The day after the Paris terror attacks, French President Francois Hollande referred to Friday’s events as an act of war, promising a ruthless response and evoking memories of George W. Bush’s speech on Sept. 11, 2001. France made good on this vow on Sunday, initiating retributive action with an aerial bombardment of Raqqa, Syria, the capital of ISIS’s proclaimed caliphate.
Following the events in Paris, the focus of the U.S. Democratic debate shifted to foreign policy, with moderators posing questions that focused on national security and terrorism. The views presented supported the widely-held belief that the United States must join forces with international allies and crush extremist groups with military force. But this call for military force completely ignores the futility of current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Despite extensive aerial campaigns, moderate material support to rebels and the recent addition of U.S. troops, the U.S.-led effort in Syria has been relatively unsuccessful. Iraq similarly remains torn apart by warring extremist factions, including ISIS, leaving Iraqi citizens unprotected by an inept army. Frustratingly, domestic and international leaders refuse to confront the causes of the instability that enabled the rise of ISIS. Instead, they order more airstrikes.
The immediate aggressive response to punish those who heinously murdered innocent French citizens creates the impression of an appropriate reaction. While increased airstrikes may provide an illusory sense of justice for those grieving, an ill-conceived and unstructured military response will likely prove to be ineffective and only embolden ISIS further. Supported by current shock and horror, attempts to dehistoricize the causes of attacks only enable further atrocities by denying the integral role of Western involvement in creating ISIS. Efforts to deny political and historical origins of these attacks are dangerous because they permit those seeking a purely militaristic response to act without consideration of the Iraq invasion’s results. This denial of culpability for the regional destabilization following Saddam Hussein’s ousting somehow allows U.S. citizens to regard the bombings in Beirut and Baghdad as daily occurrences detached from the past rush to invade. This detachment makes it seem that the attacks in the Middle East are unworthy of media attention, even while mourning and avenging the Paris attacks.
The attack on Paris is a cause for concern because it represents, more than anything else, the continued dehistoricization that ignores why the world finds itself once again roiled by grief because of a terror attack. The rhetoric employed by Hollande implies a reaction similar to the US response after 9/11. France’s Muslim population is already demonized by a government that scorns the place of their religion in a secular nation. Citizens of Middle Eastern countries are already witnessing daily death and violence. They, more than anyone else, will bear the brunt of the continued unstoppable Western instinct to bomb quickly, supported by a disregard for the history behind the rise of extremist terrorism. Their humanity still matters, whether the West is willing to listen to them or not.
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