by John Holbo on November 15, 2015

I was going to post some more stuff about Nietzsche’s wild political philosophy but instead I’ll declare a CT day of mourning for Paris. I see Paris comments are starting to show in some of the other threads. That’s fine, if it’s relevant to those other threads, but maybe if you have Paris-related thoughts or feelings you can leave them here. It’s a tragedy that will lead to more tragedy. That’s about all I can think to say myself.



ponfed 11.15.15 at 5:45 am

I’m glad you made this thread.

My thoughts are with the people of Paris, and all the French people affected.
I barely have my thoughts together a day after and 3000 miles away.

It’s really disturbing the breath this attack. The randomness and at the same time the level of coordination…

But I’m also so much afraid of the reaction. I already see it everywhere online. With the economic and cultural situation in the entire European Union and the disturbing nationalist and xenophobic feelings it engenders…..

The FN wins the 2017 election for sure and whatever the fuck is going on in Germany is gonna get worst… up here in Canada they are already bitching about the new government policy on ISIS…

I remember the post 9/11 and it was really ugly really fast for muslim or muslim looking people… I’m on edge and worried for my friends, coworkers and neighbours of North-African and Middle-Eastern descent.

And I can’t even imagine the chaos in Paris right now. The grief, the terror, the anger.
Fuck…. the more I read about it the more I physicaly feel bad.



Sancho 11.15.15 at 6:46 am

I’m going the other way. With each attack, I care less and less about the lives of Muslims in general and Arabs in particular.

Just how much savagery toward host nations do we tolerate before agreeing that some groups don’t deserve a place in the developed world?


kidneystones 11.15.15 at 7:03 am

Thank you for this. As bad as the events in Paris are, the city has seen much, much worse and survived. I’m certain France and Paris will move forward towards greater peace. The principles of fraternity, liberty, and equality aren’t just words for the French. They’ll mourn, rage, argue, fight, etc.

I’ll be booking my next stay in Paris soon, probably sooner than I’d planned. I doubt I’ll visit any of the sites in the news this weekend, but I will try to make time for an afternoon in Père Lachaise. Paris is still the best city in the world. Now, it’s time to focus on the good, grieve and celebrate the lives of those who have passed.


Bartleby the Commenter 11.15.15 at 7:04 am

“With each attack, I care less and less about the lives of Muslims in general and Arabs in particular.”

Yeah. It is not like we have been bombing Muslim countries for the last 25 years or so. I mean if we are going on numbers killed we are probably beating them by about 20 to 1.

The saddest thing about all of this is we have learned absolutely nothing. Hint- YOU CANNOT KILL YOUR WAY OUT OF THIS.


Bartleby the Commenter 11.15.15 at 7:05 am

Of course as always I would prefer not to make the above comment.


Ingrid Robeyns 11.15.15 at 7:14 am

Thanks John – I was just passing by to do the same.

I am feeling so sad and powerless, I first thought there was nothing to say, except to express sadness and grief. But there are, perhaps, still a few things to say. One thing I’ll say in a separate post. The others two things are these:

Some commentators have mentioned that the Paris quarters that have been attacked have been the most multicultural, young and ‘liberal’ (in the US use of that term): what some see as the ideal future of French multiculturalism. What does it mean that those places are attacked, rather than symbols of government power or some tourist landmarks or the heart of business?

A colleague of mine, Beatrice de Graaf, who is a historian specialized in security and “terrorism” (that is: everything that we in the public sphere call ‘terrorism’, which is a rather mixed bunch of things) was asked last night on Dutch television whether this could also happen in Amsterdam:
Of course, ‘technically’ this can happen in Amsterdam or any other European city that is part of an open society. But she pointed out that there are significant differences between France on the one hand, and the Netherlands and some other European countries in terms of the degree to which policy works pro-actively in the poor suburbs to develop “soft policies” with a network of community policing, probation officers, social workers etc – and she claims that this network has been able to prevent many attacks. If it is correct that the attackers are “locals” (rather then, what some say, IS-warriors who came to Europe as a refugee), then it does raise the question of how local people can become so estranged from the country in which they live, that such horrible things can happen.


Dr. Waffle 11.15.15 at 7:14 am

@2: “I’m going the other way. With each attack, I care less and less about the lives of Muslims in general and Arabs in particular.”

Sounds better in the original German.


Ingrid Robeyns 11.15.15 at 7:24 am

Sancho, please think again. This is precisely the kind of ‘group’-thinking and increased polarization and increased mutual disrespect that groups like IS would like to achieve. You are doing precisely what they would like us to do, rather than thinking clearly and logically.

The vast majority of muslims in Europe have nothing to do with this, and cannot be held responsible. And did you notice that IS is attacking Shiite mosques elsewhere in the world? This is NOT about islam versus other religions; this is about one evil group abusing the name of a religion, trying to hurt anyone who doesn’t agree with them, including the vast majority of the people belonging to the religion whose name they are abusing.

This is John’s thread so he’s in charge, but I propose that we do NOT continue this Islamophobic and homogenizing conversation here.


Sebastian H 11.15.15 at 7:24 am

Unless I’m misreading the reports, the attackers seem to have a strong Belgian connection, much like the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Which suggests it could happen in Amsterdam.


gianni 11.15.15 at 7:34 am

I don’t know if there may be some language barriers here, but if you have some examples of your colleague’s work that you could share with us I would certainly be interested. Google results are only giving me mostly snippets, paywalls, or Dutch.


John Holbo 11.15.15 at 7:40 am

Sancho has had his say, and Bartleby has responded, rightly, by pointing out that, by Sancho’s logic, the terrorists not only win but deserve to win. Which suggests there may be something wrong with that logic. Further exhortations to senseless mass killing will be deleted.


kidneystones 11.15.15 at 7:43 am

re: bad things happening. Yes, they will. Bad things are part and parcel of the dynamic and only the most intrusive security measures: such as locking ourselves in cages, can provide the levels of security some suggest are desirable. They’re not, imho.
The absolute most effective way to reduce the impact, if not the number, of future events of this specific kind, is to get to know a few Muslims. Listen, rather than talk. Visit a mosque or two. Learn something about islamic culture and art and teach our students the same. The press is already providing plenty of horror stories. There are lots of interesting sites and cultural intersections Norman Sicily, the Offa Dinar, etc, etc, etc.

One of the best parts about visiting Paris with our kids is that they can experience Islamic and African and Cambodian culture up close. I took our son when he was 14. Nothing like it. The entire city is one big university/museum.


John Holbo 11.15.15 at 7:44 am

And Ingrid has had her say, and Dr. Waffle has had his/her say. So let’s say no more about Sancho. But I’ll leave his comment.


Sancho 11.15.15 at 7:44 am

That’s precisely the misreading a comment like mine always gets, Bartleby.

Death tallies aren’t relevant, nowhere did I deny western attacks in the middle east (carried out often for the most cynical of reasons), and I don’t propose killing our way out of anything.

I simply don’t have any regard any more for the concerns or complaints of western Muslims, when they clearly consider themselves invaders, not immigrants. I no longer care about their rights, freedoms or capacity to participate in civic life.

For fifteen years we’ve been hearing that, given a chance, a core community of moderate Muslims will emerge, but it hasn’t. Instead, we got ongoing attacks and depressing polls reminding us that Muslims are supportive of theocracy, terrorism, murder of apostates, suppression of women and homosexuals, and generally in favour of social conventions the developed world associates with the dark ages.

Despite attempts to encourage moderate Muslims, there is still no Islamic equivalent of the progressive/conservative, right/left divide, with progressives speaking out in force against the conservatives. There are only right-wing conservatives disagreeing whether divorcees should be stoned to death or merely whipped in the streets, and a handful of young bloggers saying maybe that’s not okay all the time.

I’ve been using the same handle and no other for ten years. My comment history is public, and I am clearly not the sort of Tea Party, clash-of-civilisations culture warrior that my current views normally belong to. I’ve written thousands of words in defence of Muslims in the west, but I can’t stand by them any more. Islam in its current phase is antithetical to all progressive western ideas, there is no significant move toward modernisation, and its adherents should be treated with utter contempt and suspicion.

I am heartily sick of being told that speaking out against Islamic right-wing lunatics somehow makes me a Christian right-wing lunatic. It’s bollocks.


John Holbo 11.15.15 at 7:55 am

OK, Sancho, you’ve had your say. I’m letting your second comment stand because I think you are trying to be reasonable about this. But I don’t think you are succeeding. It makes no sense to blame all of Islam, or all Muslims in Europe, for the acts of a few fanatics. It’s not as if blaming all of them, unjustly, will solve any problems. It’s not as though your ruthlessness is pragmatic.

Again, I’ve let you have your say. Kindly do not say any more in this thread.


Shylock Homeslice 11.15.15 at 7:58 am


gianni 11.15.15 at 8:01 am

“(something something)… Muslims in general and Arabs in particular”

JH: “…Sancho’s logic…”

Not to belabor the point, but by that argument’s own terms, wouldn’t it be the reverse? As in, being an Arab is just a happenstance of birth, whereas being a Muslim is a conscious choice, and ISIS is – purportedly – informed by the Muslim faith, so the argument would be Muslims in particular?

I get that you are trying to be calm and diplomatic here JH. But still – recent calls for increasing the level of violence/hatred are not even playing lip-service to logic. Which is disconcerting, because it suggests that reasoned argument will not be an effective tool in persuading these sorts out of their positions. This is something we have seen before.

My greatest worry is the tendency by those most vociferous in their disdain for terrorism to be in agreement with terrorist actors when it comes to portraying those actors as powerful and dangerous. I understand why select individuals may have an incentive to do so, and/or act in bad faith in this regard. But, more broadly, do people really not understand that they are buying into and echoing those same terrorists’ propaganda? This is an honest question.


bad Jim 11.15.15 at 8:03 am

Some good could come out of this. In the struggle against Daesh, Russia and Iran are our allies. Perhaps we could get back to working with them. Maybe the Kurds get a country of their own; they’re doing a better job of defending themselves than the countries they nominally belong to.


js. 11.15.15 at 8:05 am

With each attack, I care less and less about the lives of Muslims in general and Arabs in particular.

My mother is a practicing Muslim. No, she doesn’t cover her head. Yes, she prays five times a day and doesn’t drink and doesn’t eat pork, etc. Pretty much half of my extended family fits this description. You “care less and less” about the lives of all these people—again, half of my extended family—because of what some motherfuckers who happen to be Muslim did in Paris? Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider your position? Maybe just a little bit?


js. 11.15.15 at 8:07 am

Sorry, I’d missed the later comments. Holbo, please feel free to delete my last comment. Or this one. Or both.


Mike Schilling 11.15.15 at 8:15 am


The main targets were large concentrations of people: the concert and the stadium. Had security not prevented the terrorists from entering the stadium, they would have had tens of thousands of targets. (The stadium holds 80,000; I can’t find the actual attendance.) I don’t think it’s necessary to look any deeper than that. It is instructive how many lives the searches that we often dismiss as “security theater” saved.


ragweed 11.15.15 at 8:31 am

After this attack, as after just about every attack like this, moderate Muslims have publicly denounced the attack, have condemned the perpetrators, and have denounced the misuse of Islam by extremists. There are rallies being organized by the major French mosques, and a social media campaign with the theme of “Not in Our Name”. In September more than 140 Islamic scholars and leaders wrote an open letter to ISIS denouncing their violence and extremism.

I am not sure what people are looking for – are Mosque’s supposed to organize underground cells of armed counter-insurgency forces to root out ISIS? That Muslims in western countries should be responsible for operating their own quasi-private law enforcement? Finding terrorists and thwarting crime are jobs for the police. I don’t think it makes sense to expect a religious community to take on that task.


Dr. Waffle 11.15.15 at 8:41 am


We also see the Kurds giving ISIS hell. And, over the last several decades, the governments of Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, etc., cracking down on radical movements (although the efficacy and morality of such campaigns are, of course questionable).


Bill Benzon 11.15.15 at 8:45 am

It is, after all, Autumn:


John Holbo 11.15.15 at 8:47 am

The Sancho show is over. Comments moderated, and will stay that way.


Bill Benzon 11.15.15 at 8:49 am

And in half a year it will April:


kidneystones 11.15.15 at 8:55 am

Online I can be somewhat, ahem, acerbic. In real life, however, I’m extremely charming and good-looking. I do raise a little hell at the yearly reviews, but I operate under a strict policy at work of if I don’t have something good to say, I don’t say it. That takes work.

My second and even more successful policy is to find something to like in everyone, and say it. That, too, takes work. So, life with me is actually one never-ending stream of Pollyanna the glass is half full optimism and compliments. It’s what I learned in business. Drives some folks nuts, I’m sure, but it works extremely well for me. I’m completely unaware of all the gossip, I have no idea who’s trashing who, I don’t add any fuel to the fire, and I never engage in professional backstabbing, unless I’ve already made the decision to complain directly to the said individual’s face.

