We've seen how ordinary citizens around the world have responded to the Charlie Hedbo terrorism, but how will world leaders react? Is marching enough or is it time for troops?

This week well over a million people marched in Paris to defend the values of the French republic. Forty international leaders accompanied them; it was an impressive display of solidarity with values that are deeply held in most western nations.

Whether you think it is wise or not to gratuitously insult a religion, there can be no doubt the ideals of free speech permit this, and it is the right to speak freely without murderous intimidation that is being defended. If terrorists can prevent the exercise of free expression through murder, what other freedoms will be threatened?

So we come to the question of what happens next.

Can the West allow terrorists, homegrown or not, to have safe haven for training and for hatred? For this is now the challenge. Police actions in France and in other countries will not defeat homegrown terrorists, not so long as there is the magnet of a safe haven that is secure from western efforts to defeat them.

This is the effect of the huge swath of territory now controlled by ISIS. It is a terror state, or at least a proto-state. And is the magnet for hundreds of disaffected people from western nations who can now go to ISIS and be trained, armed and prepared to attack their home countries. We know that at least five New Zealanders have joined ISIS and apparently up to 200 Australians have done so. So long as ISIS exists, it will draw in jihadists who could all too easily pose a threat to their home countries. The existence of ISIS has also goaded Al Qaeda to try to outdo ISIS. In effect, if not intent, they are evil twins.

Of course removing ISIS is nowhere near a complete answer to defeating terrorism, but right now it is an essential element in curbing the scope of the terrorist scourge. So long as ISIS exists there will be a level of terrorist events that is much greater than it would otherwise be.

Is the current air campaign lead by the United States and France going to be enough to remove ISIS? It does not look likely in a credible timeframe. Once ISIS fighters learned to stay close to the towns and cities, they made the air campaign much less effective. The border with Turkey seems so porous that pretty much anyone who wants to enter ISIS can do so. This is why General Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint Chiefs, indicated that a ground campaign could be necessary to defeat ISIS.

So western leaders have some hard choices. They can continue with the existing air campaign. It will no doubt hurt ISIS, but it will not defeat ISIS. And not defeating ISIS will allow the safe haven to continue.

Does this mean that it is now necessary to step up the level of intervention, perhaps with Special Forces assisting the Iraqi Army to retake the territory that it lost six months ago? The Iraqi army will clearly have to work with Kurdish forces if they are to be effective, but I suspect that this is an essential ingredient in rebinding the Iraqi state in any event.

The failure of the Iraqi Army was bad enough, but the takeover of Syrian territory by ISIS poses a whole new order of difficulties.

To boil it down: If ISIS is defeated in Syria, who takes over?

The will be little western appetite in giving President Assad such a prize. Is there still a viable moderate Syrian opposition that could do so? They have also been routed by ISIS. So no easy solution there.

But this much is clear: So long as ISIS remain in control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, the risk of terrorism in western nations will be much greater than it would otherwise be.

After Paris is this a risk worth bearing? Do the 40 leaders who accompanied the million-plus French citizens in Paris have a responsibility to do more than march?

In my view they have the urgent need to ask themselves if they are prepared to allow ISIS to continue as a proto-state; a state which seems to have terrorism as core philosophical element of its national ethos.

Failing to grapple with ISIS will mean more incidents of terrorism. And that would be a failure of leadership.

Comments (25)

by mikesh on January 14, 2015

Perhaps terrorism directed at the West would stop if the West stopped interfering in Middle Eastern affairs. Is it really any of our business who rules Iraq and Syria? Perhaps we should let Middle Easterners fight it out amongst themselves and arrive at their own decisions.

by Wayne Mapp on January 14, 2015
Wayne Mapp


I might generally agree with you, but ISIS is already being used as a safe haven to train terrorists to attack other countries. That is why there is already UN resolutions against ISIS. And it is why there is already international military action against ISIS.

What I am suggesting is that the military action has to actually succeed. Otherwise it has limited effect, and may even make the situation worse by not actually defeating ISIS, but making them even more angry and dangerous (although the airstrikes did ensure the Peshmerga were able to hold out against ISIS in Kobane).

Prior to the 1990 Gulf War, General Colin Powell  had developed a military philosophy that if you were to use military power, it had to be sufficient to actually defeat the enemy, otherwise you might be better to leave them alone.

by Lee Churchman on January 14, 2015
Lee Churchman

Police actions in France and in other countries will not defeat homegrown terrorists, not so long as there is the magnet of a safe haven that is secure from western efforts to defeat them.

