Sunday, November 15, 2015


Last night, still on our little holiday, two things happened. One was personal and immediate, which was that I became violently ill as a result (I think) of ingesting gluten. The second was much more chilling, which was that we became aware of that of which we had been blissfully ignorant - the terrible attacks in Paris, which have now been claimed by ISIL.

Terrorism is well-named, it seems to me. It's designed to throw entire nations off-balance, into a perpetual state of fear, because no-one can know when the next attack will be coming or from which direction. It is a war waged as much on the mind as much as on the body. The radical uncertainty in England during the heyday years of the IRA springs to mind, along with this current wretched war being waged by ISIL and Daesh.

Like everything, it's both complex and not. What gives birth to terrorism isn't, I believe, religion (or at least not any particular religion); it's disaffection, and extremism, of any stripe. True, some kinds of radical extremism tend to lead to individual rather than group action - the not inconsiderable number of right-wing "Christian" terrorists over time (ie Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik) tend to committ their atrocities alone or with one or two accomplices, rather than as part of cells. There might be an interesting analysis to be done as to what it is in the right-wing Western mindset that gravitates towards lone-wolfing, rather than group action. Lone wolf terrorists still do massive damage, though; Breivik himself killed 67 people, acting alone, which is almost half the number killed in Paris by what looks like 5 or 6 separate cells.

The debate that will now be re-ignited is what the balance should be between self-protection and compassion, and as an Australian, living in a country noted for its exceptionally hardline refugee policy in the last decade, this makes me weary and sad. I assume that this is not a primary concern for ISIL - indeed, it might even be a goal - but it is going to be harder and harder for all people of Middle Eastern and North African descent now to live in the West and be accepted, and doubly, triply, so for Muslim people. Of course, the fear experienced by the West, which then leads to rejection and hostility, provides a perfect petri dish in which radicalisation and rhetoric of hate can get a toehold; and thus the problem continues to self-replicate, maybe indefinitely.

The news at the moment is reporting that one of the attackers was just 15 years old, and another had successfully claimed refugee status after leaving Syria. The tragedy of this cannot be overstated, not just for the immediate victims. The millions of Syrians now fleeing the brutal conflict in their country, and ISIL's reach, are now inevitably tarred with the West's fear of more attacks, and will struggle to obtain the help and refuge they so desperately need. On a domestic level, I believe this day has decided the next Australian election; fear is a powerful motivator, and I don't think Turnbull, leading the party of most stringent (and cruel) refugee rejection, can lose now, especially given his personal popularity.

I feel that we may be headed for a dark time internationally with terrorism, and that things may get worse before they get better, most notably for the regional victims of ISIL who may now be unable to find refuge. What happened in Paris was unutterably sad and terrible. What is happening every day in Syria itself is even worse, and the victim count is just going to continue to rise while ISIL's star is in the ascendant.

This is post 15 in NaBloPoMo. 15 down to go - halfway there!

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