Tuesday 20 August 2019

Militant Islamism - the deadly enemy we are too uncomfortable to acknowledge

'They can, we now know, shut down the very beating heart of Europe. This is the future'
'They can, we now know, shut down the very beating heart of Europe. This is the future'
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Of all the arresting images to emerge from Paris and Brussels, one of the most disturbing was the sight of normally bustling Belgian streets completely deserted during the day.

Brussels, effectively, became a ghost city as schools were shut down, the Metro cancelled, businesses closed and the only people on the streets seemed to be heavily armed cops and soldiers - a far cry from the business-as-usual attitude you would expect from a town that is the headquarters of both the EU and NATO.

Not only can a bunch of nuts with AK-47s and some Semtex waistcoats slaughter more than 100 innocent revellers in the Parisian night, they can also, we now know, shut down the very beating heart of Europe itself.

This, unfortunately, is the future.

In scenes that could have come from PD James's brilliant 'Children Of Men', masked and deliberately sinister looking security forces now patrol the boulevards of two European capitals and the production notes of the movie adaptation have assumed an eerily prescient character: "The film is set in 2027, when assorted natural disasters, wars and terrorist acts have rendered most of the world ungovernable, uninhabitable or anarchic. Britain stands as an island of relative order, held in line by a fearsome police state."

And so, what was an enjoyable, if undoubtedly downbeat piece of dystopian what-iffery, now looks like a terrifying prediction of the shape of things to come.

Of all the countries in Europe, Britain, of course, is the least likely to become a totalitarian police state, but every citizen of the EU should be concerned that the recent attacks, which everyone accepts were only the first of many, could be used to further erode individual rights to expression, privacy and freedom of assembly.

Put bluntly, the most unnerving aspect of the current situation is that the politicians seem as frightened and confused as the rest of the general population.

And when politicians - just like ordinary people - are frightened and confused, they make bad decisions, which the rest of us will have to pay for.

It is the nature of all governments to try to seize as much control over our personal lives as possible. That's not because the people who go into government are inherently evil, it's simply the nature of the beast - the State needs to be fed, and in times like this, it craves nothing more than personal information.

It has been noticeable how many Irish people who would previously have reacted angrily to alien concepts such as compulsory ID cards are now more amenable to the idea, even though papers can be faked and the counterfeiters are always one step ahead of the authorities.

Similarly, we've seen more calls from Irish commentators for the arrest and interrogation of people who have made pro-Isil remarks on social media - another knee-jerk reaction, which is essentially a case of smashing a nutcase with a legal sledgehammer.

To make things even worse for the ordinary citizen, we now face more travel restrictions, even though the likes of Abdelhamid Abaaoud was able to boast that he could travel from Syria to Europe with virtual impunity.

In other words, we are going to face more restrictions, obstructions and delays, even though they will have no material impact on apprehending the terrorists.

But the authorities will be seen to be doing something, even if that 'something' is both counterproductive and futile.

This is the disconnect inherent in a nominally free society - we resent the idea of, say, the NSA having access to our internet history, but when the suicide vests detonate and the bullets start to fly, we are quick to demand answers and action.

It doesn't even matter if they are the right answers or the correct course of action, people want to feel that their government is looking out for them - even when it can't.

But we are also in a truly unique security situation where both the police and the public are cowed by the fear of being accused of Islamophobia.

Ultimately, we are expecting people to guard us against a threat that they won't even mention by name, as if militant Islamism was the terrorist equivalent of Voldemort.

This could be seen the other day when the affable TV presenter Baz Ashmawy, who won an International Emmy this week, claimed: "At this stage, I am more afraid of Islamophobia than I am of Isis."

Really? That might be the trendy thing to say, but it's another example of Western moral equivalence deliberately muddying the waters. Let's put it this way - it would, perhaps, be a cheap shot to remind Baz that the victims of the Paris attacks weren't murdered by Islamophobes. But it would also be correct.

Similarly, just hours after Hillary Clinton ludicrously asserted that global jihadi terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, the Mali attackers reminded us of the reality when they made their hostages recite passages from the Koran if they wanted to live.

The uncomfortable truth is that, short of becoming a collection of police states, the countries of the EU are at the whim of Medieval psychopaths who surely can't believe their luck that they are fighting a war that their enemy doesn't even want to acknowledge.

Paris and Brussels weren't even the start, they are just the logical continuation of the attacks on London and Madrid, and it's inevitable that there will be more. The Europe of free movement as we knew it is over and it may be decades before it returns to normal, if it ever does.

In fact, this may be the new normal. What a delightful prospect that is.

Irish Independent

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