Like it or not, we’re all in this together, left-right, Christian, agnostic, atheist, Muslim, etc. I can’t afford, personally, to indulge in my prejudices, nor do I want to. Perhaps on this one thread which John started out as a place to mourn, we try to say something nice about a group of individuals we ordinarily detest. Call it change for want of a better word.

js. provided a good start.


gianni 11.15.15 at 8:57 am

js. @22
I understand why you are upset, and as I noted above I sincerely doubt that Sancho is thinking rationally here. That being said, there are empirical questions here, regarding to what degree Muslims support or do not support objectionable acts.

Shylock H above gives some polls showing American Muslims as less willing to support military attacks on civilians. Of course, this shouldn’t be surprising, given the usual victims of US collateral damage these days. But most polls on at least the American Muslim community fail to find even modest levels of support for committing other sorts of atrocities.

Other data actually show interesting trends. It is a bit dated, but, for example, see:

Rather than a singular ‘Muslim’ stance, we see that the salience of the Muslim identity differs across national environments. Something lacking from this study, and most of its kind, is a baseline/’control group’ level of support for terrorism (ideally defined substantively, not just as ‘terrorism’) among the general population.

I think it is important that people actually do explore these questions. This project naturally requires rejecting the notion that Muslims as a whole think in a uniform way about these issues. But parsing out the relevance of different conditions on these opinions seems like a worthwhile line of inquiry.


js. 11.15.15 at 8:59 am

Re Ingrid @6: This Kieran Healy tweet is heartbreaking but very relevant, I think. It’s just so, so horrifying.


Hidari 11.15.15 at 9:03 am

@18 bad Jim

In your experienced, does the ‘West’ normally act calmly, rationally, and logically in response to terrorist atrocities?

Think of 9/11, for example.


js. 11.15.15 at 9:22 am

gianni @28: Look, once you’ve (sensibly) rejected the notion that “Muslims as a whole think in a uniform way about [_X_] issues”, there’s really no sense to the question “to what degree Muslims support or do not support objectionable acts” because you’re not actually dealing with a cohesive whole. Honestly, it’s kind of like asking what Christians think about motherfuckers who kill doctors providing abortion. It seems pretty clear to me that “Christians” don’t think anything about that because it’s an ill-formed category relative to the topic under discussion. Similarly, I don’t think “what do Muslims think about terrorism” is an empirical question so much as a methodological error. (This can admittedly get more complicated, but I’ll stand by this, for now at least.)


Saurs 11.15.15 at 9:30 am

With each new attack on refugees, fleeing from the very violence Paris has just witnessed, I care less and less about “host countries” like Germany in general and their savage, backwards, insular, inbred barbarian natives in particular.

Wait, no I don’t.


Daragh 11.15.15 at 10:25 am

I know I haven’t been the most popular person here, but I wrote a little thing for my friends on Facebook last night that seemed to have some success in soothing and comforting naturally distraught people. As the thread seems in danger of descending into acrimony, I thought I’d offer it up here as well –

“There are no words to describe the horror of last nights events or the pain of the victims and their loved ones. Like everyone my thoughts and prayers are with them. Paris has survived some of the worst examples of humanity’s capacity for evil in it’s long history and has always come back swinging. I have no doubt it will this time too.
Perhaps it is just the circles I frequent but I have also been relieved and proud to see so many people reminding us that there’s a reason ISIS and their twisted adherents carry out this kind of attack. It’s not just to sow death and destruction. It is to turn us against each other, to make us hate and fear our fellow humans just because of the colour of their skin or the nature of the god they worship. In more simple terms, they want non Muslims to become Islamophobes in order to push more Muslims to become jihadists, to create a vicious circle of violence and misery.
Make no mistake – for the barbarians who plotted and carried out this atrocity there should be a swift and terrible retribution. But in the end the most powerful weapon we have is to treat one another with kindness, and respect and to keep our hearts and our minds open, and ultimately, to love one another. That’s how we win.”


engels 11.15.15 at 10:50 am

Clicked on this post. Scrolled down to the comments. Turning my computer off now


jackrousseau 11.15.15 at 10:59 am

What’s the over-under on the EU breaking apart due to the election of Nazi or Nazi-lite parties in the next 2-3 years? Anyone want to take a guess?


David 11.15.15 at 11:14 am

In all of the comments on this episode (and it must be said this thread is better than most) there is a narcissistic obsession with Us. This is not a “tragedy” or a bolt from the blue, nor a feature of global religious conflict (except incidentally) or a piece of simple unprovoked aggression. As the IS said quite clearly, it is a reprisal for French military and political actions against them, and a warning to the French and others to stop it. The French government now needs to decide whether to continue its policy of military attacks on ISIS, in the knowledge that more reprisals could result.
But this is too much for the political system to assimilate. Valls was on TV yesterday saying that “we” were “at war” with the IS. But he had obviously forgotten that the government he heads has been “at war” with ISIS for several years now. “We” have been killing “them”, but that’s part of the natural order things. Whatever the moral, legal or political complexities of these attacks, it’s not hard to understand that if you attack someone, you risk having them strike you back.
For the record, I frankly doubt whether the IS devotes more than thirty seconds a day to thinking about religious differences in France, or anywhere else. They are trying to build their own state, and they are not doing well at the moment. They would welcome the end of western attacks to take some of the pressure off. It’s not about Us, except insofar as we are attacking them.


Ecrasez l'Infame 11.15.15 at 11:29 am

Some commentators have mentioned that the Paris quarters that have been attacked have been the most multicultural, young and ‘liberal’ (in the US use of that term): what some see as the ideal future of French multiculturalism. What does it mean that those places are attacked, rather than symbols of government power or some tourist landmarks or the heart of business?

These commentators have the most incredible ignorance about French life and Islam. How on earth do you interpret an attack on restaurants, bars, and concerts on a Friday as an attack on French multiculturalism? It is obviously an attack on French culture by a culture which has a different view about alcohol and the role of Friday.


Thomas Beale 11.15.15 at 11:54 am

I have been trying to work out a simple schema for explaining why these kinds of events happen – not something for academics and intellectuals, but the kind of thing we would like to see even in rags like The Sun, as a starting point for public discussion. I have two variants on this.

This one tries to answer the question: what leads to this type of violence (we can think in terms of Aristotle’s levels of causation)? I try to answer it with an equation:

ideology + disaffection + radicalisation + warzone training => atrocity

Each of these terms holds a world of explication, which I won’t go into here much, but one aim is to try to head off those ultra-simplistic reactions in the media and public of the form ‘US/Western foreign policy is to blame for it all’, ‘Islam is evil’ etc, and the mostly useless lop-sided debates that follow.

A very short explanation of the terms:

* ideology => there’s no getting out of the fact that canonical Islam is very convenient worldview and belief system for the purpose of terror – it contains all the ideas needed – jihad, martyrdom, dar al-harb/dar al-Islam, a whole legal system of its own.

* disaffection => this is the term that tries to encompass the effects of foreign policy in the ME. Far too large a topic for here.

* radicalisation, often of EU citizens – this is what Quilliam Foundation and others try to work on. This is the ‘brainwashing’ stage, if we believe in such.

* warzone training – to turn a person inculcated with ideas into a calm killing / suicide machine, they have to be not just trained in bombs and weapons but (so I read) given the real experience, where possible, of killing actual people (by now no longer ‘people’ in their minds). Robert Baer often speaks about this factor.

This equation has no term corresponding to the ‘guiding mind’ behind daesh (i.e. al-Baghdadi’s ‘plan’); perhaps that’s also needed.

The other major way I have of seeing things is in terms of a clash of ‘value systems’, which I commented on here in response to a 5pillars post. Yes, I know that this sounds like the tired old ‘clash of civilisations’, but I can’t escape the feeling that the cultural baseline mental outlook and ways of thinking about topics (e.g. homosexuality) remain problematic.

A quick third observation: no-one ever talks about ‘Catholics’ or ‘Anglicans’ in general public discourse in the UK or West in general, other than in discussion on specific topics to do with religion (e.g. ordination of female priests). But we use the word ‘Muslim’ in the UK as the first go-to classifier for pretty much anyone from a ME country in any general public context. Just try to imagine Dimbleby on QT saying something like ‘OK, thanks for that Muslim point of view, now would some Catholics like to respond to that?’. This is the identity problem, and among other things, it paints normal (‘muslim’) people into a corner they often don’t want to be in.

None of these thoughts tries to be remotely academic (my research area is something completely different) or even too ‘proper’, because I think the time is upon us to develop ‘schemes of understanding for the masses’, in the interests of avoiding what may be very serious societal tensions (here in the UK, in France, Europe, US, Aus etc) and thence terribly mistaken acts of foreign policy (continued aerial bombardment for example).


P O'Neill 11.15.15 at 12:13 pm

interesting stuff Thomas but I don’t see how to fit USA spree killers into your equation. One difference is of course the teamwork but Columbine had that.


Thomas Beale 11.15.15 at 12:21 pm

@38 I didn’t say all atrocities have the same cause. Perhaps I should have used the term ‘ideological atrocity’ above. Those killers (not only US, I think Norway and Australia probably still hold 1st and 2nd place in that ranking of horror) have explanations in psychology of mind and society. I’m sure there is some equation for them as well – and maybe it is not so far different from the one I suggest, if you accept that such killers often do have some personal ‘ideology’, but in just as many cases, the ‘disaffection/resentment’ part may explain everything. I have no competence at all in this area, so I won’t comment further…


David 11.15.15 at 12:47 pm

I don’t think Nazi-style governments are likely anywhere in Europe any time soon. On the whole, the French have reacted with restraint, and there have been few overt signs of any anti-Muslim sentiment or actions. I think this is because the French people, if not the commentariat, mostly understand that the origins of the attack lie abroad, and that it was a response to French actions there. Somebody on the radio this morning was quoting the slogan which helped to bring down the Spanish government after the 2004 Madrid bombings: “your war, our dead”. All that said, the incident is likely to help the extreme Right, but not for obvious reasons. It will massively strengthen the lobby that wants to reimpose border controls and ditch the Schengen agreement: there are signs, indeed, that Schengen is starting to fall apart. Likewise, the extreme Right is generally strongly against intervention, and wants a much less activist foreign policy. If she chooses, Le Pen can make quite a lot of capital from the argument that irresponsible meddling in the affairs of other states has put the safety of the country in danger. But for the moment, there’s no sign that the (fairly small) explicitly racialist tendency in France is benefitting.
Thomas Beale @37
As I said, I don’t think that complicated explanations are needed when simple ones are quite sufficient. This is a series of attacks deliberately designed to turn the French people against their government’s policies in the Middle East. It has never been hard to persuade people to use violence against civilians for political reasons. It happened all the time in the colonial period, and in the wars of de-colonialisation, where massacres of civilians were commonplace. See, for example, Nick Turse’s recent book “Kill Anything that Moves” about the US in Vietnam, which shows how extreme violence against civilians was adopted as official (if not acknowledged) policy at all levels. Ordinary kids from the rural US, no doubt brought up as devout Christians, were rapidly turned into perpetrators of wholesale massacres, according to the US Army’s own investigators.


otpup 11.15.15 at 1:11 pm

@Beale, I find both the ideas of ideology and “canonical Islam” as not being very useful. Christianity has a long history of intolerance and violence against heretics (though whether that is canonical or not is not something I want to debate). Any non-universalist creed could incite violence, and I think modernization (urbanization, education, multiple sources of cultural authority, experience of global/regional integration in all kinds of social dimensions, etc) has something to do with it as a countervailing force.

Peace and healing to the all the people of France and Lebanon and Syria.


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 1:18 pm

I dont know that we know that this was a revenge attack for French foreign policy. We have pretty clear evidence for why Al Qaeda attacks the west (1) to divide populations and recruit, and (2) to encourage western governments into counterproductive responses which would help radicalise domestic populations. ISIS , as theyre recruting from the same pool, could plausibly have this goal in mind. We also shouldnt dismiss the millenarian strains of thought in their ideology. It isnt implausible that a massive regional war is their aspiration.
I, personally, think there are some problems with how the left (at times) view these things:
(1) the idea that most of the world are just liberals/leftists who have lost their way. My understanding is that the opposite is closer to the truth, that the types of people (western educated) who staff national security beaucracies, academic depts and newspapers are actually, cognitivelyand morally, the global abberation. Most people do not hold our value system. Our conception of right or wrong, what’s desirable or not from life, is not the norm. People will kill and die for oppressive ideological systems, not because they feel unloved, or hope for power and wealth, but because they have very different views of what is desirable and what is not than us.

(2) Our solutions for global problems always approach them from the wrong angle. Abberant behaviour is the result of discrimination or poverty. The problems of development are resolvable by vague calls to institutional reform or local agency. Conflicts can be negotiated. Ideologies and behaviour is reactive to our policy. Violence is the result of pathology or criminality. People primarily care about their economic self interest.

(3) What we see in large parts of the world are groups with considerably different cognitive dispositions and fundamentally different conceptions of what makes a good moral order. ISIS is an extreme example of this, but it is a more general rule. The situation isnt resolved through institutional design, or realigned incentives, or logical argument, or negotiation, or emancipation of the people, or even changes to western policy. These are deeper differences, built into how people relate to eachother, how they think, what they want from life.

