As Dickens said of the French Revolutionary period, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. Those sentiments could easily be applied to the political and military realities of the western world in 2016.
Never in modern history have western states faced so few threats from other states. Not a single state has any short term desire to wage a war on a western state. Yet simultaneously, international terrorism, including terrorism sponsored both directly and indirectly by western allied states is at an all-time high.
It must be said that the aggregate effect of ISIS style terrorism has not yet reached the numeric levels of atrocities committed by various European terrorist groups in the 20th century. The Baader-Meinhoff Gang, IRA, ETA, Red Brigades, FP-25, Action Directe and others have more blood on their hands in respect of attacks on European countries than ISIS style attackers.
Yet there are some crucial differences. The aforementioned terrorist groups were home-grown and whilst they occasionally had external assistance, on the whole this external assistance was comparatively negligible. Also, these groups generally targeted political officials, law enforcement and targets of strategic interests to their causes. They also had a relatively stable command structure.
By contrast, the ISIS belief system is not native to any European country, just as sure as it is not native to any Arab country, except for the Gulf States whose Wahhabist school of Islam runs contrary to the teachings of traditional Sunni Islam.
Another difference is the matter of a command structure. The reason it is important to use the phrase ISIS style terrorism rather than ISIS is because the command structure among these terrorists in Europe appears to be relatively loose. This contrasts with parts of Syria and Iraq where ISIS have created something that resembles a state, albeit a primitive and backward one. It is of course in Libya where ISIS control in respect of resembling a state is strongest and this has happened because contrasted with Iraq and especially Syria, the central government in Tripoli is weak, deflated and disordered.
Finally, another key difference is that unlike older European terrorist organisations, ISIS thus far has not hit ‘hard targets’. Instead they attack civilians in totally unannounced attacks with the aim not of destabilising government or law enforcement, but with the aim of killing as many civilians as possible, in the most ruthless way possible.
Most ominously, unlike most European terrorist gangs which have either ceased to exist or have mostly paused their lethal attacks, ISIS is a clear and present danger.
It is the duty of all western governments to fight ISIS in any form it may take. Yet are they doing this? I’m not here to challenge any law enforcement organisations. The blame for lack of vision and even lack of concern when it comes to the ISIS threat must be placed squarely at the hands of government policy, foreign policy in particular.
ISIS style terrorism is at this time the only threat to the safety of people in European states. Yet rather than focusing on the real enemy, western states tend to speak of Russia as the enemy. Yet it would be preposterous to think that anyone living in Europe goes to bed at night frightened that the Russian state will take his or her life. But increasingly, many do go to bed fearing when the next ISIS style murderous attack will come.
Every moment spent pretending that Russia endangers anyone, anywhere, is a moment not devoted to fighting the actual threat. Every resource, every government department, even every speech made against Russia, is a distraction that ultimately may cost lives.
An astonishing and perverse face is that Russia and her allies in the Middle East are serious about fighting ISIS. Russia and Syria should be allies of any government who wants to protect her citizens from this danger. Assad does not want to blow up train stations in Europe but ISIS does. Putin does not want to drive a lorry through a crowd of civilians, but ISIS have done so. By attacking potential useful allies, western governments have displayed a contempt for their own people and have neglected the safety of their own people, which is the first responsibility for any and every government.
History is never kind to those who fail to protect their people and their land. Misplaced priorities, outright lies and a poor understanding of global realities have cost lives in the past.
It is time for western governments to do the responsible thing: devote all of their resources to countering ISIS either by allying with Russia or by just leaving Russia alone to fight the war for civilisation with the help of her true allies and friends.