Untrue. We've been here before back in the 1970s. Urban guerrilla groups like the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Red Brigades had outside backing – in some cases in the Middle East and/or the Eastern bloc countries. Yet they all failed and most ended up in jail long before the end of the PLO or communism, because this kind of terrorism doesn't really work. All you end up doing is shooting a few people and creating sensational headlines. 30 years down the track there's probably a movie in it or some "alternative" T shirts. Treating it as a threat to western society is what the terrorists desperately want. Why give in to them?

Islamist terrorism is vastly overblown as a threat to the west. They've had one majorly successful attack on Western countries, which mainly succeeded because Americans refused to have proper airport security for domestic flights (I remember going through the US in the 90s and marvelling at the lack of checks).

Since then it's been small time stuff – largely indistinguishable from the gun-fuelled outrages that Americans regularly inflict on each other – mainly due to better policing and security.

Now you want western countries to expend billions of dollars on a war they've already lost once to combat a threat that is less risk to our lives than drunk driving. I thought conservatives were supposed to oppose vast state funded boondoggles, not agitate for them.


by Andrew P Nichols on January 14, 2015
Andrew P Nichols
After Charlie Hebdo: What happens next?

Je Suis Gaza? March anyone? Politicians linking hands at the front?

by Charlie on January 14, 2015

What will happen next?

Jews in France are considering their relocation options having witnessed the on-going failure of the government to protect them. The recent shootings are just the latest incidents in a long string of attacks against them going back years which the French government has failed to address. They will follow a lot of the wealthy elite who have already left to avoid Hollande's socialist taxation. Not well publicized here in NZ but also 'in play' is the recent expose of bias against right-of-centre political parties by French judges. This has shocked a lot of people. So France is a political and economic mess. Will this usher in Le Pen?

Right of centre political parties are making significant gains. Will we see a Conservative government in the UK being forced to form a coalition with UKIP? Opinion polls put them ahead of the Lib-Dem and Greens combined! I would expect similar things to happen in Germany.

Europe's political landscape is changing. In my opinion, for the better.






by Alex Coleman on January 14, 2015
Alex Coleman

Wayne. Interesting questions indeed.

I highly recommend the short book: "Terrorism, All that Matters" (by Andrew Silke of the University of East London), which breaks down some of the myths we hold about terrorist strategies and what works against them.


by Nick Gibbs on January 15, 2015
Nick Gibbs

At a guess, I think the West will fail to curb violent islam. Even if it is crushed in Syria, it will simply pop up again in Yeman, Afganistan... 

The political response in the West particularly places like France, which have large muslim populations, will be to see if terrorism can be managed. Both by increased police surveillance of potential terrorists, and appeasement, ie restricting the right to insult Islam.

by Alan Johnstone on January 15, 2015
Alan Johnstone

What happens next?

Probably nothing.We may blow up a few camels from 50,000 ft but that's about it.

Things like Paris or even 9/11 were a pain, but they don't present an existential threat to western states. Defeating ISIS on the ground (which is a pointless game of whackamole anyway) is simply too expensive to justify in terms of cash and political capital in the west. There is no public appetite for more war, the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts are still far too recent.

So, it's just a public march and a hashtag or two, nothing meaningful. It's almost certainly the correct thing to do anyway.



by Alan Johnstone on January 15, 2015
Alan Johnstone

"Right of centre political parties are making significant gains. Will we see a Conservative government in the UK being forced to form a coalition with UKIP? Opinion polls put them ahead of the Lib-Dem and Greens combined! "

No prospect of it, zero. FPTP is a brutal beast, with 17% of the vote they'll be lucky to take 3 seats. All it does is deliver a Labour government

by Tim Watkin on January 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Lee, your point about the scale of terrorism is interesting. It's tempting as Mike says to let well enough alone and certainly I'm a very reluctant combatant at any time. But Wayne makes a good point that leaving well enough alone when there's been a well-funded safe haven, almost a country, created to nurture a jihad-based caliphate with a mission of global violence, is a hard argument to make, especially in a globalised world.

But that's from the assumption that terrorism is a terrible evil and must be countered at every step. What you seem to be saying (and Nick, to some extent) is that the threat is relatively minor (compared to road accidents or cancer or climate change etc) and so we should focus on containment rather than eradication. Is that what you guys mean?

The risk is that like oxalis, if you don't keep pulling it out at the roots time and again, jihad terrorism will grow and grow and become a bigger threat. Perhaps it's only been "small stuff" because of the resources thrown at it.

It's hard to know the truth of that. There's a very good argument that the continual efforts to defeat it (from the war in Afghanistan to drones etc) have acted as a fertilizer. And another good argument that the evolution of Islam (hopefully away from the violent extremes) will play out as it will play out (insh'allah), whether Western nations throw bombs at it or not.