That isnt a call to military action, such a collection of claims could lead you to numerous policy positions.

” This is a series of attacks deliberately designed to turn the French people against their government’s policies in the Middle East”

I dont know. They cant actually believe it will achieve this goal (none of their other atrocities for western audiences, ie the beheadings, have achieved this aim – in fact quite the opposite – so why would they think this will)


reason 11.15.15 at 1:25 pm

Ronan(rf) @43
“Our conception of right or wrong, what’s desirable or not from life, is not the norm. People will kill and die for oppressive ideological systems, not because they feel unloved, or hope for power and wealth, but because they have very different views of what is desirable and what is not than us.”

Yeah, but many of the ISIS actors grew up in the West. I’m not convinced by this view.


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 1:29 pm

Not that many. And it’s not only west vs the rest, there are major differences in value systems within western countries (though perhaps not as stark) It doesnt explain all of it though, (people also fight for adventure, profit, etc)..just most (imo)


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 1:31 pm

..(and major differences within non western countries. Of course)


P O'Neill 11.15.15 at 1:35 pm


Ask some guy named Abdelfattah al-Sisi.


otpup 11.15.15 at 1:46 pm

@45, I think some of your assertions fall into the category of possibly correct but unhelpfully general. People see the world differently by reason of myriad conditions, some tractable and some not.
I will say, perhaps moving in the direction of supporting your pessimism (I hope that is not a dismissive label), that a recent NPR interview with the documentarian doing a film about a fatal gang rape in India claims to have found the perps disturbingly “not aberrant”. This might (!) lead one to reflect, some cultures (and there is never just one culture in a locality) are more pernicious than others but they are complex constructs and also are not immutable. But I also doubt cultures change fast enough to make much difference over say the next decade.


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 1:50 pm

I agree a lot of my claims above were overly general (Im more looking to see if anyone can elaborate on them, or what they have to say against them) Im not sure to what extent I believe all that I wrote,and I agree it’s more complicated than the outline I gave (also, dont worry, i didnt find the pessimistic label dismissive)


chris y 11.15.15 at 2:24 pm

What is this “Muslims”? There are at least as many flavours of Islam as there are of Christianity. If some self-appointed group of Pentecostalists decided to undertake a Crusade, would anybody immediately blame all the Roman Catholics? As this article points out, ISIS is theologically and jurisprudentially negligible:

Finally, then, how is ISIS decidedly not Islamic? Well, what characterizes ISIS’s approach to Islamic Law is a glaring lack of methodology beyond textual cherry-picking. They cite broadly, scanning classical Muslim texts for whatever expediently fits their agenda. But this post hoc scrapbooking is the exact reverse of legitimate juristic methodology. The proper derivation of Islamic legal opinions, as practiced for centuries by Muslim jurists, begins from general methodological principles (usul al-fiqh), takes into account the relevant scriptural and extra-scriptural indicants, and then arrives at specific rulings. ISIS, of course, has no usul al-fiqh, no consistent methodology, and, hence, no connection to Islamic Law. And this is precisely what Muslim scholars around the world have been saying in denouncing and debunking ISIS’s “McSharia.”

Generalising about any widespread tradition from the ravings of its lunatic fringe is always unhelpful. In this instance it serves to distract attention, sometimes deliberately and sometimes through ignorance, from the underlying political issues which are harder to address.


chris y 11.15.15 at 2:29 pm

Bad Jim at 18: Russia are not our allies in this. Russia is supportive of the Assad regime; the position of the American and British governments is that Assad has to go, although he might have a roe in a transitional government; the French line, at least up to yesterday, was that Assad has to go, period.

Also, there will be no Kurdish state while Recep Erdogan is alive and Turkey is in NATO.


David 11.15.15 at 3:30 pm

Ronan @43 et seq
Well, the IS have said that it’s a revenge attack, and told the French to stop. I agree that this could theoretically be said to mislead or conceal, but why? There’s no point in staging an event like this unless you explain what you want to get out of it. Yes, beheading westerners hasn’t worked, so we up the ante. After all, violence is the only thing these westerners understand ….
For AQ, it’s important to avoid confusing strategy with tactics; the group’s aim was to overthrow the corrupt monarchies of the Gulf and replace them with virtuous regimes. But they knew there was no chance of doing this while the regimes had western support, so stage one was to drive the West out of the area, ideally by a decapitating strike as tried in 2001, but otherwise through a process of attrition. I don’t know that they are fishing in the same pool, because AQ was (?is) an elite vanguard movement, whereas IS is a mass populist movement , whose leaders are, frankly, not very bright.
That said, I agree with your main argument.There are many different value systems in the world, and indeed value systems in the West have changed radically, a number of times, over the last couple of centuries. It’s a mistake to assume that people with different values from “us”, or more precisely liberal elites, are necessarily stupid, backward or irrationally hostile. Not to go off at a tangent, but I can’t help thinking that, if I remember correctly, Plato’s “Republic” was concerned with how to produce virtuous citizens in a virtuous community. But it actually describes an ascetic totalitarian state where music and poetry are illegal …..


Lee A. Arnold 11.15.15 at 3:33 pm

It’s clearly a FALSEHOOD that Muslims aren’t fighting against extremism, when the Wikipedia article, “Military intervention against ISIL,” lists Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, Turkey, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebanon, and several local forces in various places, involved in multiple coalitions led by US, France, and Russia.

As for Muslims living in the West, they are speaking out against this ALL THE TIME, but, in the era when the internet is destroying the centrality of the mainstream media, there are good and bad aspects, and one of the bad aspects is that nobody reads or hears much of any one thing, and so it’s easy to get the wrong impression about what is actually going on. Even though there are lists of Muslim organizations and their statements against fanaticism and terrorism. On the internet. Which you can find. Easily.

Of course, better information never stopped politicians such as the US Republican candidates from lathering up supporters with hate speech.

Reality is: 1. many people underestimated ISIS at the beginning (I remember arguing in these very comments a year and a half ago that ISIS posed a much bigger threat than some other commenters here believed); 2. most people, west and east, have decided that ISIS and other violent fanaticisms must be destroyed; and 3. the US-led coalition has been attacking for over a year and is gaining ground. The Kurds with help are making gains against them in Iraq too, and the Kurds just liberated Sinjar, cutting a major ISIS route between Mosul and the east. Reports this morning are that in Sinjar the Kurds have uncovered a mass grave of Yazidis murdered by ISIS. ISIS still controls Mosul, Iraq’s fifth-largest city, and one can barely imagine what they are doing to the people there.

It seems to me that the Paris attack is a desperate attempt by ISIS to forestall the end, either by instilling fear, or gaining more adherents, either to go to Syria and Iraq, or to terrorize Europe. It’s illogical because it won’t work, but then again there is a large component of religious fanaticism in these people, and disaffected individuals are always fertile ground, no matter how well educated.


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 3:51 pm

David, you might well be right. There is also the added component of the (supposed aim of the) destruction of ‘the grey zone’


Dipper 11.15.15 at 4:12 pm

Following the 7/6 attacks the UK has had mercifully few attacks. There seems to be two reasons for this.

The main reason IMHO is that many muslims in the UK are happy with their lives here. They feel both Muslim and British, have opportunities for personal advancement, to contribute in wider British social life and to build a successful family life. With that background, I believe many muslims have contacted the authorities to alert them to individuals who seem to be flirting with ISIS or other organisations. The authorities try to engage individuals to de-radicalise them when alerted, so there is an all-round effort to avoid the build up of a group of co-ordinated sympathisers.

The second reason is that it appears to be very hard to get hold of the hardware in the UK.

Touch wood this situation holds.


Dipper 11.15.15 at 4:16 pm

just to make an obvious point probably made elsewhere, the number 1 target for ISIS above all others is Shia muslims, so they do not represent muslims other than their religious argument that anyone who disagrees with their brand of sunni islam is not a true muslim.


Omega Centauri 11.15.15 at 4:40 pm

I have to admit, that I have to struggle to avoid Sancho’s reaction (or worse). Don’t we all at times like this? It takes real effort to feel charity towards the other when you suspect that some members of the other seek to do this to you and yours. So we have to make the effort to feel compassion to the many Muslims who have are put into a worse situation everytime something like this happens. And the many in unstable chaotic places like Pakistan, who by dint of the diversity of Islam, are at real danger of being declared by some as Takfir (a legitimate target as an “apostate”). These are not easy times to be an advocate for all humanity.

Somewhere above I saw the statement about religion, that it was by choice. But, I think this is rarely the case, for the vast majority are born into a particular religion, and choosing to leave it risks estrangement (or worse) from both family and one’s community. Its not a price that many are willing to make, even if deep down they don’t believe.

Now myself. I wish for some magic event whereby all humans wake up and realize, God doesn’t exist, and was in fact one of the worst ideas humans ever had. But, I know this is a foolish pipe-dream, and instead work to understand the major religions, for we all have a responsibility to learn to get along.


David 11.15.15 at 4:46 pm

@Dipper and others.
I think it’s essential to bear in mind that this operation was not a private enterprise job by a bunch of disaffected youth from the suburbs, but a carefully planned operation with an international flavour – two of the cars used were rented in Belgium, for example. Likewise, the objectives were essentially political, and related to the military situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria. They were only religious in the widest and vaguest sense of the term.


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 5:07 pm

I have a good bit of time for David’s views on this, but I dont know if we can say it’s only religious in the ‘widest and vaguest sense of the term.’ Even accepting it as a tactical operation (to force the French to disengage from Syria ) it is still serving a larger ideological goal, and that goal cant be understood without acknowledging the ‘Islamic’ part of Islamic state.
You couldnt understand the PIRA without understanding the specific traditions of Irish Republicanism they drew from. That doesnt mean that everyone who joined was from birth (or ideologically coherently) an Irish nationalist, but it meant they were socialised into and expected to swear alliegance to these goals and situate themselves in this history. And the most ideologically committed (the leadership largely came from families with long histories of involvement in nationalist movements) absolutely believed themselves as carrying on the work of past generations, and they understood and represented those traditions in their own iconoclastic though defendable way.
There are different levels of this stuff; some join out of a want for adventure, some because of the security situation, some primarily to defend their group, but a lot are coherently, ideologically commited.
Of course there are hundreds (thousands) of these traditions. What casual role can they (or Islam) play when it could just be something else (Marxism, Fascism, Basque nationalism) in a different context? I think the Islamic part is important though. Everything isnt reducibe to it,but it’s also not just an unimportant added feature (and it can probably help explain parts of the their behaviour; their aspirations, their levels of extreme violence, the possibility of negotiation)
I’m also a *little* sceptical of accepting that their use of violence is solely rational and instrumental (though I wont go into that)


Layman 11.15.15 at 5:10 pm

I dislike claims about the sophistication of this attack. Even while these horrible events were still unfolding, talking heads were on every US cable news network selling this ‘sophistication’ argument. In every case, they were for-hire security consultants or past members of the Bush national security apparatus, or both. In other words, they are people who stand to profit immensely by fomenting a ratcheting-up of the level of anti-terror violence.

Those same people blamed French security forces for failing to detect this plot, which now seems to have its nexus in Belgium; presumably, the French are to blame for not adequately policing Belgium.

‘Sophisticated’ ISIS terrorist attacks lead to the claims that America is in mortal danger; that this is Obama’s fault for being weak on ISIS; and that we need an invasion of Syria by American forces before ISIS comes here and kills us all. Look for 2003 all over again. Yet 7 people with AK-47s are not an existential threat to any nation.

Meanwhile, it is likely more Americans were killed by domestic gun violence in the hours since the Paris attack, but we won’t be invading any gun factories soon.


Stephen 11.15.15 at 5:38 pm

Ronan @59: well said. I would go a little further: I am also more than a little sceptical of accepting that the PIRA’s use of violence was (or for their dissident successors, is) solely rational and instrumental.


David 11.15.15 at 6:08 pm

@Ronan. I think we basically agree, and the distinction you draw between the attack and the traditions it draws upon is very reasonable. Obviously the IS is a religiously-inspired organisation, and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. But this kind of operation served an immediate tactical purpose, and would have been planned and organised by the IS’s military command, which is run by ex-Iraqi Sunni officers. That’s why I think the religious dimension is secondary as regards the motive and the planning of the attack, even though it certainly formed part of the psychological orientation of those who carried it out; Even there, though, there is an element of pride involved, in destroying colonial borders and landing a punch on the historic oppressors for a change.
@Layman. It all depends on what you understand by sophistication. This attack was carried out by people who knew how to use weapons, had suicide vests (not seen in Europe, anyway, before) and had substantial logistic support. The attacks were timed simultaneously to create maximum chaos and uncertainty. But I agree that IS is not an existential threat, and indeed we run the risk of making it into a monster that it isn’t.


Dave 11.15.15 at 6:36 pm

It’s hard to see the violence in Paris as exceptional. There are mass shootings in the US every day. There are terrorist attacks throughout the world every day; states commit atrocities by drone and missile and human army every day. The IMF causes more suffering in a day than terrorists in a year. It is all cause for grief. It does not cause me to feel French nationalist sentiment or nostalgia about Paris.

