Our Editor BILL JAMIESON says the shockwaves of the slaughter in Paris have barely begun to subside before opinion became sharply polarised on what the West’s response to ISIL should be.
The reaction of millions around the world to the scenes of carnage captured in newspapers and on television screens over the weekend was as unanimous as it was chilling: this could have been us, any one of us, on any evening, in any city: Paris, London, Glasgow or Edinburgh.
France’s President Hollande lost no time in declaring the murder of 129 people was “an act of war”, while the French ambassador to the UK has described the attacks as a “9/11 moment”.
Response has been swift. In Syria, French air strikes attacked the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa and were reported to have destroyed an IS training camp and a munitions dump.
Across France, 168 locations were raided by police overnight, with 23 individuals detained and taken in for questioning. A further 104 individuals have been placed under house arrest in the past 48 hours.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve declared, “It’s just a start. These operations are going to continue.”
Arrests were made in Belgium. And across Europe border controls are being tightened
But already criticism and questioning has begun. The greater threat, says the liberal Left, is not ISIS but a right wing backlash. Marine Le Pen, they warn, is using the horrific attacks to push her right-wing politics. Many fear this could be her chance to seize power.
Here in Scotland progressive opinion has lost no time in urging “caution”. Dani Garavelli declared in Scotland on Sunday that “bigots couldn’t wait to propound their theory that the atrocity was caused by the failure to stem the flow of refugees from the Middle East and was therefore an inevitable consequence of the Schengen Agreement. These commentators weren’t impartial onlookers who lashed out in anguish, they were Ukip-ers and other right-wingers…”
Not to be outdone Lesley Riddoch weighed in yesterday. “Is it too late to reshape the hawkish international response developing in the wake of the Paris shootings? Is it too late to avoid a backlash against Muslims and refugees and demands to abandon Europe’s border-free Schengen system?”
Both these reactions raise troubling questions. Doubts have already set in on whether the French air strikes inflicted any material damage to ISIS. And the Syrian passport found near the body of a suspected bomber is now considered a fake.
But of the fanaticism of the terrorists there is no doubt.
This is no isolated incident but the latest in a long litany of Islamic terrorism, from the 9/11 airline hijackers through the London and Madrid terror attacks to the beach massacre in Tunisia and the downing of the Russian civilian airliner over the Sinai desert.
War has long been declared – on us – and anyone who is not in what increasingly looks like a death cult is a fair target for murder.
Tightening controls at airports, rail termini and borders are modest and reasonable responses. Few would now question the need for greater security of airline loading after the downing of the Russian airliner.
And what prospect is there for the security of Europe without border controls if a car can be loaded with Kalashnikovs in a suburb of Brussels and be driven, not just to Paris but to almost any EU capital that the Islamic terrorists choose to attack?
This penetration has become all the easier with the influx of almost 800,000 immigrants from the Middle East and northern Africa and their movement across a borderless EU. That the Syrian passport found in Paris may prove to be a fake offers no comfort whatever and indeed, deepens fears about the reliability of thousands of such documents shown as a means of facilitating movement anywhere in the region.
And that governments now dare not take precautionary measures for fear of being denounced as ultra-right neo-Nazis is absurd. It is surely more likely to be the absence of any firm response, not the fact of one, that will encourage voters to look to the Right and insist on tougher action from another set of politicians.
Meanwhile the great danger now is that gesture response – the lighting of candles, the singing of anthems and the lighting of monuments with the colours of the French flag – come to be regarded as sufficient response in themselves – of brave “defiance” having been shown and resolute firmness put on display.
The hand-wringing response of liberals to the most obvious security measures for fear of upsetting the Jihadists brings to mind the satirical song of Noel Coward during the Second World War:
“Don’t let’s Be Beastly to the Germans”
Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans…
Let us treat them very kindly
As we would a valued friend…
It was just those nasty Nazis who persuaded them to fight
And their Beethoven and Bach are really far worse than their bite.
Let’s be meek to them
And turn the other cheek to them
And try to arouse their latent sense of fun
Let’s give them full air parity
And treat the rats with charity
But don’t let’s be beastly to the Hun…
Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans
You can’t deprive a gangster of his gun
Though they’ve been a little naughty
To the Czechs and Poles and Dutch
I can’t believe those countries
Really minded very much…
How shocking that such wicked and distasteful lyrics were sung aloud in the streets of Britain.
The humour was too strong for some and the BBC banned it. How grateful we should all be – let us surely genuflect in appreciation – that there has been little change here.
What, however, should the response be against the radical Jihadists?
The detailed planning and co-ordination of the Paris massacres requires a stronger and more sophisticated effort by intelligence and security forces. Re-instatement of border controls is not an infringement of the freedom of movement but an obvious and natural precaution – and one that upholds the greatest freedom of all – that of life itself.
In Syria that care must be taken to ensure a measured and targeted response while stepping up military degradation of ISIS – a difficult and complex requirement that here, again, requires a major intelligence effort.
All this is going to cost time, resources and money. Can we afford to spend so more on defence? Here the Left is on stronger ground. Many may now come to question the point of spending more than £20 billion on Trident replacement (some figures range up to £100 billion) when David Cameron is now in talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on a joint approach in Syria.
Better, surely, that money is spent on intelligence and security – and the development of a well-trained, fast-response and highly mobile anti-terrorist force capable of tackling murderous fanaticism in whatever guise it appears.