The smoke of the Paris attacks has cleared, but while Belgian and French authorities continue tracking suspects questions still linger. Some have been answered, but one stands out: what changes will they bring? They’ve inspired French President Francois Hollande to launch “a war without pity” and sent him to Moscow and Washington in search of allies. The attacks are inspiring change among other key players and revealing more about them. First up is the terrorists: their choice of targets says something about them. In recent weeks a Russian airliner was bombed, a concert hall and soccer arena in Paris were assaulted, and a hotel in Mali was shot up. Each target lacks the security of a police station or military outpost and offers an opportunity to spill blood and spread fear. In an article in The Atlantic writer Peter Beinart argues the motive is military, that Russia and France were targeted because both have launched air strikes against ISIS. In his own clumsy way, US Secretary of State John Kerry hit on what he called a “rationale” for the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. Religion. The same motive is propelling ISIS in its attacks, including Paris. Anything that does not fall in line with their vision of Sunni Islam is a threat to be dealt with accordingly. That could be people, like Yazidi in Iraq or Coptic Christians in Egypt. It can also be artifacts and monuments, like temples in Palmyra or shrines in Mosul. Even cafes in Paris.
Echoes of the Paris attacks can be felt in the west as well. They include Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ loopy assertion that climate change is indirectly responsible for terrorism and President Obama’s belief that Paris’ ongoing climate conference is a “rebuke to the terrorists.” They’re a great way to dodge the terror issue by focusing on an obsession these two share over climate change, the same one that guided them to declare it a national security threat. That stubborn obsession is mirrored by one some conservatives, like Sean Hannity, have over the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” President Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to refuse to use it, prompting Donald Trump to pipe up over this tempest in a teapot. Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have joined in; Jeb Bush did too, in a 30-second TV spot. It’s a great way for the candidates who have taken up this cause to distinguish themselves from the president and his former Secretary of State, but only one has proposed a real shift in policy and it isn’t Trump. Lindsey Graham is not on the bluster bandwagon, but has proposed sending 10,000 troops into Iraq as part of a coalition. Trump is, yet he’s offered little more than a pledge to “bomb the xxxx out of” ISIS and create a “tremendous safe zone” in Syria. Dirty Harry he ain’t.
The discovery of a Syrian passport on one of the Paris suicide bombers brought back the refugee issue by provoking fear of jihadi hiding in their midst. In light of the president’s proposal to settle 10,000 in the U.S. the GOP-led house passed a bill to refine the screening process that gained a veto-proof majority with Democrat’s help. After a number of Republican governors joined in by refusing to accept refugees. President Obama took after opponents, accusing them of “political posturing” and being afraid of “widows and orphans,” before asserting refugees would be subject to “the most rigorous process” available. The problem for the White House is that FBI Director James Comey said he cannot vouch for the screening process President Obama puts his faith in because there is no reliable database to screen against. The irony is that with all the rhetorical back-and-forth over refugees nobody has confronted the central question: how to keep jihadi from blending in. If it’s possible. It’s not an easy topic to deal with when it’s so easy to mingle jihadi with Muslim in a way that sounds good on TV but is no different than saying every Christian pro-lifer is a Robert Dear waiting to happen. The notion is absurd, but if ISIS propaganda and the San Bernardino shootings inspire more of that kind of fearful thinking it would be a change for the worse.