Nick, I agree that even if ISIS is defeated, the ideas will take another form in another place. But is that a reason not to tackle it wherever it emerges?


by mikesh on January 15, 2015

The point I was making was that Islamic terrorism has been provoked by Western interference in the Middle East since the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of WW1. A better way of dealing with such terrorism would be to get rid of the provocation. 

by KJT on January 15, 2015

After World war one the Western allies kept Germany in poverty and disarray.

The result, World War Two.

In WW2 Germany bombed the crap out of London. The result was to strengthen the resolve of the British to fight on.

After WW2 we had the Marshall plan. The result was peaceful allies from former enemies.

The USA, and the West, has bombed the crap out of Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries. When has it ever worked. Not to mention the removal of leaders who largely looked after their people, Libya, to be replaced with US puppets, Iran.

The result. Surprise! has been to stiffen the resolve of anti-Western "terrorism".

Drone strikes, carpet bombing, napalm, and Israeli attacks on Gaza, are equally terrorism. If you bomb my kids out of their schools and destroy my home, of course I will be prepared to fight back.

When the fuck will politicians learn the lesson.

The Marshall plan worked. Bombing civilians does not.

by KJT on January 15, 2015

The hypocrisy of New Zealand politicians, in the National party, is breathtaking.

After their underhanded attempts to restrict free speech in New Zealand. From the attacks on Mike Joy and Nicky Hagar, repressive spy laws and immunity from responsibility, of intelligence agencies, reminiscent of Stalin's Russia and Nazi Germany, to the blatant manipulation of the news media.

The scary part is that New Zealanders do not seem to mind.


by Wayne Mapp on January 15, 2015
Wayne Mapp


"reminiscent of Stalin's Russia and Nazi Germany"

You need to retain a sense of proportion. 

by Nick Gibbs on January 15, 2015
Nick Gibbs

Hi Tim,

Nick, I agree that even if ISIS is defeated, the ideas will take another form in another place. But is that a reason not to tackle it wherever it emerges?

From what Wayne writes I hear him implictly suggesting that boots on the ground in Syria is the next step. But I can't see that happening as the politics don't work (at least not until we have another event like 9/11). I believe that rather than tackle terrorism in the middle east politicians will look for an easier target, which is the more tolerant, open societies at home. Eg make insulting Islam a criminal offense, set aside some areas as Muslim governed enclaves. All done in the hope that this will satisfy muslim fundamentalist inclined towards violence.



by Wayne Mapp on January 15, 2015
Wayne Mapp


Also the Mashall Plan was implemented after the Nazis were defeated. If I follow your logic your approach would be to recognise and negotiate with ISIS. My view is that ISIS has to be defeated.

The "Marshall Plan" then kicks in, which is probably less about monetary aid and more about building institutions and good governance. Although the first iterations of the Iraqi state post Saddam did not work out. Perhaps as a result of ISIS the new Iraqi government might take more care to be inclusive when they regain control of Mosul and surrounding territory.

by Wayne Mapp on January 15, 2015
Wayne Mapp


I think Syria is really tough.

I see removing ISIS from Iraq as reasonably straight forward, with a relatively modest involvement of Special Forces supporting the Iraqi Army.

But with Syria? As I noted it is one thing to remove ISIS in Syria, but who takes over? Unless there is a credible answer to that it would unwise to act beyond the current remit. If it could be certain that the more moderate elements of the Syrian opposition could takeover that would be OK, but is that likely? A question yet to be answered.

by Nick Gibbs on January 15, 2015
Nick Gibbs

I'm not even sure removing ISIS from Iraq is straight forward. The collaspe of the Shia based army tells you they really don't want to fight the Sunnis on their own (sunni) turf. I don't think the govt in Bagdad will do much unless ISIS make a concerted push on the capital. Of course Iran will be in boots and all if that happens.

by Lee Churchman on January 15, 2015
Lee Churchman


The risk is that like oxalis, if you don't keep pulling it out at the roots time and again, jihad terrorism will grow and grow and become a bigger threat. Perhaps it's only been "small stuff" because of the resources thrown at it.

Well, the description of it as "jihad terrorism" is somewhat of a misnomer. Yes, it's practitioners and their "objective allies" like Anders Breivik claim that it is part of a war to convert the world to Islam, and on some level they probably believe that, but it's really just all talk, because deep down they know that can never happen. What might happen is that Arab Sunni Muslim countries fall under the rule of Islamist governments.

