By framing Friday’s attacks as “an act of war” – not “crime” or simply “terror” – French President Francois Hollande has effectively declared that France’s primary response will be military. If the United States’ actions following the September 2001 terrorist attacks have taught us anything, it is that for France this is a beginning, not a conclusion.
As a leader, Mr. Hollande faces a formidable challenge: He must inspire his nation to gird for war, and he must do so without the oratorical skills and charismatic magnetism of, say, former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Notably, France faces a shape-shifting enemy that lurks in the shadows among his own citizenry. Perhaps more than any nation in Europe, France, with its liberal immigration and social policies, is home to enclaves of a populous Islamic community that has not been assimilated into the fabric of everyday French life.
Consequently, France now faces perhaps even existential threats from both inside and outside its own borders.
If France is to “win” this war – in the narrow sense of achieving military victory against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – Mr. Hollande must not delegate its moral authority to “coalitions,” the United Nations, even NATO, and certainly not the Obama-led United States.
France was attacked. France must respond, in the air and on the ground – and it has already begun to do so. On Sunday night, French fighter jets flew bomb-dropping sorties over the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’s self-proclaimed “capital,” destroying military targets and a terrorist training camp.
In the broader picture, military action may prove insufficient to win the “war on terrorism.” In fact, it is unclear whether this is a war that can be “won” (in the traditional sense) or if violent religious extremism is a disease of human civilization for which there are treatments but no cure.
The chief animus of the Islamic State and other extremist organizations is the existence of Western Civilization. Their enemies are everyone who are not themselves.
Do not forget that most victims of radical Muslim terrorists are other Muslims. The day before the attacks in Paris, a pair of suicide bombers killed 43 people in Beirut, Lebanon. The Russian plane that crashed in Egypt at the end of October, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board, was most likely brought down by a bomb planted by the Islamic State.
The “war on terror” is a global struggle, and its implications are global in consequence. Already in Europe and the U.S., the Paris attacks have engendered newly heated discussions over immigration, border security, civil liberties and public safety. Here in the Cayman Islands, we should anticipate possible ramifications to our financial services industry, in the event of stricter regulations on the sector implemented in the name of cracking down on terrorism financing.
But those issues, while of significant importance in the long term, must be considered today as being secondary. For now, we and other “citizens of the world” honor the innocent lives that have been lost to this particular strain of hatred, in Paris, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, and we offer our support and encouragement to everyone who shares the common goal of peace among humanity.