I would like investigation and information about who the perpetrators are, where they came from, and what they think they are doing. No opinion about what should happen after that for now.


Thomas Beale 11.15.15 at 7:12 pm

We are always at some intermediate point in a long game of chess, and there are still decisions pathways ahead of us (as individuals, societies, nations) that are going to be detrimental, useful, ineffective, and probably outright catastrophic. We still need to find reliable schemas of understanding to avoid the bad decision pathways.

There are many interesting things to be covered in all this, but I don’t think we can avoid this question of worldview / value system. It’s not a question of overt ideology, but acculturated, habitual ways of thinking. This comes back to the assumption mentioned somewhere above of thinking that others are like us (liberal worldview etc) or even that an enlightenment / human-rights conceptual framework is any better than some other. As a non-cultural relativist, I happen to believe it is, but at least we need to keep this thought in mind if we are going to try to guess the next actions of other players in the game.


gianni 11.15.15 at 7:47 pm

js @ 31
The reason that I disagree on this is because the recruiters from these terrorist organizations themselves use the Muslim identity as both a guide to who to target for recruitment, and as a basis upon which they ground (some of) their appeals. In so far as this is a salient identity category for these actors, it remains a substantive category for our analysis on these issues. Basically, if self-identification as a Muslim has some degree of predictive power here, then it deserves inclusion in the analysis.

The content of the category ‘Muslim’ is neither singular nor fixed. But that does not mean that self-identifying as a Muslim is meaningless. The meaning may differ depending on a host of other circumstantial factors, but that is a reason to try to understand those factors (and then maybe act on them?) rather than reject the basic category as not substantively interesting.

Mind you, this is not just something that I think is true about Muslims. I think that a similar sort of enterprise would be useful in identifying potential white supremacist shooters, for example.

If I were a betting man, I would wager that the FBI currently has people working on both of these questions. Sometimes, like with the NYPD, this is done in a ham-fisted and potentially even counter-productive manner. But rather than insist – in response to these sorts of failures – that the entire enterprise is incoherent or never capable of increasing public safety, I think we should be pragmatic about things and engage these tactics on their own terms.

Part of this stems from a recognition that the national security state is, at least in the medium-term, here to stay, and that Liberals/leftists/etc who choose not to engage with it are only ceding the argument to those who are not really troubled by the use of simple discrimination as a strategy. Not being pragmatic enables others to be actively counter-productive. Another part of my sentiment here is informed by the fact that one of the best ways to combat anti-Muslim sentiment is to create a system that is effective at preventing terrorist attacks.

You are right to be troubled by this sort of pragmatism, but I am not convinced that treating Muslim self-ID as a relevant variable is a ‘methodological error’. If anything, I would expect the data to show the opposite. But I am certainly willing to be convinced otherwise.


Donald Johnson 11.15.15 at 8:03 pm

Ronan, I find your assumption that people who staff national security agencies, academia, and the newspapers in the West all have the same liberal values a little implausible. I doubt people like Cheney or Kissinger share the same values as the people who run Human Rights Watch.


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 8:14 pm

I think a lot of them are. Certainly among Dem admins and in staff positions, advisory roles etc, in NGO’s and consultancies.
They generally arent pacifists (or socialists) but Id comfortably say a good deal are liberals. (their belief sytem in domestic politics anyway is certainly ‘liberal’, we could argue over what that means in FP, but they view the world through a liberal frame.)


Layman 11.15.15 at 8:54 pm

@ David

Yet there’s no objective standard for ‘sophisticated’ in this context, so what’s the point of characterizing it that way? Of course, the point is to heighten the level of fear so as to promote a large, expensive, society-bending response. In the end, these people needed some automatic weapons, some bombs, some rental cars, and some wristwatches. That’s ‘sophisticated’, apparently. Call in the Marines, quick!


js. 11.15.15 at 8:57 pm

gianni — I agree with a lot of that. One problem is that something like “Muslim identity” is self-reinforcing. That is, the more we analyze the (objectionable) actions of particular Muslims through the lens of “Muslim self-identification”, the more we help create/sustain a sort of globalized Muslim identity which can then be appealed to for purposes of recruitment, e.g. I’m not quite sure what one’s to do about that though.


David 11.15.15 at 9:06 pm

As I said, it’s relative, and it should be compared to other similar attacks. The sophistication is not in the weapons, but in the planning and logistics, and the time obviously taken in preparation. But I don’t see why a more sophisticated attack should seem more menacing than an unsophisticated one. I can’t speak about other countries, but the idea that the French government might use this attack to crack down further misquote wrong. The attack is the last thing a faltering government needs, caught in a foreign policy spiral it can’t control. Bubonic plague would be more welcome.
Oh yes, the French have just announced that they have bombed Raqqa.


David 11.15.15 at 9:14 pm

“The idea that the French government would use this attack just to crack down further is wrong.”


Hidari 11.15.15 at 9:17 pm

Anyway the French are bombing Syria now (again) so I’m sure that will solve the ISIS problem. And all others.


Omega Centauri 11.15.15 at 9:24 pm

One of the claims of “sophistication” was the use of suicide explosive belts. Someone probably in Belgium manufactured these for the attack. The explosive used was a form of acetone peroxide, which is allegedly powerful, but very sensitive, and not too hard to produce (but risky). here are
the relevant portions from wikipedia:

acetone peroxide
Acetone peroxide is one of the few high explosives not containing nitrogen. This is one reason it has become popular with terrorists,[8] as it can pass through scanners designed to detect nitrogenous explosives.

Due to the low cost and ease with which the precursors can be obtained, acetone peroxide can be manufactured by those without the resources needed to manufacture or buy more sophisticated explosives. When the reaction is carried out without proper equipment the risk of an accident is significant.

Organic peroxides are sensitive, dangerous explosives; due to their sensitivity they are rarely used by well funded militaries.

So a certain degree of sophistication, but not a terrible high one IMO.


gianni 11.15.15 at 9:29 pm

Yeah, there is a real danger of reinforcing the category only being used provisionally (this is not just a theoretical problem), but there may be reason to be tentatively optimistic. The recognition that Muslim id is the ‘vector’ along which many modern forces of exclusion/alienation operate (in the West) is crucial, imho, to addressing those forces & how they might be tempered.

In the French context specifically, I worry about Laicite, but as an outsider I hesitate to say much more on this.


Z 11.15.15 at 9:58 pm

That is, the more we analyze the (objectionable) actions of particular Muslims through the lens of “Muslim self-identification”, the more we help create/sustain a sort of globalized Muslim identity which can then be appealed to for purposes of recruitment

Furthermore, each time a horrific act of terror is committed and endlessly displayed, the potential for yet another anomic young man to envision going down in an outburst of violence and to act accordingly increases. Radical Islam and jihad as a way to structure anomie is unfortunately a more and more common career (in the Becker sense) for youths of some European countries (as witnessed by the high proportion of recently converted among the perpetrators of past attacks, and also this one apparently). A related phenomenon is, it seems to me, also at play in mass shootings in the US (albeit for a different kind of anomie).


Marshall Peace 11.15.15 at 10:14 pm

#2: Just how much savagery toward host nations do we tolerate before agreeing that some groups don’t deserve a place in the developed world?

In stopping violence it won’t do to merely proscribe or condemn the particular perpetrators without addressing the conditions that give rise to violence. Particularly true here since the perpetrators have no qualms whatever about blowing themselves up, either as individuals or as a eschaton-seeking movement. That is to say it is PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT to actually care about and for the lives of Muslims and other people in the region. If stopping violence is what you’re up to, as opposed to doing some yourself.


Layman 11.15.15 at 10:17 pm

“I can’t speak about other countries, but the idea that the French government might use this attack to crack down further misquote wrong.”

Already, in the U.S., various politicians are calling for an active ground campaign to destroy ISIS. One Republican presidential candidate (Rubio) demands that the president invoke the NATO charter and organize a war against ISIS. Even the most dovish Democratic candidate feels compelled to cite the need to ‘destroy’ ISIS. Intelligence officials are blaming apps using encryption (when they aren’t blaming the feckless French) and calling for access to those apps. All on the theory of the danger presented by these ‘sophisticated’ terrorists. Of course no one knows they even used these apps, but so what? In the UK, there are calls to accelerate the expansion of surveillance. So no, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to anticipate a serious overreaction.


John Alexander 11.15.15 at 10:21 pm

Perspective: how many innocent children died last week from preventable disease and starvation? Assuming 27k per day that would be 189k. I think one can see my point.


gianni 11.15.15 at 10:52 pm

So that NYT piece cites, as evidence of ‘sophistication’ in the attacks, the fact that when one of the attackers was shooting the other was reloading. Other evidence given is the use of popular cell phone apps to coordinate in time and space.

Now, I don’t have any special knowledge on these attacks, so I am not going to strongly argue that they were not sophisticated…. but still, these are not data in support of that hypothesis.

Any 12 year old American boy who has played a bit of Call of Duty and owns a cell phone grasps both of these concepts and can execute them with a nerf gun or airsoft. I have seen this level of tactical ‘sophistication’ performed by 5th graders playing laser tag with walkie talkies. Yes, there is the handling of explosives and the keeping of secrecy at work here as well. But I see (not just in the NYT) some very odd arguments made in support of this ‘sophisticated’ thesis. Terrorizing unarmed and unsuspecting civilians does not take a Napoleon, nor does the idea of covering fire require time at boot camp.

I wonder why we are so quick to accept that these individuals were much more capable than your average criminal off the street. These men were butchers, not soldiers.


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 10:57 pm

I think the rhetorical exaggerations work both ways. Gilles Kepel wrote a book (beyond terror and martyrdom) about this, that the neo-cons and Islamists were creating a manichean struggle between good and evil and trying to divide sides into strongly opposed ideological camps. The left are just buying into this. There’s nothing wrong with saying the attack was sophisticated. The United States is not an authoritarian surveillance state. Europe is not going to revert to fascism. Muslims are not going to subjected to extensive violence on the continent .
There is a genuine security threat, and a refugee situation that many are apprehensive about. I think people need to accept this and think realistically about it. How do you deal with IS ? How do you cope with the threat that they (and radical Islam) pose? What do you do about the fact that every succesful attack is going to lead to a public response that gives the security agencies and anti immigrant lobby more ammo to implement policy preferences ?
It’s all very well for people here (relatively high information voters) to think people are overstating the risk, but this is how people and the media react to such events. So what are the solutions that deal with the problems while not leading to overreaction?


Rakesh Bhandari 11.15.15 at 11:08 pm


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 11:09 pm

I, personally, trust Robert Farley’s position:

“It is no easy thing to assemble an arsenal and set up a planned, coordinated series of attacks under the noses of the French security and intelligence services. It’ll be very interesting to see how the attackers managed to find a seam in French intel, and how they managed to keep their planning efforts secure.”

Regardless, the ‘sophistication’ argument is largely beside the point.Whether or not they are ‘sophisticated’, they showed themselves able to carry off a such a violent and high impact operation . This is the problem


Rakesh Bhandari 11.15.15 at 11:09 pm


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 11:12 pm

ps the first para of my 81 was more in response to things said elsewhere rather than here.


Ronan(rf) 11.15.15 at 11:28 pm

Actually, 81 is unfair in the context of this conversation. People here didnt say the things Im responding to.
(however, I think we’re underestimating, and Im happy for people closer to the situation to correct me, the sort of physchological effect that suicide bombings and this type of brutal excutions in europe will have on the public. Context is important. Other mass killings might be similar in a lot of ways, but they dont ‘feel’ like war)


Omega Centauri 11.16.15 at 12:16 am

John @79. Perspective is something that human emotions are very poor at. This translates into outsized importance of events with emotional and media saliency, and undersized importance of events that lack the sort of emotional impact. Add into the mix the willingness of certain political players to exploit these widespread cognitive weaknesses, and we have a volatile mixture.

The real damage I fear, is not the event itself, but the overreaction, and poor policy choices which stem from it. I fear the far right could easily dominate European politics for several years, because of just this sort of dynamic.


Ronan(rf) 11.16.15 at 1:04 am

“Both countries, both Russia and the U.S. look at the Middle East and see themselves. The religion of the United States is democracy; It looks at the Middle East and thinks: “Oh, we can solve its problems by exporting democracy. Freedom will dry up the swamp of angry youth; it will dry up terrorism, which is the product of dictatorship. They believe that Jihadism and Salafism will vanish as merit-driven, young strivers embrace capitalism and self-improvement.” (courtesy of LFC)


Peter T 11.16.15 at 4:09 am

Rakesh, Ronan

thanks for those links. I can add from a discussion years ago with Marc Sageman that a different profile again fits young men and women from the UK or France who joined al-quaeda.


bad Jim 11.16.15 at 6:58 am

Maybe this is just chopped liver:

Seventeen nations, spurred on by Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris, overcame their differences on how to end Syria’s civil war and adopted a timeline that will let opposition groups help draft a constitution and elect a new government by 2017.

