I sat Friday night in the dining room in front of my laptop, the TV in the next room flitting among experts and speculators about what happened in Paris, while a freshly made mincemeat pie and two loaves of pumpkin bread cooled on a nearby kitchen counter. The food is for a small, early-Thanksgiving celebration later Saturday before one of our two sons leaves next week for a winter’s worth of work in Montana. Our other son spent a week in Paris this summer and remarked as he watched the death count mount that it felt strange to see such terror unfold on streets he had walked, in neighborhoods he had traversed.
This is the odd part, this mix of the familiar and the mundane with events unfolding half a world away, a distance that in this era of instant communications really doesn’t mean much.
At this point not enough is known about what happened to define this particular trail of malice. The Islamic State went from applauding the attacks on Friday to claiming responsibility on Saturday, though the claim awaits verification. I’m willing to grant it to the terror group. Such inhumane viciousness and the insane self-destructive warping of a faith is how the group engages the world, and Friday’s carnage fits right in. Meanwhile, the civilized world reels, stunned and shocked.
How this will all play out is as uncertain as life itself. Social media is filled with posts from people praying for the dead and wounded, and for Paris and France, meant as expressions of empathy and support. But that also evidences our impotence at such times, reduced to offering prayers and good wishes as though they can purge the evil.
French President Francois Hollande has closed France’s borders, dispatched soldiers to patrol Paris and declared the attacks an act of war by the Islamic State. “France, because it was foully, disgracefully and violently attacked, will be unforgiving with the barbarians from Daesh,” Hollande said, referring to the group by another of its names. He pledged to act lawfully but with “all the necessary means, and on all terrains, inside and outside, in coordination with our allies, who are, themselves, targeted by this terrorist threat.”
Islamic State, meanwhile, described the attacks as the start of a storm. One of the suicide bombers reportedly was carrying a Syrian passport, which will ratchet up the debate over what to do with the millions of people who have fled the war zones of Syria and Iraq.
So what does this all mean? It affirms that the Islamic State philosophy, for lack of a better word, has gone international. Analysts zero in on how direct the connections might have been between the terrorists in Paris and string-pullers among the terror group’s higher-ups, which might matter for trying to disrupt future attacks.
Whether the connections are direct or merely a declaration of affinity, the madmen have spread like a world cancer. Two suicide bombs in Beirut that killed at least 43 people, including some Americans. Beheadings in Afghanistan. Bombings in Baghdad. Boko Haram in Nigeria. And enablers, both confirmed and alleged, popping up in places far from Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.
There are no easy solutions here. And it’s clear that the civilized world’s response to the Islamic State has been woefully inadequate. Against a backdrop of conflicting and competing national interests, a political solution seems far off, and a military solution likely will make things worse. And even then, it’s a safe bet that thousands of current terrorists in Syria and Iraq would, in the wake of a lost war, migrate elsewhere, adding to the internationalization of the group.
This is the state of the world on this autumn morning, falling as it does between our national day of giving thanks, and Halloween, a day when the evil is contrived, the blood is fake and the horror feigned.
Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.