In the past few weeks, Islamic State (IS) has been stepping up its campaign outside Syria and Iraq. At this moment, it is probable that IS was behind the downing of the Russian passenger aeroplane, the suicide bombings in Beirut, and the terror attacks in Paris. It remains to be seen whether this represents a new coordinated strategy by IS, heralding more fearful times for people across the world. Many people can relate to what happened to the Russian aeroplane that crashed in Sinai, in Beirut, and in Paris, in the sense that many can imagine it could have been me on that plane or in that city, which explains the widespread and worldwide shock and horror at these attacks. It is a frightening message that IS is sending: anyone is a target, except those who are members of IS and believe in the apocalyptic final battle between them and their enemies.
Despite the best efforts of the police and the security and intelligence services, it is unlikely that all terror plots will be discovered in time or prevented from occurring. There are so many ‘soft’ targets in any big city: if the plot is not discovered or somehow the plotters are prevented from carrying their acts of terrorism out, casualties ensue. The terrorist attacks in Madrid (11 March 2004), London (7 July 2005), Bali (1 October 2005), Mumbai (26-29 November 2008), Moscow (29 March 2010), and the attacks in Paris in January this year, as well as in Tunisia and Turkey more recently are a few examples. For many European countries, there are returnees from Syria and Iraq, who have been trained by IS, and who have the ability and motive to carry out terrorist attacks, in addition to home-grown terrorists, which will require surveillance and intelligence gathering.
It is likely that the military efforts to combat IS will increase, primarily from the air in Syria and Iraq, even if plagued by differences between the Western powers and Russia. Combating IS may unite different parties, but there is an urgent need for a plan, or at least a semblance of a plan, for what is going to happen once IS is defeated. Who is going to govern Syria when IS is defeated? How could a functioning state be created that would be seen as legitimate and be accepted as such by the population of Syria? Pessimists may argue if IS is defeated, rather than when, but I do not think anyone can now doubt the need to defeat IS.
There are broader issues and bigger questions that have to be addressed, for instance: the Sunni-Shia conflict at the broad or regional level, but also in terms of the complex dynamics within individual countries and societies; how could stability and ideally in the form of democratic governments bound to the rule of law be brought about in the Middle East and North Africa; and why have so many young citizens of liberal democracies been disaffected from their societies, radicalized, and are prepared to kill and maim others. There are no easy answers: and there may be more dark days to come, which people across the world will have to endure and withstand.
IS must be defeated, and its ideology must be defeated.