There were no Syrians at the table, but if their sponsors in this horrific internecine conflict were to agree to coordinate their efforts, things might get less bad. Pressing PAUSE on the civil war and uniting against the Salafists (Daesh, Al Nusrah) would be a good thing.

The Russians have been dealing with Islamic extremism for centuries. Iran has been dealing with it since its inception. It’s not a stretch to suggest that a united front could be found (though as Jessica Mitford once warned us, an untied front is always a risk).


Hidari 11.16.15 at 7:32 am

“There were no Syrians at the table”.



bad Jim 11.16.15 at 9:06 am

Hidari, what can I say? It’s not the most promising beginning, but to the extent that the contenders depend on outside support, it’s something. If Russia and Iran concede on Assad, progress is possible, coalitions coalesce … or not. There could be generations of warfare until stability is reached, when territorial boundaries align with ethnic populations.

I sympathize with fissiparous minorities, Scotland, Catalonia, the Basques, the Kurds, even though as an American I’m familiar with the insanity that insular entities routinely produce, and it can’t be denied that Yugoslavia under Tito or Iraq under Saddam Hussein were less lethal territories than the aftermath of their regimes.

Egypt doesn’t seem to be stable without a dictator. Lebanon seems to manage without being stable (with notably common exceptions). Maybe it’s the model.


reason 11.16.15 at 9:16 am

yes that also struck me as ridiculous.


merian 11.16.15 at 9:29 am

It’s so completely obvious to me that this attack is one of a kind with a sustained series, the majority of the victims — and the ultimate political targets — of which are Muslim, so no, I have no inclination whatsoever along Sancho’s lines. And none of my friends and colleagues deserves rejection because someone they disagree with commits atrocities in the name of an interpretation of their religion that they don’t share. As a German, I may be attuned to thinking along such lines as 1930 Germans who just tried to go about their lives weren’t much different from their counterparts in France or Britain, and to look in some essential Germanitude for a cause of the crimes of the Nazi regime is a misguided approach. (And an incomparably stronger argument for a form of collective culpability could be made then than now.)

On the other hand I’m not hypocritical enough to pretend this particular atrocity only affected me as much as the preceding and simultaneous one elsewhere. As human beings, and citizens of the world, they probably should. But I lived in Paris for 12 years, and ran around in these neighbourhoods; probably had a coffee a few times in the bar in rue de Charonne. So it’s a more personal violation, of something that belongs to the places I’ve called home. Not only the shooting, but also the idea that something like military units were needed to control parts of bd. Voltaire — it boggles imagination.

Yet, who are we to feel so privileged as to be free of what troubles the world?

I lived in France during 9/11, and my reaction — shocked, but not surprised — was shared by many. Some of them were callous about it, and it understandably upset or enraged or offended Americans. I wonder, now, how many French or Europeans can see a similar pattern now. Because one half of what’s needed for this form of terrorism is a steady stream of recruitable young men at the margins of society, who already have set a foot beyond what’s legal, don’t put much hope into what life has to offer them and are seduced by the call of a higher glory … which I don’t pretend to begin to understand, but some people are working on this and need listening to ( or for example). Anyhow, there’s one part of the puzzle that’s a social problem. (Some say a French one, and some of it is specifically French, but to those who tell a myth of happy British Muslims who would never do such a thing, I wonder if they’ve forgotten what happened 10 years ago and not noticed the trickle of recruits that follow ISIL, or DAESH, or whatever they’re called, into Syria and Iraq.) I have no pat answer, no simple straight line from cause to effect, though. There’s likely one of those death by a thousand little cuts things going on. (I’m not going to tell sob stories of poor youngsters in peri-urban housing estates — we know these. I’ll mention something else. The first time I made friends with educated Turkish-Germans wasn’t while I was living in Germany. It was while I lived in the UK … and my Turkish-German co-workers were well shot of Germany, where they constantly had to be interrogated about where they’re from and assure that they are “good” migrant kids. While in the UK they were simply classified as some variant of German, which was what they felt themselves to be.)

The other half is of course what to do about the ISIL/DAESH “caliphate”. I’m not a pacifist. (My spouse is. And I’m glad there ARE pacifists. They’re important to have around. As for me, I can’t get over the “stop the Hitlers of this world before they get to the killing-everyone” bit.) So I’m good with stopping ISIL/DAESH. The problem is: In my lifetime, with the possible exception of military interventions in ex-Yugoslavia, I’ve never seen a Western country wage war in a way that a) efficiently attained the stated goal (within a few months or maybe years, <5 maybe) and b) result in a political situation that was if not beneficial then at least reasonably stable and built on democratic principles. Say, like Europe after WWII. Right now, even WWI's (disastrous) outcome looks positively good compared to what's going on in the Middle East (and parts of Africa, but let's not go there). And that's me talking as a complete ignoramus — I'm a geoscientists, for $DEITY's sake. I dabble in stuff like computing and linguistics. I don't know zilch about political science and international relations. Or other topics, like civil engineering for that matter, but if a state civil engineer tells me "I'll have us a bridge built to specifications X, and it'll cost Y and will take Z months" I pretty much trust that this is what will happen if we vote to go ahead. It'll probably be a little bit more expensive, but grosso modo, I trust they know what they talk about. Regime change in Iraq? Forget it. (And I felt that way in 2003. Unfortunately I never got convinced otherwise.) So I hear Hollande and others talk about firmness and the state of war and air strikes, but I don't see a line, not even a curvy, dotted one, from what any Western country is doing there to a geopolitical situation I can support.

And of course over the last 25 years, one generation after the other came of age there knowing nothing else.

No, I don't really, realistically fear fascist or right-wing extremists taking over the running of the French state. Though my French friends right now are very very concerned about the upcoming regional election. The most interesting and illuminating text I've seen about this aspect was this one: (in French). Not that I agree with every point to the degree the author presents it. I, too, shared the Sfar pictures, and I think that however unequally distributed, and however problematic in its attitude to cultural diversity, the French idea of joyfully, peacefully, living and sharing happiness together *is* a valuable one. But I share the author's concern about the rhetoric of "preserving our mode of life" — in a nutshell, the author raises the spectre of France (or, I say, Western Europe) going the way of Israel, firm and persisting from a conviction of its own legitimacy and value system, yet unable or unwilling to address the problems within the realm of one's responsibility which, unaddressed, become a never-ending source of on the one hand injustice, and on the other violence and revenge.


bad Jim 11.16.15 at 9:54 am

Warfare is pretty expensive. Iraq was able to defend itself against its invaders for years with extensive stockpiles of weaponry and explosives, but this stuff doesn’t grow on trees. Lacking outside support, where do the bullets come from? If the puppet masters would only let go of their strings the conflict would eventually peter out.

Granted, “eventually” is doing a lot of work here, and what is essentially a gun control policy is not going to be generally popular, but it might work.


David 11.16.15 at 10:04 am

Valls has said on RTL this morning that the operation was “organised and planned” from Syria. Partly, no doubt, this was said to justify the air attacks, partly it was to prevent a backlash against Muslims in France, but mostly it was said because it’s true.
That being so, I think we should put to one side, as needlessly confusing, all the clash of civilizations stuff, or the idea that these attacks grew out of alienation of young Muslims from French society (though that certainly exists). The attackers were of a type, seen in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, for example, ready to die for a cause in which they believed above everything else, even life.
On the other hand, there have been a number of arrests in France and Belgium, suggesting that, as expected, there was a large support network in place, made up of sympathizers prepared to store and transport weapons, vehicles, explosives etc. But you always get this, in any complex conflict. “My country right or wrong” is never a universal view, and a small proportion of those who believe that their country is wrong will be prepared to act violently against it; I suppose the Weathermen would be an example. So in the end, it doesn’t have a lot to do with culture, way of life, values or even injustice. But it’s tough for any political elite to recognise that it’s foreign policy may be perceived as so unjust by some that its own citizens will use violence to change it.


Peter T 11.16.15 at 10:30 am

Ze K

Good question. The US foreign policy establishment has been crashing around the Middle East like a gorilla on aid for decades, often backing several sides at once, repeatedly betraying people, mouthing slogans they have no intention of putting into practice..

Some military action is part of the solution to ISIS (in so far as there is a solution), but the first requirement of any sensible military action is a coherent political strategy. And this the US does not have (Iran and probably Russia do – maybe not a workable one, but at least a coherent one). At this point the US is like Wilhelmine Germany – a great taste for war, but not a competent cook in sight.


reason 11.16.15 at 10:39 am

Peter T
“like a gorilla on aid ” ???
Is aid some new designer drug?


reason 11.16.15 at 10:41 am

Peter T @98
How can the US possibly have a coherent policy, it doesn’t have coherent politics.


David 11.16.15 at 10:54 am

Ze K
The problem is that Assad has become a symbol, like Saddam, Milosevic, Castro, Gaddafi, any number of national leaders we take a dislike to, not least because they are the only leaders whose names we can remember. Having taken such an advanced position, it’s now hard to move back without looking silly.


Peter T 11.16.15 at 11:05 am

Should have been “acid” of course. But designer drugs are mostly variations on methamphetamine, and that would do too.

reason’s point @100 is a good one. One of Clausewitz’s reiterated points is that war is diplomacy (“with an admixture of other means”), diplomacy is policy, policy is politics – if you don’t get the politics right, you won’t get the rest right either.

merian – thanks for that post.


Thomas Beale 11.16.15 at 11:40 am

David @ 97 I don’t agree. To create suicide bombers/killers, you have to work on the human mind. We don’t know yet, but there’s every likelihood that some of the Paris killers are French-born. We know for a fact that French, British and other European (and Western) -born ‘Muslims’ are being radicalised in their countries of origin, by a combination of hate preachers and internet grooming. These young people are then travelling to ISIS territory and obtaining training, either for committing atrocities there, or back home.

Doing the latter is an expressly stated goal of ISIS. How do people get radicalised? They already have to be seriously resentful and marginalised. That partly happens because they live in what are effectively Muslim ghettos (this is well documented in the UK and France) and are brought up in a different value system (to be clear: not all Muslims in Europe live in this mode). I have observed with my own eyes the on-going victimhood and tension in Grenoble for example between Arab areas and adjoining areas. There most definitely is a problem of clashing value systems, it’s well known in France.

We have to also consider that a significant number of ISIS fighters match the above description of disaffected youth, are radicalised, and come from places like Egypt. This appears to be the case of the recent Tunisia bomber(s).

Other ISIS fighters, the pro-active ones needing no radicalisation have simply been fast-tracked through the disaffection / hate / extremism / training stages by living in what turned into sectarian war zones, but they weren’t born as murderous ideologues. They get convinced by those in charge of propaganda and brainwashing (maybe just their parents), who know how to focus generalised anger at specific foes, justified by a specific ideological worldview. It may be an eschatological one, but I doubt if that’s strictly necessary to convince people to kill themselves in an act of terrorism.

I still believe that the best decision paths available to Europe / the West right now rely on recognising the multi-factorial nature of causality here. That means:

* ‘fixing’ the ideology – a growing Muslim left is doing this, and needs encouragement – there is a recognition than an Islamic ‘enlightenment’ is needed.

* doing something about the sources of generalised disaffection. This is not easy, and different strategies are needed in the West versus majority Muslim countries and elsewhere. It’s partly dependent on the first point in Europe.

* finding and dealing with the radicalisation – various active approaches are underway (some not well designed or executed, e.g. UK ‘Prevent’ strategy); done properly this should starve Daesh of willing raw human resources.

* dealing with the battle training and hardening, which mostly happens in Daesh territory (+/- al Quaeda territory). That probably means being far tougher on returning youths who have travelled to Syria (do we really believe they can be easily de-radicalised or left alone?), and ultimately (now), doing something military on the ground at the source.

I would think to be successful the last will need some broad coalition of Western and ME on the ground combat forces (and Russian, why not?), not ongoing remote control bombing by a few states.

We have more than one control point here, we need to understand and use them all.


Faustusnotes 11.16.15 at 11:55 am

A year ago in their propaganda videos and magazines ISIS were raging against suicide bombing, saying they were counter productive and that soldiers should be reserved for the battlefield. A year later, they’re being bombed and they’ve lost sinjar and suddenly suicide bombing of civilians is all the rage. I wonder if this is a sign they’re getting desperate?

Also I have read that the French police are using martial law to wrap up terror investigations they couldn’t before (eg the contacts of the killer from a year before). I wonder if they will be tempted to spread the net to other enemies of the state…? And remember the French govt has bad form dealing with Islamist protesters within the country…


kidneystones 11.16.15 at 12:27 pm

@94 Thank you for this. Most of what is happening now is noise – meaningless bombings – think Clinton and Sudan, arrests, dragnets etc. The principal reason I do not fear mass conflict in France is that a very large number of Muslims in France are stake-holders in the French economy. Yes, unemployment rates are higher, but much of what will happen was already in place – border controls, state surveillance, increased scrutiny and suspicion of immigrants. That’s a European phenomena at the moment. The good that come out of this, and there is much, is that the anti-interventionists are going to have a stronger voice, not just in Europe, but in America.

