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Esprit de Corps
Paris attacks likely to drive international cooperation on anti-terrorism
By Yu Lintao | NO. 48 NOVEMBER 26, 2015

 

French policemen patrol in Paris on November 18 after the recent series of terrorist attacks (XINHUA) 

Friday evenings in Paris are normally a time for people to unwind: visiting friends and family at cafes and restaurants, going to concerts, or watching a football match. But Friday, November 13 became a real-life horror movie, when a series of coordinated attacks terrorized the city, killing at least 132 innocent people and wounded more than 300 others.

The terrorist extremist group, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), later claimed responsibility. Witnesses reported the attackers yelling, "This is for Syria," in a seemingly retaliatory strike for France’s role in supporting rebel forces in the civil war there.

The latest attack is the second major one in France in less than a year, with the Charlie Hebdo  massacre taking place in January. The November killings are seen as the most devastating attack on the West since September 11, 2001. Till now, the global war on terror has already lasted for more than 14 years, without conclusion or signs of abating.

In fact, with the continually emerging terrorist activities worldwide in endlessly nefarious and inventive forms post-September 11, from the Beslan hostage crisis in Russia, the serial bombings in Mumbai, to the Kunming Railway Station terrorist attack in China, and the week of deadly attacks in both Beirut and Paris--let alone the numerous other bombing attacks in the Middle East countries--the global war on terror is seemingly borderless and unending.

Several analysts have asserted that as the French Government is formulating ways to try to cope with the current crisis, it is also time for all leaders to mark November 13 as the starting point of a worldwide effort to address both the symptoms and root causes of terrorism in all its forms.

Policy shift?

The terrorist attacks in Paris came at a time when millions of Syrian refugees are fleeing violence, desperately making their way to Europe and more peaceful Middle Eastern states.

Well before the terrorist plot unfolded, there were already divergences among member states regarding the European Union’s (EU) policy of accepting these refugees. The crisis in Paris is likely to further widen the differences on the issue within the EU in regards to whose burden it is to take in migrants, and to what extent. Though France was a supporter of an EU-wide responsibility that would be shared upon each member state, some observers have cautioned that the terrorist attack could change the attitude of the French Government in this regard.

Zhang Jian, Director of the Institute of European Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), said that after the attacks, French society may worry more that terrorists could use the refugee crisis as cover to sneak into Europe. He said the voice of anti-immigration will continue to increase, putting more pressure on the governments of EU nations to turn back migrants.

Guo Xiangang, Vice President of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), told Beijing Review  that economic factors were previously the main concern of some European countries in regards to accepting more migrants, but now security concerns is becoming prominent.

Preliminary findings by the French authorities showed that at least one member involved in the Paris attacks came to Europe under cover as a refugee with Syrian passport, while some suspects were "homegrown terrorists." Additional details of the attackers and their possible motives are still under investigation.

Still, even with many details unknown, some European countries immediately announced tighter border controls after the attack in Paris.

The United States, whose decades-long interventions in the Middle East are widely accused as a provoker of Islamic extremists’ attacks on the West, already subjects Syrian refugees to the most intensive security checks of incoming migrants.

Guo told Beijing Review  that he worried that the attacks in Paris will also influence the EU’s long-term immigration policies and further reduce social tolerance of Muslims in European countries. After the attack, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced he is planning to close down any mosques which allow extremist clerics to preach. Guo noted that, as a tolerant country, France had not adopted such a policy before.

Historically, many Muslims from Western Asian and Northern African countries migrated to European countries to meet their demand for labor force after World War II, with France as a major destination for post-colonial immigrants. Muslims currently account for more than 10 percent of the total French population, ranking as the second largest group after Catholics.

Most importantly, Guo noted, was that most Muslims in France are engaged in low-paid jobs or suffer from high rates of unemployment, with their economic and social status averaging at low levels. Many are unsatisfied with their living conditions and believe they are marginalized. They are people who are most likely to be influenced by extremist ideology, Guo stated. He said this internal discontent is one of the reasons that France again became the target of large-scale terrorist attacks.

International cooperation

Immediately following the terror attacks, France led airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, pounding a command center and a recruitment center in their stronghold of Raqqa. In a strongly worded address to the two chambers of parliament, French President Francois Hollande declared that the Paris attack was "an act of war" organized by ISIS and pledged to intensify the assaults on known extremists. French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle  was later deployed to the eastern Mediterranean to triple the striking action.

Many believe this event could be the catalyst to push Europe, the United States and Russia to shelf their differences and fight ISIS together.

