Here’s what I’m reading on Paris and the aftermath.
Stephen Walt, “Don’t Give ISIS What It Wants“:
The Islamic State also has a long-term strategic objective. It seeks to consolidate territorial control in Syria and Iraq and then expand its so-called “caliphate” throughout the Muslim world and beyond. To do that, its ideologues want to sharpen the conflict between Muslims and others and force people in the middle (i.e., the “gray zone”) to choose sides. To do this, the Islamic State hopes to provoke responses that will reinforce its narrative of irreconcilable religious conflict and attract even more sympathizers to its bloodstained banner. If the Islamic State can get France and other countries to crack down on their Muslim citizens and also get the West to reoccupy large swaths of the Middle East, then its false narrative about the West’s deep and intrinsic antipathy to Islam will gain more credence, as will its carefully cultivated image as the staunchest defender of Islam today.
Our challenge is to defeat that strategy, and step one is not to fall into the obvious trap the Islamic State has set.
Through murderous provocation, the Islamic State seeks to trigger a civilizational war between Muslims and the West, violently dragging both parties into such a battle if need be. There can be no real victory in a conflict with such apocalyptic connotations. Instead, Western nations should remain defiant, making clear through word and deed that they refuse to see the world divided on the Islamic State’s terms.
Completely ignored in the debate is also the fact that even with encryption becoming more widespread, intelligence agencies still have ample resources to track the phones of terrorism suspects, see everyone they are talking to and hack their phones and computers if they need to see their communications. That’s the thing about the Snowden revelations: you’ll never hear anyone say that the US or French government shouldn’t be conducting surveillance of suspected terrorists with proper court oversight. Of course they should. It’s surveilling everyone else’s communications without a warrant that is the problem.
The Snowden revelations weren’t significant because they told The Terrorists their communications were being monitored; everyone — especially The Terrorists — has known that forever. The revelations were significant because they told the world that the NSA and its allies were collecting everyone else’s internet communications and activities.
The evidence proving this — that The Terrorists have been successfully using sophisticated encryption and other surveillance-avoidance methods for many years prior to Snowden — is so overwhelming that nobody should be willing to claim otherwise with a straight face. As but one of countless examples, here’s a USA Today article from February 2001 — more than 12 years before anyone knew the name “Edward Snowden” — warning that al Qaeda was able to “outfox law enforcement” by hiding its communications behind sophisticated internet encryption[.]
Michel Martin, “Grief Knows No Native Tongue, But We Must Listen Wherever It Speaks“:
Paris calls out to us because many of us have been there or wish to go. For many of us, it is the city of our dreams. But there is terrible violence being perpetrated all over the world, in places many of us will never visit, by some of the same people and the same ideology that led to the massacres in Paris.
But their lives matter. They matter because when we draw the line between those near and far, and those who look like us and those who don’t, those whose names we can easily pronounce and those which we cannot, we participate in the same kind of dehumanizing that allows people to do such awful things to each other in the first place.