There are various means to that end, one of which is to goad the west into cracking down on Muslims in western countries in order to demonstrate to Muslims in the Middle East that they will never get a fair deal from Western democracies or under western style politics. Hence, an indigenous solution must be found, and secular Arabism having been discredited and fallen into stagnant tyranny, the Islamists are the only game in town.

The more obvious aim has been to goad the west into invading Muslim countries. That's what 9/11 was about. The idea was to create a situation similar to the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan or Vietnam, which would make it politically impossible for western militaries to project force into the Middle East. I guess it sort of worked up to a point. The real problem is that the vast majority of Arab Sunni Muslims outside of a few backwaters really don't want to live in the kind of puritanical, theocratic societies that the Islamists want to impose on them, any more than most Christians want to live in a society ruled by the sorts of Christian fundamentalists who think that dancing is sinful. 

The best thing to do is containment and wait for IS to collapse as it eventually will. The worst thing we can do is give IS legitimacy by giving it the holy war against the western invaders it, our far right, and the weapons manufacturers so dearly want.

by Tim Watkin on January 16, 2015
Tim Watkin

It's a good argument Lee, and you're right that we have to be careful not to fall for the sucker punch. But you've painted it in a purely political light and I still think the religious motivations are more than "just talk". While an entire Muslim world is of course an aspiration just like some Christians want to convert the whole world to a faith in Christ, faith still matters.

(Which raises the interesting question – do they really believe violence will win converts for Allah? Or just that the West's reaction will cause grief and therefore more converts? Because these days it's not like you can win converts via conquest, as the crusaders thought, is it? A grief-driven conversion programme is a pretty sorry affair. Christians, these days, try to 'win souls' by preaching on street corners or giving aid or helping the poor. There are the fundies who try to 'save souls' by bombing abortion clinics, I guess... just thinking out loud there...)

Aaaaanyway, the thing I was saying was that I think a caliphate (or several) based on sharia law and getting US troops away from the holy sites etc are as much religious goals as they are political one.

by Lee Churchman on January 16, 2015
Lee Churchman

Fair enough. If you're a theocrat, politics and religion aren't really distinct. My point was that I can't see how terrorist attacks against western targets are designed to further the long term aspiration of converting the world to Islam, whereas it's pretty easy to see how they further the short term goal of establishing Islamist governments in Arab countries. 

Nobody who says that jihadist terrorism is part of an attempt to Islamicise the world has given me a reasonable explanation of how that is supposed to work, or even how anyone would plan to Islamicise the world.

It's worth recalling that in one point in human history – just over 1000 years ago – Islamicising the world would have been the progressive thing to do.

by Lee Churchman on January 16, 2015
Lee Churchman

I see the voice of reason Gwynne Dyer made most of my points already, and better than I could (bleedin' professional writers and their polished prose...)


by Alex Coleman on January 16, 2015
Alex Coleman

That Dyer piece is good. It's frustrating how few pieces like that get written. The strategies of terrorists are not a mystery, but they are less widely known than various myths about terrorism.


I'm gonna recommend this book again to anyone who wants to learn more about it, and we need to, I think, if we want to make it less effective. You can get it as an ebook for under $15, it's a by a prof in the subject and is aimed at a general audience. It's not polemic, it's about what Terrorism is, and how it works, who does it etc. Busts important myths from all over the spectrum. 

in a similar vein, this piece is good on the recent attack, and makes the pont I was trying to make earlier about separating the symbolic and strategic aspects of twhat happened. It's natural, and good, to reaffirm our principles when they come under symbolic attack. But they weren't the real target.

'Terrorism' was once known, by its practitioners, as 'propaganda by the deed'. they aren't military attacks in the way we are tuned to think. It's a trap! :)



by Charlie on January 17, 2015

Allan: No prospect of it, zero. FPTP is a brutal beast, with 17% of the vote they'll be lucky to take 3 seats. All it does is deliver a Labour government

Which is why I said 'coalition'.

Not well understood here - UKIP is taking votes off both the Tories and Labour. Likely because the impact of uncontrolled immigration is impacting the working class as much as the rest.

From the Spectator:

My suspicion is that Ukip will win, despite the furious and concerted rubbishing of Mr Reckless by local Tories. And if they do, that will throw the next election wide open and you might expect Ukip to get rather more than the ‘one or two’ seats that both it and the Conservatives have hazarded it might secure. And the Ukip vote will gnaw into the Tory votes south of the Wash and Labour votes in the North.



by Ross on January 18, 2015

The terrorist attack had nothing to do with blasphemy or defaming a religious icon. It was simply a recruitment tool.


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