I tweeted the other day that, frankly, I have no idea what to do about Daesh (or “ISIS”, as the terrorists themselves like to style themselves).
I do have a few thoughts on what not to do, however – sadly, France seems committed to doing most of them.
Firstly, do not declare “war”. This is not a war in any sense that the public will understand the term. 1939-45 was a war. What the US and assorted allies have been up to in the Middle East since 2003 is some sort of completely incomprehensible grubby conflict which has cost us lots of young lives but does not appear to have achieved an awful lot other than feed terrorism.
Secondly, do not declare endless states of emergency or periods of martial law or even constitutional changes. Restricting our freedoms is exactly what this is all about for the terrorists, who will revel in their ability to force a mighty power like France to change its constitution on their account.
Thirdly, do not say you are closing your borders. You will find some of the terrorists came from within your borders anyway; others will easily be able to skirt through them on fake IDs and such like; so again, the only freedoms you are restricting are those of law-abiding citizens – just as the terrorists would have it.
Fourthly, do not talk about wiping groups from the face of the planet. It is too easy for those of less virtuous aims to take that to mean entire sects, rather than specific terrorist groups. Again, the terrorists want to turn this into a “clash of civilisations” (so that as many people as possible gave no option but to turn to them) – the whole purpose of the response must be not to allow this.
Fifthly, do not talk about mercilessly annihilating groups which exist in the Middle East. The Middle East will never be democratic and will always be inherently unstable, short of Western powers intervening and engaging in decades of nation-building (or “colonisation”, as that would also be justifiably called). The terrorists want talk of “merciless annihilation”; it allows them to promote it on their side too. The objective, in fact, is containment (in many senses).
Sixthly, do not base strategic intelligence missions or military action in the Middle East on nation states. They have no meaning there. “Governments” there are themselves just sects; borders are irrelevant (and were mostly drawn in the wrong place anyway). Nation states are a European obsession. Get over it – the terrorists have.
Finally, do not base your response on an immediate emotional reaction to an attack. Again, that is exactly what terrorism is designed to achieve. Instead, respond in an inclusive, civilised and rational manner ensuring as few people as possible are inclined to turn to the marginalised extremism which feeds such attacks in the first place – all while remembering never to expect the same from terrorists.
Inclusive, civilised and rational – that is who we aspire to be, and at our best that is who we are. We must never let terrorists make us think otherwise.