‘The French 911’ – Three lessons for the future in Eurasia

An unnamed man brings his portable grand piano and plays John Lennon's "Imagine" by the Bataclan, a Parisian concert hall. (Image: John Walton / PA Wire)

An unnamed man brings his portable grand piano and plays John Lennon's "Imagine" by the Bataclan, a Parisian concert hall. (Image: John Walton / PA Wire) 

2015/11/15 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics

Less than 24 hours have elapsed from the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, and many questions about it remain unanswered, but commentators in many countries, including the post-Soviet states, are already calling it “the French 911,” thus drawing parallels with the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

This analogy with the September 11 attacks suggests three important lessons that event has offered.

  • First, there will be a diversion of attention from current conflicts to the one between civilization and barbarism, with widespread agreement that security issues must trump all others until that battle is somehow over.
  • Second, as a result, there will be created both within countries and among countries new classes of winners and losers, with unexpected alliances being formed and policies changed, all of which will appear to mark a permanent sea change in the domestic politics and world order that existed before yesterday.
  • And third, both of these changes will attenuate with time, some very quickly and others more slowly, with old divisions again both within and among these countries and the world re-emerging sometimes in heightened form precisely because these divisions will have been submerged and ignored for a time.

Below is a list of the some of the most obvious specific lessons each of these three more general ones provide for Eurasia:

New Priorities and New Alliances

  1. Vladimir Putin will certainly take the lead in insisting that the world must focus all its energies on fighting terrorism and thus overcome divisions on “lesser” issues like the Russian invasion of Ukraine and use of force more generally. Indeed, the Kremlin leader will insist in the coming days that his approach based on the use of force is more promising than any other.
  2. Authoritarian regimes, including Putin’s, will argue that the terrorist threat is so great that they are justified in taking “unprecedented” measures to combat it and that other countries should accept that instead of criticizing them for violations of human rights and other thuggish behavior.
  3. These two things in turn will divide current alliances in Eurasia and the West, leading to the formation of new alliances based predicated on “a new war on terror.” These alliances will cut across existing ones, weakening some of them to the benefit of some but not to that of all.

New Winners and New Losers

  1. Ukraine will obviously be the big loser in the short term because this terrorist attack and “a new war on terrorism” that is likely to follow will ensure that there will be less attention devoted to Russian aggression there and Ukraine’s problems and less willingness to oppose the new “ally” in this war, the Russian Federation.
  2. When there is a terrorist attack, many will rally to the banner of those who insist that the only way to combat it is to use massive force. Putin’s use of force at home and abroad and that of other authoritarian regimes in Eurasia and elsewhere will thus gain them support.
  3. Because many are blaming France’s traditional policy of tolerance and the influx of Muslim migrants as having created the conditions for this terrorist outrage, there will be a further swing in public opinion against migration and for a tighter and more nativist approach in many countries. That will lead to increased border controls, more xenophobia, and fewer jobs for those coming in. In the case of the post-Soviet space, that will leave those countries which rely on transfer payments from their gastarbeiters in Russia – Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in particular – in a far worse position.

The Attenuation of Each over Time

  1. Each of these developments will look like a permanent change to many, but history suggests that all the problems that these countries have now have somehow been submerged in a common struggle will more or less quickly reemerge. The Ukrainian crisis will not disappear but rather reemerge with new force but in possibly new forms as Moscow, Kyiv and the West jockey for positions.
  2. The reliance on force alone, always the first choice of officials and populations in response to such attacks, will quickly backfire. Countries without democratic forms of governance will face more radical challenges at home. Indeed, their very reliance on force will make them into seedbeds of radicalism. Ultimately, an ideological challenge is defeated only by another more attractive ideology. And it is going to be hard to find and even harder to maintain common ground between authoritarian regimes and democratic ones, however much short-term perspective and “realist” arguments suggest otherwise.
  3. Moreover and most disturbing, this “French 911” is unlikely to be the last in the current age of terrorism; and future terrorist incidents including quite possibly in Eurasia are likely to lead to further rearrangements of the international system.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Nowhere Girl

    I just wanted to share my thoughts on exactly this topic with the Friends of Ukraine network, but it turned out to be technically impossible. I don’t have a facebook account and the Google form option turned out not to be an option as well – as a “technologically backward person” I’m unable to figure out how these forms work, especially how and WHEN they are sent. So I’ll write it here and I hope it will be read.
    Putin is now in a better position to suggest a joint European effort to destroy the Islamic State, under Russian leadership of course. However, his actions in Syria so far suggest that he is mostly interested in cementing Assad’s rule, not fighting terrorism. Europe must not fall for his words. My suggestion is to press on democratic European governments, to tell them that we expect a different reaction: such as EU cooperation with Russia under the condition that Russia reverses reversible damage done in Ukraine. We should equip them with material proving Russian military involvement in the war in Donbas. Basically my idea is to prevent European politicians from selling Ukraine for peace in Europe.
    Another thought, suggested by a Polish expert (so I’ll mostly be paraphrasing what she said): if Europe actively fights ISIS, it may strengthen their agenda, support their view that Islam is under attack by European infidels. Therefore muslim countries are in a far better position to fight ISIS. I certainly do believe that moderate and tolerant Islam is possible (anyway, Islam is 600 years younger than Christianity – just think what did Christian Europe do 600 years ago) – it already exists, even if it isn’t the mainstream view of muslim societies. Perhaps the Tatars, with their Turkish contacts, could start a debate on this topic…

  • Turtler

    I’d like to add in another lesson.

    4. That there are threats that go well above and beyond even Putin’s regime. Sad as it is. Ukraine and Georgia and Moldova and the others have their priority threat, but half the reason it is worth fighting him in the first place is because of what is at stake. Stakes that other murderers would be happy to threaten.