Expansión, November 16

Europe Is Not at War, the Islamic State is


Despite the rhetoric used during the last two days, Europe doesn’t act as if it were at war with the Islamic State (ISIS). The countries continue approaching the issue as a criminal problem, as one of radical minorities. But the Islamic State has actually decided to declare war.

2015-11-16 by Rafael Bardaji


Despite the rhetoric used during the last two days, Europe doesn’t act as if it were at war with the Islamic State (ISIS). The countries continue approaching the issue as a criminal problem, as one of radical minorities. But the Islamic State has actually decided to declare war.

Every time that a major attack takes place, rhetoric soars. If we were to believe our political leaders, Europe would be at war against jihadism. But the truth is that it is not. Has the French government resorted to activate NATO’s collective security protocols?

If indeed the tragic events of Friday night in Paris are "genuine acts of war" and not terrorist attacks, NATO should already be acting. Doesn’t Article V say that an attack on one member is an attack against all? The truth is that Europeans still see jihadism as criminal behavior, typical of radical minorities, violent but without strategic purpose, and, naturally, not linked to a religion. Hence police actions always trump military action – the military component is the essence of what war is.

The problem is that, as George W. Bush pointed out after 9/11, the police operate under an organizational culture, geared to intervene after a crime is committed, not before. And faced with a type of terrorism that can generate many victims, the police approach is socially and politically unacceptable.

Admittedly, the police have changed their attitude towards jihadism very much and, as in Spain, they go out to thwart any outbreak of jihadist cells for fear that an attack occurs. However, diligence–not always matched with the necessary legal changes—often results in that detainees fail to be tried or are never convicted. Applying the criminal code if you really are at war is a strong disincentive to victory.

The problem is that the Islamic State is at war. Since its inception, it planned a holy war against its Muslim fellows in order to purify Islam. Unlike al-Qaeda, al-Zarqawi, the father of the current Islamic State, always put the emphasis on attacking his rivals within Islam, Shiites, and all those he considered to be apostates. The Americans only interested him to the extent that they could frustrate his plans in Iraq.

That’s what largely happened with the Islamic State since its establishment in June 2014, just a year ago. Its leaders have invested much of their energies on building the Caliphate, not as a mere declaration, but as a genuine administrative and military apparatus that exerts its power over a population and territory. If the Islamic State remains in place today, it’s because it reigns with terror, certainly; however, it also offers something that many citizens value: safety over chaos. Violence, undoubtedly brutal, is actually not its basic instrument of power, but the motivational tool of inspiration to get thousands of Muslims joining its ranks and moving to this territory to become a part of it.

That is why it’s not only wrong but ridiculous to see the persistence of our authorities to define the Islamic State as a terrorist group, to add the adjective "self-styled” to Islamic State, or, even worse, to insist on using other names, including the Arabic Daesh (acronym in Arabic of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), however rough it may sound. The Islamic State, under the command of Caliph Ibrahim, is not a terrorist group. ISIS is in fact a State that uses terrorism as part of its arsenal, just as it uses social networks, spiritual propaganda, and many other things. The military operations carried out by some members of the international coalition, led by president Obama, don’t let on that we are in war either. In fact, the last war Europe had to fight, like it or not, was the Second World War. Everything after WWII, particularly in the 1990s, has been voluntary military interventions without having at stake anything vital to our lives, just limited, distant military campaigns of choice that in no way affected the daily life of citizens.

It’s not enough to give a press conference and declare that we are at war to actually be at war. For example, from the statement of Spain after the meeting of its National Security Council on Saturday morning, one can only discern that the great step taken by our government was to publicly announce the phone number of Spain’s consulate in Paris in order to find out about possible Spanish victims. The threat level remained unchanged and the Prime Minister only said that he will "take all necessary measures, if they were necessary." It’s hard to see that Paris constituted any change and even less that Spain would share the idea that Europe is at war.

The problem is that, like it or not, the Islamic State is at war. And we, particularly the Spaniards, are part of its legion of enemies. It’s too bad that we are still engaged in a nominal debate on what name to use. We don’t even know the enemy we are facing. Unfortunately, that’s the best recipe for losing a war.

The other question for our leaders should undoubtedly be that, if they really believe we are at war, do we have the right means to fight and win? Maybe it’s because we don’t have them that we refuse to declare it.

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