Friday night’s terrorist attacks on Paris shocked the entire world, and the Islamic State (IS) quickly claimed responsibility for the carnage.
As Islamist terrorism has taken root in every segment of the French society, it is likely that the country may come under more attacks in the foreseeable future.
So what should the French government do in response?
1. After the catastrophic attacks that killed more than a hundred innocent citizens, it is almost certain that the French society will witness a complete turnaround in public opinion about the influx of refugees from Syria, with public sympathy suddenly giving way to suspicion or even hostility towards them.
As hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East continue to pour into Europe, the traditional way of dealing with refugees, in which “asylum countries” are granting right of abode to them after screening and assessment, can no longer cope with the massive influx.
Perhaps it’s time to come up with a new approach, such as considering setting up some offshore and autonomous ports of asylum under the supervision of the United Nations, to accommodate these refugees.
Such revolutionizing ideas are unlikely to gain international support unless some sudden and catastrophic events take place, prompting major powers to review their traditional approaches to handling refugee crises. The latest attacks on Paris may serve as a wake-up call to compel western governments to rethink their refugee policies.
2. The refugee issue as well as the rise of Islamic radicalism will definitely be on top of the agenda in the next French general election. In order to restore ethnic and racial harmony to the French society and to prevent the growth of xenophobic sentiment, both the French government and the major political parties may need to rely on some native Islamic elites who identify with the French values and culture to act as some sort of “goodwill ambassadors” to promote the sense of French identity among Islamic minorities.
3. The practice of mass surveillance by the government to protect national security and fight terrorism, which has long been a hotly disputed issue in France, might gain sudden popularity among the French people after the attacks.
4. It would be naïve to think that IS’s onslaughts on France can be stopped by calling off the airstrikes on IS targets in Syria by the French military, since terrorism has already taken root in the country, and its aggression is simply unstoppable.
Instead, I believe the French government should step up its military efforts and demonstrate its unwavering determination to fight the IS, because only by doing so can President François Hollande restore public confidence in his government and reassure his people that he is capable of protecting them against terrorist attacks.
5. One of the reasons why the IS is able to gain popularity among Islamist fundamentalists so quickly is because it controls a large piece of territory, on which extremists can put their “religious ideas” into action, unlike the al-Qaeda, which controls no more than a few pockets of strongholds scattered across Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Therefore, in order to cripple the IS, the western allies must reduce the size of the territory under its control by force, which might entail the deployment of ground troops.
Given that the French public have remained split on whether to send French ground forces to fight IS in Syria, the French government might consider hiring “private security contractors”, or simply put, mercenaries, to fight on its behalf, like what the Americans did in Iraq before.
6. As countries around the world are unanimously denouncing the terrorist attacks on Paris, the French government should seize the opportunity to call on big powers which have not yet joined the airstrikes against IS to sign up. It can on one hand alleviate the burden on the French military, and on the other facilitate the formation of an international platform to deal with the IS threat.
7. The fact that leaders from almost all French-speaking countries gathered in Paris and took part in a rally against terrorism shortly after the terrorist attack on the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo earlier this year suggests that France’s “soft power” is still something to be reckoned with.
As Syria was once a trust territory of France after the Second World War, perhaps France should take advantage of the international mandate to uproot IS to strengthen its leadership and influence in the French-speaking world.
8. The IS is the common enemy of the Syrian opposition rebels and the Bashar al-Assad regime, both of which are still at war currently. Over the past few years there have been calls for both sides to agree to a ceasefire and join forces to fight the IS.
Prospects for a truce have been greatly boosted after Iran joined in the negotiations. As the latest victim of IS onslaught, France indeed should take the initiative and assume a more active role in facilitating the reconciliation between President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels, thereby forming a united front in Syria against IS.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 16.
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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