Teng Jianqun, another researcher with CIIS, said the Paris attacks remind the international community that combating terrorism is not only for the security and benefit of one country, but also for the whole world.

"Actually, Russia has been more active than the United States in the past month in fighting against ISIS. The Paris attacks may promote cooperation among the related parties in the field of anti-terrorism despite their differences on the Ukrainian crisis. Terrorism is a common threat that no country can rule out," said Teng.

Most EU members showed their support to France in combating terrorists. The EU agreed to offer military assistance to France in addition to strengthening intelligence sharing and cooperation models.

In a White House statement issued just after the violence in France, U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated the United States’ "steadfast, unwavering support for the people of France, our oldest ally and friend," and reaffirmed the offer of any necessary support to the French investigation. In addition, the Pentagon announced later that the United States and France have agreed on "concrete steps" to further intensify their military cooperation on fighting ISIS. The USS Harry S. Truman  aircraft carrier had left for the Middle East in the latest deployment to assist the counter-terror campaign in the region.

According to French officials, in order to form "one great coalition" facing the terrorists, Hollande had a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin via telephone days after the attack, calling for "coordination of efforts" to fight against ISIS. Hollande is scheduled to meet Putin face to face on November 26 in Moscow "to unite their forces and achieve a result that is now too long postponed."

Xinhua News Agency quoted Putin’s adviser on foreign affairs Yuri Ushakov as saying that Obama and his Russian counterpart Putin shared "strategic goals in terms of fighting ISIS in an informal meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Antalya summit."

Just weeks ago, a bomb brought down a Russian jetliner leaving the Egyptian resort area Sharm El-Sheikh, killing 224 people. ISIS has claimed responsibility for planting and detonating the deadly explosive.

Shortly after Paris was attacked, Chinese President Xi Jinping extended his condolences to Hollande and strongly condemned the attacks. When addressing the routine informal meeting of leaders from BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) during the G20 Antalya summit, Xi called for coordination and mutual support to jointly fight terrorism, and stressed there is a particular need to "address both the symptoms and root causes" of terrorist attacks.

China later confirmed the death of a Chinese hostage Fan Jinghui who had been held by ISIS. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, "The Chinese Government strongly condemns the atrocities against humanity and the criminal must be brought to justice."

The continually rising global terrorism forms a high threat to the whole human kind, which requires China, a big country and also a victim of terrorism, to play a larger role, President Xi explained.

"Now the Western countries have begun to attach more importance to international cooperation in combating terrorism, which has formed the right environment for China to become more active. The conditions for setting up a united front are becoming more mature," said Guo. "After the Paris attacks, China has shown a more active attitude in promoting international cooperation on combating terrorism."

Double standard?

Many Chinese observers have stipulated, however, that another precondition for a legitimate, united effort to combat terrorism is that the West needs to give up its double standard in the process. After the terrorist attacks in France, much of the world lit up prominent landmarks, including the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, in the colors of the French flag to show their support. But Chinese netizens were quick to note that the Western countries showed less sympathy after terrorist attacks in China, such as those in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the Kunming Railway Station.

Instead of using the phrase "terrorist attack," many Western media outlets reported the events as "ethnic oppression" or "a violent event." Some Western politicians accused the Chinese Government’s efforts to combat terrorism as a violation of human rights.

When the Chinese Government announced its support for the international community’s war on terror, an article by Reuters titled "China Shows Unusual Pictures of Its Fight Against Terror" accused China of using the Paris attack to whip up anti-Uygur feeling in China.

China is but one example. The day before the Paris attacks, twin suicide bombers struck a southern Beirut suburb, killing at least 43 people, and on November 13 a suicide bomber struck a funeral in Iraq, killing at least 21. Both attacks were claimed to be the work of ISIS. However, while "Paris attacks" took up most of the headlines of the Western media, the two attacks in the Middle East were rarely seen in global media coverage. In a later report by The New York Times , the U.S. media outlet quoted a Lebanese doctor Elie Fares’ blog as saying that "When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag, when my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but... something that happens in those parts of the world."

Li Wei, a researcher on anti-terrorism studies with CICIR, noted that the double standard of the West on combating terrorism undermine international cooperation on the issue. The United Nations should play a major role in leading global anti-terrorism efforts by setting up a united front, Li said.

The Paris terrorist attacks have awakened the Western public to reflect on the double standards of their countries when it comes to anti-terrorism, Guo told Beijing Review . "Only when more and more common people in the West are conscious of the problem, can the decision makers be forced to give up these double standards, and then a real united front on anti-terrorism can be established."

Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell

Comments to yulinao@bjreview.com

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