It will be more difficult from people from Africa and the Middle East to enter Europe and the US, but hopefully these people will have less reason to leave their homes. Ironically, the attacks may actually make the EU stronger. The free movement of peoples, one of the main points of contention is almost certainly going to go by the wayside, and the UK, France, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations at least are going to want their security services to work much more closely. The Euro is a separate, but obviously not unrelated issue. The fantasies of regime change are just that. A succession of governments in the UK, the US, and France have a great deal to answer for, imho. I’m a very long way from a pacifist and would support the use of massive force, but only when absolutely necessary. Border controls are not an expression of xenophobia, but responsible government as the French, Belgians, and others are discovering. Drawing red lines in the sand over the bad behavior of regimes a long way away is an extremely poor way to draw up policy and the reason Syria is not at the table is because Cameron, O, and the rest partnered up with cranks who ‘refuse’ to sit at the same table as Assad.

We are now learning some hard truths about the limits of force projection and of our ability control large masses of people well outside our own borders, as well as within our own nations. There are enough adults in all the countries concerned to make this work. We may not, however, be able to limit the impact of terrorists in the ME and pry the Ukraine from the Russian orbit. This is very much not the end of the world. We’re simply getting right-sized the hard way. As usual, innocents are paying the price.


kidneystones 11.16.15 at 12:37 pm

And sure enough: Schengen binned.

That action alone will take a lot of the wind from the sails of Europe’s far-right, more if the ‘suspension’ is for decade, or so.


Ronan(rf) 11.16.15 at 1:22 pm

I don’t think there’s any contradiction between talking about “value systems” and “cultural” reasons for (or manifestations of) violence, and also noting that violence is generally (always?) instrumental and political. The individual motives for violence (correcting perceived wrongs, defending the group) can be different from the groups (specific, tactical) aims.
I think the problem with arguments like huntingtons clash of civilisations isn’t that it was Completly wrongheaded , just that his interpretation was stupid. I do think political scientists (afaik anyway, though I’m prob overstating it) tend to overlook the importance of values, culture or moral orders , perhaps because they look at the mid level (institutions , organisations , states) rather than the individual. Anthropologist like Atran (linked by merian) are probably better placed to get into the individual motives and causes of violence.
That’s my layman take anyway


Ronan(rf) 11.16.15 at 1:34 pm


reason 11.16.15 at 2:55 pm

Faustusnotes @104
“A year later, they’re being bombed and they’ve lost sinjar and suddenly suicide bombing of civilians is all the rage. I wonder if this is a sign they’re getting desperate?”

Then getting desperate is one possibility, but it seems to me that as an act of desperation it is completely counterproductive (they are now being bombed more). What I actually suspect is that there are now power struggles with the organisation, perhaps between the Iraqis and the international brigades who have little regional attachment and are happy to leave Iraq and Syria and turn to underground terrorism.


David 11.16.15 at 3:08 pm

I had a thoughtful post largely agreeing with Thomas Beale and kidneystones swallowed by the system, which won’t let me repost it. I’ll do so later if I can.
Just on the suicide bombings point, I think IS are under pressure, but I suspect it’s more a matter of tactics. In general, they want to be a conventional army fighting with conventional weapons, because only that way can you gain and hold territory. but just as western forces combine conventional operations with special operations, so IS are prepared to change tactics if necessary. They can’t physically engage French aircraft, but they can try to stop them being sent. And it goes without saying that anyone captured during such an operation would be a priceless source of intelligence, so would have orders to kill themselves to avoid capture.


reason 11.16.15 at 3:31 pm

reason @110
Just to expand on my thoughts, it could be signs that all is not well with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS is no longer a tightly run organisation.


reason 11.16.15 at 3:34 pm

David @111
But suicide bombings on French territory are exactly the WRONG tactics to stop planes being sent, if that is what they want to achieve. That is why I think this has not to do with tactics but with a change in strategy.


David 11.16.15 at 3:40 pm

From a practical perspective you may well be right – Hollande is breathing fire and brimstone at this very moment – but that may not be how they see it. The mindset of the people behind the military side of IS is not ours, but rather of a region where violence is a language used to negotiate. You car-bomb me, I car-bomb you. We reach a compromise of some kind, or, if I can continue to use more violence than you, I win. I doubt if they have a very sophisticated understanding of European politics, and especially the influence of public opinion.


Ronan(rf) 11.16.15 at 3:40 pm

The problem , IMO, with the dissatisfaction or discrimination argument is that it isn’t a great predictor of who gets radicalised. As atran says, a better predictor is what social groups you hang out in , ie small, close knit groups of friends (in football teams etc) help to radicalise each other and sign up together . WithIn this there does generally have to be a grievance (and there are legit grievances, such as US foreign policy, or discrimination) but these can work as much as after the fact justifications as much as epiphanies that lead to radicalisation. IMO you need (1) an individual or group in search of an identity or meaning in life (2) an organisation and ideology to radicalise into , and (3) a broader context, the war in the Middle East, to provide inspiration and opportunities for “heroism” and in group defence.
Basically I agree with Thomas Beale, I think
The “lone wolf ” phenomenon seems to be closer to the school shooter, disgruntled with access to weapons and an internet connection (that’s my impression anywsy )


reason 11.16.15 at 3:46 pm

David @144
I think that is borderline racist. They know what happened in Afghanistan (and Iraq).


Thomas Beale 11.16.15 at 3:56 pm

Ronan@115 I’d agree general reasons for dissatisfaction aren’t the predictor as such; here in the UK one would normally point to hate-preacher led groups – you can almost draw a map of London (and I’ve lived in E8, very close to some of them), Birmingham, etc on that basis. In France, a place I spent a lot of time in, just move in next to Villeneuve near Grande Place in Grenoble and hang out for a while.

The map of those agitators, hate-preachers and their networks is clearly of interest in all this, and the intelligence services know it. However, in recent times, the public perception in the UK has been that they are too soft on acting on it; in France there is a sort of resigned normality about the regular personal abuse (by those disaffected young Arab/French) and car-burning (seems to be a French cultural thing).

Agree on the rest. Islam read in its literal form provides justifications; identity and meaning come from being assigned a role as an active Jihadi, newly licenced to go and kill (how thrilling) in the name of what is right, and the one god.

It certainly is an interesting question as to what ISIS wants in an instrumental sense now, i.e. the strategic aims.

Tactically I lean toward the theory that they rely on a backlash over the coming months by ‘white Europeans’ at ‘Muslim Europeans’, creating for them an even deeper seam of disaffection, and thus ready-made French-, English-, German- etc-speaking Jihadis for future atrocities in Europe. But what future? A Europe run by the far right parties with concentration camps for those of the wrong religion? A Europe with a US-level of militarisation? What do they think is the end-game?


David 11.16.15 at 4:18 pm

I think this apparent puzzle is easier to resolve if we accept that the attacks were about them, not about us. We are not always the centre of everyone’s universe. That’s to say that they have no particular long-term strategy for Europe, and don’t really care what happens here. Their priority is survival, and their horizons in the foreseeable future are limited to holding, and if possible expanding, territory in the Levant under their control. It’s true that some of the political leadership harbor fantasies of world domination, but the former Baathist officers who control the military capability are far more realistic. On the other hand (and I’m sorry if reason was offended by this) those same officers are not very familiar with European political systems, and may well have made what proves, in the end, to be a strategic error. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, Hollande has finished speaking, and has announced the creation of 5000 posts in the police, more in customs and justice, and the continuation of the state of emergency for three months.


reason 11.16.15 at 4:46 pm

I think it is a mistake to see the Paris attack in isolation and not to see in the context of the Russian airliner and the Beirut attack, not to mention the pullback of IS from Sinjar. There is also recent uncertainty about the fate of al-Baghdadi.
It all adds up to me to a definite strategy change, although exactly who is driving it is unclear.


David 11.16.15 at 4:52 pm

Oh, yes, I agree. The Russian attack was against another participant in the war, and the Beirut attack was against Hezbollah, who have been fighting them for some time. We can debate which is strategy and which is is tactics, but it’s clear that they have decided that foreign intervention is hurting them, and they want to discourage it. But of course it’s a response to our own various strategies: I’m not sure they would waste effort like this otherwise.


reason 11.16.15 at 9:28 pm

David @121
You keep saying they are trying to discourage foreign intervention. I’m sorry, they may think differently to us, but I don’t believe they are totally stupid. They must know such attacks are a provocation. They only way I can make sense of this, is that at least some of ISIS have decided the caliphate is unacchievable and this is a form of revenge. This particularly makes sense if it is foreign jihadis. Watch out for returning Chechens causing trouble for Russia.


Peter T 11.17.15 at 1:28 am

In May 2014, the first wave of ISIS attack on Ramadi was around 20 suicide bombers driving explosive-laden vehicles. And this was a typical MO at the time. A great many of the foreign nationals who join ISIS are used as suicide-fodder in this way.

Juan Cole has a good article:; although the analogy plays down the ideological currents under ISIS.

If there is any rationale behind particular ISIS actions, it’s hard to discern. They have attacked their declared enemies (Shi’a, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis), their possible allies (an-Nusra), sympathetic neutrals (Turkey, Saudi, Kuwait), irrelevant bystanders (Bangladesh). The thinking at the core seems to be more “let’s blow everything up because that will hasten the rapture”. Of course, around that core are all sorts of groups with other motives (Sunni tribes, ex-Ba’athists, Boko Haram, Taliban…), although all seem happy to adopt extreme violence as a badge of belonging. So parsing the motives behind Paris is probably pointless.

And I can note that persuading the young to self-sacrifice is not hard: at a certain age humans will fling themselves towards any cause that offers recognition, however doomed or silly.


Tabasco 11.17.15 at 1:43 am

persuading the young to self-sacrifice is not hard

Self-sacrifice used to mean enduring a little hardship, not killing yourself while you kill scores of others with whom you have no personal quarrel.


Collin Street 11.17.15 at 2:03 am

I’m sorry, they may think differently to us, but I don’t believe they are totally stupid.

Why not?

Historically the actions of reactionary movements really do seem as if they’re inspired by deeply defective understandings of the motivations and likely responses of out-group members: we see that pretty clearly in Bush Jnr’s actions in iraq, and there’s no reason to expect that arab reactionary-fucktards will do any better than american ones.


The Temporary Name 11.17.15 at 2:41 am

Self-sacrifice used to mean enduring a little hardship, not killing yourself while you kill scores of others with whom you have no personal quarrel.

Didn’t it also used to mean that?


Tabasco 11.17.15 at 3:13 am

Didn’t it also used to mean that?

Certainly young men went to war knowing that they could die fighting the other side’s soldiers, maybe with high likelihood, but few if any gladly committed suicide while killing the other side’s civilians.


Peter T 11.17.15 at 3:17 am


try reading “Furies” by Lauro Martines.


Tabasco 11.17.15 at 3:43 am

Peter t

I just read the Amazon summary, which told me that armies marauded through Europe, 1450-1700. But it doesn’t say anything about soldiers killing themselves.


faustusnotes 11.17.15 at 3:46 am

The early ISIS propaganda opposed suicide bombings against civilian populations but they used them extensively in combat. They seemed to support their role as a battlefield tool but didn’t seem to go in for it as a terror tactic. That seems to be a shift in strategy.

I’m also willing to believe their strategies are driven by a mix of incompetence and religious apocalyptic thought. Their individual battlefield tactics and some of their early organiztaional strategies my be/have been smart but that doesn’t mean their strategy is. Certainly their economic strategy seems to be nothing more sophisticated than banditry. Why expect their political or military strategy to be smarter?


Tabasco 11.17.15 at 3:51 am

The Daily Telegraph has a poignant account of the attack on the restaurant, La Belle Equipe, which nicely sums up the whole horrible business:

Also among the victims was the Muslim wife of the Jewish bar owner, Grégory Reibenberg, 46. Djamila, 40, died in front of him.


Peter T 11.17.15 at 3:55 am

Well, they routinely killed and otherwise mistreated civilians, and becoming a soldier doomed one to a short life. A good many pre-modern life paths carried a very high probability of early death, yet had no shortage of takers. And models of heroic death adorned every story and church wall – from there to “heroic” suicide is a short step. The young can crave meaning more than life.


The Temporary Name 11.17.15 at 3:57 am

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.


ZM 11.17.15 at 4:29 am

I find these attacks difficult to think about it, it seems so hard to even think about peace in the Middle East in the near term now. I have read more than once and over a period of time now that at least in its theological grounding IS is an apocalyptic or millenarian movement, although it is Shi’ite Islam that usually expects the 12th Imam, so I don’t really understand why IS is apocalyptic or millenarian, since it is a strict revivalist group more like the puritans.

I read that one reason for the attacks were to make it harder for Muslims to live in Europe, with the idea of making European Muslims move back to Muslim countries, which IS wants to become a Caliphate.

