ISIS doesn’t depend on moving money across international borders, but gets revenue from local criminal and gangster activities. Ransoms from kidnappings and plundering antiquities excavated from ancient palaces and archaeological sites all help to generate about $6 million a day - again, most of it in cash. Oil sales provide around $2.5 million a day,
In May 2014, the Brookings Institution published a briefing urging that the filtering of aid to Syria be tightened as the lines between humanitarian campaigns and jihad funding were becoming increasingly blurred. Kuwait is the single largest donor of “uncommitted” aid to Syria.
3. Win the argument.
Obliterating ISIS in Syria and Iraq won’t stop the violence for ever. We also have to win the arguments in the suburbs of Paris and Belgium, and we do that by strongly advocating for the women being enslaved by ISIS, the gays being thrown off buildings by ISIS, and the followers of other faiths being beheaded by ISIS.
We must have uncomfortable conversations about virulent, violent forms of Islam, not leave the job to the far right. Marine le Pen will fan the hatred of immigrants and increase violence in the poorest suburbs of Paris if we are silent.
We have to be prepared to stand beside Muslims who are trying desperately to modernise, reform and de-literalise their faith.
And we have to stand up loudly for our own traditions of free speech and critical thought. We don’t need greater limitations on speech in the name of reducing offence. We need to talk loudly so that a teenager in the Paris banlieue or in Brussels, who might otherwise be radicalised, hears from us the arguments against violent Islam and associated bigotry. A pre-radicalised Muslim teen needs to hear more from us about the evil of reactionary ISIS ideas than he hears us critique American foreign policy.
4. Don’t target refugees
Of the eight young men who attacked Paris on Friday, we know that most of them are French or Belgium-born and raised but all the fuss is being made about one who appears to have used a refugee process.
There are millions of refugees from Syria and Iraq running away from ISIS. We cannot abandon them because ISIS continue to prey on them as they run towards Europe. Acknowledging that the vetting process is imperfect does not mean we should abandon refugees.
It would have been easy to miss the hopeful symbolism of France playing a friendly game of football against its old enemy Germany at the Stade de France on Friday night. It’s a reminder that good always wins in the end.
But it is vital to defeat fascism militarily and intellectually first.