Irish fall into same target of ‘infidels’ as Paris victims

To protect ourselves we need to beef up security, but also to support moderate Muslims

 

Basing our response to Friday’s attacks in Paris on a long-held and comfortable self-image of Ireland as a non-aligned, benevolent country could leave us vulnerable to an outrage, at home or abroad.

Becoming a victim can be about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the deaths of Martina and John Hayes and Lorna Carty in Tunisia remind us. Terrorists do not care if you carry an Irish passport.

Uncomfortable as it may be, we fall into the same set of targets of “infidels, Shia Muslims and apostates”, as did the innocent victims in Paris.

Calling the perpetrators Islamic State, IS, Isis or Isil simply copperfastens the terrorist group’s assertion that it is a state, which it is not, and that it represents Islam, which it does not at all. The reaction of Islamic groups in Ireland is proof of that. Rather we should use the term legitimate Islamic states use to refer to it: ‘Daesh’.

This term spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, it can also be understood as a play on words – and an insult.

Depending on how it is conjugated, it can mean anything from “to trample and crush” to “a bigot who imposes his view on others”. How we talk about an organisation is central to defeating them. So what were its aims in Paris, and will be the consequences?

Capability and intent

In managing security risk, a real threat exists where hostiles possess the intent and capability to cause harm. Paris shows that Daesh is able to field a number of terrorist teams simultaneously, and co-ordinate their actions. Failures in intelligence appear to be at the core of these atrocities.

 

So what of Ireland? Security services assess that there is not a significant intent among Irish Daesh-sympathisers to cause direct harm here, at least for now. In relation to capability, the Paris terrorists used AK-47 automatic weapons and explosives which are quite easily acquired through trans-European criminal and smuggling networks. It is not so easy to acquire them in Ireland, but it is not impossible.

However, it is acknowledged there is a risk of a radicalised individual “lone wolf” conducting an attack in Ireland, albeit with limited means.

It is estimated that 50-200 Irish-based Muslims may have been engaged in fighting in Syria and Iraq. Some have returned to Ireland. Vulnerable young Irish Muslims have been radicalised online. Intelligence, policing and customs action can curb access to weaponry, but preventing intent to cause harm is more complex and challenging.

Taking a wider view, Paris was not the only massacre by Daesh in recent weeks. It is blamed for the death of 224 Russian holidaymakers on October 31st. It has linked both attacks to French and Russian intervention in Syria.

However, in less publicised attacks, Daesh has targeted Shia and moderate Sunni Muslims who do not subscribe to its distorted version of Islam. Last week alone saw attacks in Beirut, Baghdad, Sana’a (Yemen), Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. All targeted innocent Shias worshippers at prayer.

Polarisation

Every attack contributes to the same goal – the polarisation of societies. To survive, Daesh requires alienated, disillusioned and radicalised Sunni Muslims within a host population. The Paris attacks are intended to draw a backlash against the entire Muslim population across Europe.

 

The Irish community experienced a similar backlash during the IRA’s bombing campaigns, when outrage following atrocities fuelled suspicion of the Irish and when the IRA claimed to be Ireland’s legitimate voice. Over time, suspicion of the “other” can become ingrained.

Austerity can inflame it. The true target over Sinai was Egypt’s tourism business. Killing Russian tourists kills jobs, encourages Russia to get more deeply involved in Syria, but, more importantly, adds to the despair, frustration and vulnerability of young Egyptian Muslims to radicalism.

The Paris attacks are a means to the same end. Any zealous backlash by right-wing groups or by the authorities in France, and across Europe, will serve the aims of Daesh well.

Its strategy in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain prioritises attacks on Shias over attacks on the security forces, the royal family or foreign interests. Each attempt aims to provoke a Shia backlash against the Sunni population which in turn would foment retaliation.

The Daesh objective is to cause division, dissent and distrust of Muslims, migrants, refugees, and all minorities. By so doing it has adopted the age-old principle of divide and conquer. Ireland, with its own history of emigration, should not fall into that trap.

It would be equally damaging were we in Ireland to become insular and disengaged from our European and international roles in the security and defence spheres. Economically, Ireland relies on export-led growth.

However, Irish tourists and business travellers and businesses operating abroad have recently experienced increasing security concerns. This will get worse in the short term.

That said, the risks, once identified, can be managed. Exports to the Gulf grew by a fifth last year and the year before, despite Daesh’s active presence. Other markets beckon, in Asia, Indonesia, Africa and elsewhere. It is not in our interest to be deflected from opportunities abroad.

Preventing polarisation, alienation and radicalisation is difficult, costly and a long-term battle. It must include robust national security policy. More importantly, it must support the Irish Muslim community who are leading efforts to combat radicalisation.

There will be no quick fix. Other European states have had differing levels of success. Ireland must show leadership in Europe. We should not be shy about making our experience and position known.

Cathal O’Neill is chief executive of Risk Management International, an Irish company which works with firms abroad, some in potentially hostile environments, helping them to operate in safety.

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