I think the best way to achieve peace in the middle east now would be to negotiate reconstructions, and agree to finance reconstructions in line with UN goals, and start developing peace agreements with agreements for governance reform in the countries, and reform from Western countries in their treatment of middle eastern countries and refugees. This would take some time to achieve though, but it should be led by the UN in the near term. I don’t know what the UN is doing about these wars, but it is the international institution that should be trying to broker peace.


The Temporary Name 11.17.15 at 4:48 am

Try this comment thread for links, then take the post above it with the requisite grain of salt, and with all that you’ll at least get what people are pontificating about.

Or, short version, the people doing the killing and exploding are sincere and disposable idiots (with an apocalypse to aim for), while their superiors are likely quite a bit more cynical about the religious mission. Naturally those enthused about their jobs might take some initiative now and then, so discerning what the political animal is doing vs. what its jittery trigger finger is doing is hard.


js. 11.17.15 at 5:14 am

I didn’t click on the links—but man, that LGM thread is super depressing! For all the wrong reasons.


The Temporary Name 11.17.15 at 5:15 am

Agreed js.


DHMCarver 11.17.15 at 6:36 am

I am coming late to this thread, but I found the question Ingrid relayed way up @6 to be quite odd: “whether this could also happen in Amsterdam”. And I am surprised that no one challenged the premise of the question in that post in the 100+ subsequent comments. For was not Theo van Gogh murdered on the streets of Amsterdam by a Dutch-Moroccan Islamist radical? Or is the premise that he was somehow a legitimate target, distinguishing his slaughter from those who were slaughtered in Paris? I am not writing this to be a troll – I simply found the question, in light of the van Gogh murder and its aftermath, to be very strange.


Tabasco 11.17.15 at 7:07 am

DHM Carver

That was one guy murdered by one guy, both quantitatively (obviously) and qualitatively (not orchestrated by a terrorist organisation) different. I don’t know much about Amsterdam, but it didn’t seem to have the festering banlieus like Paris, the La Haine thing, and so on.

But then, or so I thought, neither does Brussels, and it seems to be alienated putative young terrorist central.


Igor Belanov 11.17.15 at 8:12 am

As far as Brussels is concerned, it seems to be a more a hub for terrorists than an actual breeding ground.

The majority of the perpetrators of the 7/7 attacks in the UK were from Leeds, but even though Leeds is a big city in itself they went down to London to commit atrocities because it is a city of world significance. That said, even though Leeds has a large immigrant population it can hardly be said to be a powder keg of simmering hatred. These type of attacks are the sport of a very small minority.


bad Jim 11.17.15 at 9:38 am

ZM brought up an interesting question: why is Daesh apocalyptic, focused on the end times? The same question could be asked of half the Republican contenders and a substantial fraction of the American electorate. The simple answer is that the holy book tells us that judgment day will happen within our lifetime. It’s been wrong for two thousand years, but it continues to be convincing because it’s right there in the book! The end is nigh!

Except, the end of the play is the line “Eh bien, continuons”.


Thomas Beale 11.17.15 at 10:37 am

One last thought… the more I re-scan various articles, including the Atlantic one, Atran, and other useful links posted here, the more I think the ISIS mentality corresponds to a cult-like mass psychosis where a whole group has adopted an alternate reality as its operating narrative. This doesn’t just have to be eschatological / scripture based (we can suspect the non-western ISIS fighters may not even be very literate), it can have any idea injected into it that ISIS leaders want – e.g. the ‘ground zero’ mentality, a la Pol Pot – something that simply consigns 1000y of Islam’s own history to the bin.

If your army consists of mainly disaffected, ill-educated young men, this approach gives them purpose and glory, exactly the opposite of what is in their real lives. It just requires a mental flip into a different reality, and then to start acting out that reality – something akin to a ‘born again’ experience.

If this is what we are dealing with, we really do need to understand that narrative and the alternate reality it depicts, and we need to proceed the basis of a cult psychology analysis.


David 11.17.15 at 10:59 am

@reason and others.
I don’t want to harp endlessly on this point, because inevitably much is speculation. But let me lay out what I think the situation is, so that those who disagree can see what they are disagreeing with.
First, it is not disputed that the military and political wings of ISIS are separate, and that the military wing is headed by former Sunni Baathist officers looking to capture and hold majority Sunni territory. They are supported by an infrastructure of junior officers and NCOs, mostly from the old special forces and intelligence organisations, who were in turn part of the Sunni militias after 2003. The foreign volunteers are cannon fodder.
Second, it is not disputed that the political wing is separate, but not dominant, and has its own agenda and more importantly its own modes of expression and propaganda. The communiqué was almost certainly written by them, and reflects their interpretation of the nature and purpose of the attacks, and their millennialist outlook.
Third, it is overwhelmingly probable that such an attack would have been planned and conceived by the military wing, or at a minimum would have been stopped if they did not want it to proceed.
Fourth, France can be argued to be the ideal target. It was not the only state attacking the IS, but it was within Schengen, had a large Maghrebian population in which to hide and find sympathisers, and areas in the suburbs which are effectively outside the control of the state, where the police do not go. The IS communiqué also mentioned France’s “war on Muslims” as a factor, so revenge is also an issue. Finally, the attacks would also serve as a warning to other states hostile to ISIS, but which were difficult or impossible to operate in.
Fifth, as noted by several people, suicide bombings are not new. From the point of view of the military command, conventional actions against France were obviously pointless, so some kind of special operation was the only option. Because of the risk of operatives being captured and divulging useful information, this had to be a suicide mission. (There’s an analogy with 1914, where the assassins of Archduke Ferdinand were ordered to commit suicide after the operation. Several tried, but not very competently). In the present state of alert in France, military and official targets are too well guarded for attacks on them to be feasible, so soft targets would have to be chosen instead for practical reasons, though we can speculate about other motives as well.
Sixthly, my understanding (though I wasn’t there) is that these were very much the tactics employed in the communal wars of 2006-7 won by the Shia: massacres, car bombs, assassinations, suicide bombings etc. They are also tactics used in Lebanon -eg the recent IS car bombs in Beirut, which don’t seem to have been directed against Hezbollah’s HQ itself (probably too well guarded) but against the local population that supports them. It’s a message, just like the Paris attacks. The MO, as others have noted, would be familiar, and was anyway probably the only one feasible for an attack on a foreign capital.
Finally, the IS political leadership is pretty unsophisticated, and in fact I don’t think it’s capable of conceiving some of the complicated political tactics others have suggested. Even the military wing probably has a limited understanding of western politics. They will recall that the Shia won in 2007 by beating and blasting the Sunni into submission, and probably think the same might be done with the West. In any event, as I said, I think we should privilege simple explanations, rather than complex ones, especially given the kind of people we are dealing with.
Happy to be told that any of these assumptions are wrong, by those who know more.


reason 11.17.15 at 11:55 am

David @143
“They will recall that the Shia won in 2007 by beating and blasting the Sunni into submission, ”

Won???? And seriously, I thought Iraqis and Syrians were by the standards of the area relatively well educated – I find your assumption of a lack of sophistication puzzling.


Igor Belanov 11.17.15 at 12:09 pm


Most political leaders in the West are very well-educated in the conventional sense of the word, but woefully lacking when it comes to political sophistication in relation to Middle Eastern affairs.


kidneystones 11.17.15 at 12:12 pm

@ 143 I lay no claim to expertise and I agree that everything here is speculation, especially as none of those commenting is able to read so much as a laundry list in Arabic. I didn’t care to have people named Feith, or Frum, explain to us how people on the other side of the world were going to react to an invasion and occupation of Iraq by tens of thousands of infidels. I did have a set of unlikely experiences in the 9/11 period with one civil servant from the region who happened to be completing a master’s degree in public administration on a scholarship. He joined a number of us for lunch and spouted a good deal of worthless nonsense about 9/11 being an inside job, etc. At one point I asked him to explain virtue in stoning people to death for religious crimes. He was much sharper on this point and dismissed the idea immediately. Religion, he observed, had nothing to do with it. The process of trial and punishment was an exercise in power. Others have alluded to the problem of perspective and audience. We are not the targets of anything.

This is about a small, disenfranchised minority making a statement to a much larger majority, all of whom share a similar culture, set of values, and religion. The west is not the target, nor the audience. We are the media upon with which the one group communicates with the other. Look, they say primarily to members of their own community, see what we can do and the rulers of ME nation X cannot. As noted, the decision makers and planners are usually safely hidden in caves or cellars, while their own citizens join ours as carnage.


David 11.17.15 at 12:55 pm

Maybe the issue of sophistication is a bit of a rabbit-hole. My (limited) experience in the region suggests that most people are actually pretty sophisticated about issues of life, death and politics, and that at least some of the local leaders are quite well educated (though my impression is that’s not necessarily true for the IS).
But we’re really talking about knowledge here, or more precisely applied knowledge. Just as western decision-makers, some of them highly educated and intelligent, had no idea of the realities on the ground in the Middle East, so it seems logical to suppose that the IS leadership, whatever its level of intelligence or sophistication, would have little understanding of the dynamic of western politics. Younger, foreign recruits who might have a better understanding don’t seem to be in positions of authority. So whilst the military side of IS is pretty militarily sophisticated, and the propaganda elements etc; are also sophisticated, their understanding of western politics is as deficient as ours is of them, or as was the Japanese in 1941, or the US in Vietnam or any other example you care to name. If you accept this argument, then Occam’s Razor comes into operation, and complex eschatological explanations are not necessary.
There’s also, as kidneystones mentioned, the issue of statements – “propaganda of the deed” as it used to be called. Message to the West: we can hit you. Message to others: we can hit the West.


Ronan(rf) 11.17.15 at 1:16 pm

Thomas Beale, yes you have a point

“Third, if the Islamic State ought to be characterized, it would be as a revolutionary (or radical) insurgent actor. These groups project a goal of radical political and social change; they are composed of a highly motivated core, recruit using ideological messages (although not all their recruits or collaborators are ideologically motivated – far from it) and tend to invest heavily in the indoctrination of their followers. They tend to prevail over their less effectively organized insurgent rivals (see the examples of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front or the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka), but their Achilles heel lies in their radical proclivities which often turn local populations against them if the opportunity arises, as happened in Iraq with al-Qaeda in Iraq. Revolutionary groups can appropriate a variety of other causes (nationalism, ethnic or sectarian identities), but their revolutionary identity is central and helps make sense of much of their activity. In that respect, we have much to learn from revisiting the action and strategy of the last generation of insurgent revolutionary actors, those of the Cold War.”

But there’s also a distinction to be drawn between the domestic sources of ISIS support, and the international aspects.


kidneystones 11.17.15 at 1:23 pm

@147 Yes, and no. There’s actually a good deal of evidence that western governments particularly in the UK and the US has excellent intelligence on north African terrorism, and the activities of north African terrorists in Iraq and Syria up until the fateful to decision to depose Gaddafi, via the Libyan intelligence services. See the Guardian, Independent, and NYT on this topic. As a very large number of volunteer jihadis (a term I loathe) originated in Libya, the Libyans were able, it seems, to learn a great deal about what was taking place in pre-ISIS/L controlled areas of Syria and Iraq. Amid President Drone Strike’s preening one intelligence officer I remember reading observed that with Gaddafi gone, western access to intelligence in Syria and Iraq had gone dark. This genius move on the part of President Peace Prize was followed by an even stupider blunder in Syria, taking sides along with Cameron against Assad, thus opening up a whole new territory ripe for lunatic destruction. We can thank red Ed for scotching the worst of these plans, but it seems clear in hindsight that more than enough damage was done to destabilize Syria and turn it into another Lebanon. I doubt very much, btw, that any of the actors in the ME are much interested in what the west, or Russia for that matter, thinks or even does.


Ronan(rf) 11.17.15 at 1:32 pm

Just to add to the question of the importance of religion . I think a lot the debates on this (including the nation article that’s been linked a number if times) are missing the point, slightly. Very few people are arguing that the majority of Isis support is over complicated theological questions,but it’s true of pretty much all people that their ideologies and beliefs are contradictory, unsophisticated and incoherent.
The point is that a religious identity (as well as national, sectarian, tribal, familial) exists meaningfully for people, and that religious arguments and obligations resonate. We don’t really have to accept that Islam is everything or that it’s nothing in this, to say that it’s something (what that something is, I don’t know)


kidneystones 11.17.15 at 1:49 pm

@150 I think is very sensible, particularly your emphasis on clan/familial bonds. Religion is the environment, or an environment. An imperfect analogy would be the very real battles fought in England, Ireland, and Scotland over the role of bishops and elders during the 17th century. However loopy those fights might seem to us today, reading Charles I’s exegesis of biblical passages to justify his government’s authority on the eve of his execution, and republished a decade later, provide some sense of the conflicts between the authority of a theocracy, and that of the state. To segue crudely to a separate but important topic, imho, the region/religion very much needs a revolution/renaissance of the sort Sancho called for earlier. That hasn’t occurred yet, for the most, except in Iran, where some studies (sorry, no links, but they’re out there) indicate that universities there are much less constrained by the debilitating effects of enforced creationism teachings than other nations. This is not, I suspect, surprising giving Iran’s history, the nature of their state and form of Islam, and the fact that the nation is in many ways much more democratic that Saudi Arabia, for example, which has immense wealth, but produces almost no patents, especially given the immense sums available to universities there. I’m guardedly optimistic that once we get our noses out of their affairs and stop bombing their populations, there’s a real chance of both religious and social reform in the ME. I won’t personally like it, I expect, as I find a great deal to object to in public executions etc., but at least the young people of the region may have something approximating a future on this earth, not the next, to look forward to.


