There will, of course, be many lessons, political, strategic and operational, that will be drawn over the coming months and years from the Paris experience; one lesson, however, is immediate and unambiguous: the discourse on terrorism is ignorant, opportunistic, hypocritical and orchestrated.
Nevertheless, the Paris attacks are likely to impact in some measure on the sustained Western mischief and ill-conceived interventions that have created the monstrous Daesh, and Western powers are now likely to draw closer to the far more sagacious — though universally lampooned — position that Putin’s Russia adopted. Indeed, if all of Syria is not already under Daesh control, this is likely more the result of Putin’s obduracy than of any other factor.
In this, the Western(particularly American) orientation has been of an addicted gambler; virtually every ‘regime change’ it has engineered has produced successor states that are worse, or have produced savage chaos. And yet, with the certitude of blind folly, they had long persisted in demolishing regimes, creating dictatorships or anarchies that have killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions and, in the current context, established an environment fertile for the mushrooming of Islamist extremism.
The Western powers are now gradually, albeit extremely reluctantly, accepting that any regime, even one as brutal as that of Bashar al-Assad, is preferable to the state of utter savagery to which ill conceived and irresponsible Western interventions have reduced Iraq, Syria and Libya, at present, and numerous other countries in the past. This may produce a brief moment of the crystallisation of will that could produce the necessary consensus and coordination among the principal world powers that can help launch an effective campaign to destroy not only Daesh, but also the multitude of sister Islamist extremist formations that are competing for radical space and for territory in the Iraq-Syria complex.
One certain outcome of the Paris attacks is that the now established trends in the resurgence of xenophobia, racist and right-wing ideologies, certainly in France, and significantly across much of the West, will receive a fillip. Indeed, France has been particularly unwise in its reactions to past incidents of Islamist extremism, imposing dress and social codes on its citizens that seek to obliterate all manifestations of religious identity across communities, rather than adopting strategies to identify, isolate and neutralise extremists and terrorists.
Significantly, this pattern of overreaction comes after decades of hypocrisy, through which extremist leaders and ideologues were welcomed and granted asylum across Europe (as well as Canada and USA, among others) and given full freedom to spread their poison, as long as their victims were located far away from their host countries. Western leaders and counter-terrorism experts were quick to quash protests from target countries — including India — with the nonsensical adage, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Now that their own are dying, the West does not find it particularly difficult to distinguish between terrorists and freedom fighters; though they appear to have increasing difficulty in distinguishing between terrorists and the wider Muslim community.
The most important lesson that India can draw from the Western experience, and particularly from Paris, is to avoid the proclivity to blind emulation of ‘Western models’. Even a perfunctory study of the records would confirm that the Western powers have been particularly crude, clumsy and unsuccessful in their various counter-terrorism interventions over the past decades, and owed their earlier successes (in colonial times) to the most brutal and indiscriminate use of force in an age where the technologies of violence were the overwhelming monopoly of the colonial state. India has, willy nilly, evolved patterns of response that have produced extraordinary results against some of its own insurgencies and terrorist movements; and partial success in others. This is the experience that demands urgent and detailed study, so that specific elements that have contributed to success can be identified and employed in other theatres; and those that have yielded failure or unnecessary and misdirected use of force can be excluded from the national lexicon of responses.