Ronan(rf) 11.17.15 at 1:58 pm

Thomas Beale, from Michael mazaars “unmodern men in the modern world” (about radical Islamists generally rather than Isis specifically)

” ‘Though there are obvious difference between the fanatical Christian , the fanatical Mohammedan, the fanatical nationalist, the fanatical communist and the fanatical nazi….it is yet true that the fanaticism which animates them may be viewed and treated as one..there are vast differences in the contents of holy causes and doctrines, but a certain uniformity in the factors that make them effective. ‘ For hoffer, the main thread of unity in this tapestry of radical and reactionary movements was the sort of person to whom they appealed. All of them drew their ‘adherents from the same types of humanity and appealed to the same types of mind.’: a mindset besieged, thwarted, filled with real and invented grievances, overwhelmed with the existential demands of modernity, thrilled with the prospect of revalidating a humiliated nation or ethnic group by recapturing age old values and glories”


Layman 11.17.15 at 2:40 pm

kidneystones @ various: “Clinton…Cameron…O…Gaddafi…President Drone Strike…Gaddafi…President Peace Prize…Cameron…Assad…red Ed…”

Do you notice what I notice? Revealing, huh?


Thomas Beale 11.17.15 at 3:17 pm

kidneystones@146 2nd para – interesting perspective.

ronan@152 – very germane quote; I start to wonder if the lens through which to see the overall phenomenon is exactly the bit starting with ‘the main thread of unity…’.


Stephen 11.17.15 at 4:01 pm

Ronan@152: wise words, but I’m not sure how far “recapturing age old values and glories” is an adequate description of the aims of fanatical Communists. I think many of them are in a different class from fanatical Christians, Muslims, nationalists or Nazis; future, not past values and glories being uppermost in their minds.


David 11.17.15 at 4:14 pm

This is way outside my area, but I’ve been reading the Lebanese Georges Corm’s work recently, on Arab political thought. He starts from the well-known fact that there was an Arab Renaissance in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, which included a number of Christian thinkers, but where many other writers were working out a synthesis of Islam and modern political and social ideas. Corm’s thesis is that moves in this direction were subsequently derailed by the West’s support for the hard-line traditionalist monarchies of the Gulf (and the latter’s financial clout after 1973) and by the West’s opposition to secular, modernizing regimes from Nasser’s Egypt to Assad’s Syria. This made many Arab opinion formers despair, and threw them back on the only other option available – radical islam, which also happened to be favored by the West (anti-communist, secure oil supplies) and have lots of money behind it.
It’s this that makes me wonder whether the “un-modern” argument isn’t overstated. If we see modernism not in terms of the social legislation of the last few years, but of changes and developments in political forms, then the IS is much more “modern” than Saudi Arabia, for example, because it’s a populist republic, which in general is a historically more recent form of government than an absolute monarchy. IS may be a dead end, but when other forms of modernisation are discredited, what do you have left?
In any event, modernism is a historical description, not a value judgement. What is “modern” (i.e. recent) is not necessarily better than what was immediately past. Mass unemployment is not better than full employment, for example, and weak trades unions are not necessarily better than strong trades unions. It’s dangerous to suppose that only bomb-throwing fanatics find aspects of the “modern” world unattractive.


bob mcmanus 11.17.15 at 4:50 pm

156: Umm, let me try

(Post-) Modernism/Capitalism is precisely the appropriation/repurposing/subsumption of existing or historical forms for the solution of particular and local problems with a self-consciousness of being in reaction or opposition to other existing modernisms. It is also characterized by “stagism” a universalist historicism used to assimilate other claims to particularity in a location. The use of Qutbism to resist Imperialism is formally similar to the “Return to Keynes” or Neo-Labourism.

We have always been modern, and Bruno Latour sucks.


Ronan(rf) 11.17.15 at 5:07 pm

The arguments about a reaction to “modernity” are above my pay grade so I won’t say too much. I tend to agree that the concept can be a bit nebulous , an explanation for everything while explaining nothing specific. It also tends to obscure the politics (domestic, or geopolitical), and almost imagine an uncontrolled force of nature beyond anyone’s control.
I don’t think it assumes though that the “anti modern” reaction won’t have many aspects that reflect the contemporary world. The reaction will still take place in the world as it is now , so will be affected by the social, political, cognitive norms of the time it takes place in. Which is why the anti modernity backlash is still modern in a lot of its political prescriptions , social manifestations and modes of reasoning.
It doesn’t neccesarily assume that there are no other cleavages, either within the political or religious institutions against more liberal reformists , or that the reaction can’t also be in response to outside domination . These can all by accomadated by the claim that what we’re seeing is a more general reaction to the disorientation and trauma of large scale social, political and technological change


Ronan(rf) 11.17.15 at 5:10 pm

.. What it does more , I think, is explain a specific reaction to that change that takes a particular form (but is not the only response)


Peter T 11.18.15 at 12:00 am

Like most such movements, ISIS is a fusion of different forces. There are the apocalyptic millenarians, ex-Baathists, Sunni tribes joining the bandwagon of victory, exiles hardened in other conflicts (notably a couple of thousand Chechens), embittered Sunni youth. Some of these strands reinforce each other – the Baathists have military expertise, the exiles bring prowess on the battlefield, the millenarians have wider ideological appeal and links to financial backers in the Gulf states and so on. The millenarians seem to be in the driving seat as far as policy goes, and are quite willing to sacrifice themselves as well as everybody else.

There are some weak links in this coalition. The tribes joined for the loot (and to avoid ISIS attack), but are starting to fall away as the war gets harder. There are signs the youth are less enthusiastic, and ISIS is having to use the lash more. But the millenarians, exiles and probably the Baathists have nowhere to go, and no thought of surrender. In the end, the hard core will have to be blasted out of the rubble of Raqqa.


reason 11.18.15 at 7:58 am

Peter T @160
I read some blog that many of the ISIS would leave if they could – but believe they will be caught and executed, if they try. This suggests that there could be a substantial leakage if the organisation was decapitated. Not unlike Saddam’s army. (If only Bush Jnr hadn’t been so stupid as to disband the army without giving them alternative employment. Monomaniacal ideology can make people so blind sometimes.)


reason 11.18.15 at 8:01 am

Layman @153
some people personalise everything. But I don’t think it is so rare – that is why there is so much religion, which is basically the personalising of the unknown in an effort to make it understandable and controllable. But when those who think of themselves as the pinnacle of cynical sophistication do it, yes, it is a bit embarrassing.


reason 11.18.15 at 8:12 am

In general, I don’t see a good way out of this. I think ISIS as a caliphate is done for, sooner or later. But the result will be a more dangerous Sunni underground terrorist network, simply because ISIS has been a very good training and networking exercise for Sunni terrorists.

What can be done about the mess in the middle East, I don’t really know. Clearly, Sunni and Shia have a deep enmity, and neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran show any interest in seeking reconciliation. Of course Europe went through this centuries ago with the horrific 30 years war, plus echoes elsewhere. Eventually we came out the other side, but only at the “expense” of become a much less religious society (to some extent the fanatics were exported to the US where they continue to cause problems).

I can’t see any progress happening until both Saudi Arabia and Iran become forces of stability instead of exporting fanaticism. Ultimately, I think that is where we need to concentrate our diplomatic efforts.


Peter T 11.18.15 at 11:11 am

The Sunni Arab cultural tradition – like the German, Japanese, Russian, Chinese and Indian traditions before it – is too strong to assimilate to western modernity, yet constantly challenged by it. It’s not looking to become western so much as find a political and social form that allows it to use modernity on its own terms. Western support for autocracy does not help, not does the apparent success of Shi’ite Iran in forging an Islamic state strong enough negotiate with the west in equal terms (and support fairly rapid technological progress).

If Shi’a Iraq defeats ISIS, there will be further fallout – not so much a reflection on an ancient rivalry, but the assertion of a choice which much of the current Sunni political order cannot accept (but cannot also rival).


Peter T 11.18.15 at 11:38 am

And one should note that the Iraqi state was failing before Bush and Cheney rushed in. Years of sanctions plus the erosion of state authority in the Kurdish and Shi’a areas had led Saddam to fall back on an ever narrower circle, ever more repressive, ever more riven with intrigue. Professionals left the country, infrastructure decayed, ordinary people suffered. Bush and Cheney were Hindenburg and Ludendorff to Saddam’s Tsar Nicolas.


Thomas Beale 11.18.15 at 11:41 am

Peter T @164

The ‘modernity’ we care about is human rights, separation of powers etc – i.e. models of civic governance and rights of the individual within the state… not smartphones or FaceBook or free enterprise – those are just outcomes of political environments that are friendly to progress and innovation.

I don’t think you can ‘use modernity’, you have to live it. But I also don’t see it as a Western cultural creation; human rights (except for the poor deluded post-modernists) are a discovery of a better natural order that struggled for centuries under primitive conceptual frameworks (where blasphemy was a ‘crime’ equal to murder for example), imposed power structures and sectarian wars and torture. It’s not a cultural creation. It’s easy to see this, because where it has been achieved (e.g. separation of church and state, to take one example), no-one wants to go back.

Are you saying that Arab culture can’t aspire to or achieve any of this? The writings of Hussein-Ali Montazeri (admittedly Persian, not Arab) would seem to say otherwise, or are you saying that only Shia (or Iranian?) polities can move on?


ZM 11.18.15 at 12:00 pm had a post on Paris and the upcoming climate march and talks

“Friday night’s events were horrific, and we must clearly and unequivocally condemn such violence. Their aftermath has also been frightening though, and we should stand in equal condemnation of the instinct to meet violence with more violence. It is a cycle as old as it is ugly: after tragedy comes the rush to judgement, the scapegoating, the xenophobia and Islamophobia, the blame.

There is a real danger here that those already impacted by both the climate crisis and the wars that are so intimately bound up with it — migrants, refugees, poor communities, and communities of color — will be further marginalized.

If there is a thing we must resist, it is our own fear and short-sightedness. No government should use a moment like this to increase the burden of hatred and fear in the world — sowing suspicion, calling for war, and reducing people’s civil liberties in the name of security. This is a mistake we’ve seen too often before, compounding tragedy with more tragedy.

The Paris Climate Summit, scheduled to begin in just a couple of weeks, will proceed. The government is promising heightened security measures, which is understandable but also worrisome.

We don’t yet know what Friday night’s events mean for our work in Paris. The coalition on the ground is committed to working with the French authorities to see if there is a way for the big planned march and other demonstrations to safely go forward. We fully share their concerns about public safety — just as we fully oppose unnecessary crackdowns on civil liberties and minority populations.

There couldn’t be a more important time to work for climate justice, and the peace it can help bring.”


Peter T 11.18.15 at 12:41 pm

Thomas @ 166

I agree with you about free enterprise and smart phones – they are the trappings, not the essence. By “modernity” I meant the ability to engage with the developed world on terms of relative equality – to feel part of both it and one’s continuing cultural tradition. Not isolation, not subordination.

To take just one other of your examples – separation of church and state – this is a well-established boundary in most of western Europe, still very partial in practice in the US, not accepted at all in China and much of South-East Asia, under negotiation in Russia, partial again in India, not accepted as compatible with either religious or political norms in most of the Islamic world (Indonesia partly excepted) and so on. So this is one of those things that most people, fairly obviously, do not see as essential to either their happiness or their modernity. I won’t agree with all the choices made, but better they make them than we impose them.

And Montazeri – an ayatollah – was working within a very specifically Iranian Shi’a theological tradition. His version of church and state is not Jefferson’s.


David 11.18.15 at 12:46 pm

The (mildly) optimistic scenario one hears in the region is as follows. The real power in the IS is the Baathist military. When they consider that they have gained everything they can, they will turn on the political leaders and destroy them. This will lead to an effective ceasefire, with Sunni and Shia parts of Iraq and Syria, and the withdrawal of the Iranians and Hezbollah. The future will be continuous low-level crisis, with violent incidents, rather than a war. We’ll see.
It’s worth pointing out that both Iran and Saudi Arabia are essentially pursuing influence, rather than wanting to start or exacerbate conflicts. the Saudis in particular, like all absolute monarchies, crave stability above all else. They have played a major stabilizing role in Lebanon, for example.
Oh, and Hollande just been speaking. I think you can forget civil liberties and other such quaint ideas for the time being.


reason 11.19.15 at 8:54 am

the Saudi’s DEFINITELY export extremist Wahibism (as a counterweight to democratisation forces which also threaten absolute monarchies). The history of absolute monarchies is not one of stability (because they need external enemies to distract from internal discontent).

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