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A vigil in Prague for Paris on Saturday. (Photo: Bianca Dagheti/flickr/cc)

After Paris Attacks, Critics Warn Against 'Wars of Vengeance'

Meanwhile, human rights advocates predict backlash against refugees

Deirdre Fulton

As details trickled out about Friday's deadly attacks in and around Paris, observers urged world leaders to avoid knee-jerk responses both at home and abroad.

"The true test for France is how they respond to the terror attacks in the long-game—that’s the king in all this," said analyst and former U.S. Foreign Service employee Peter Van Buren in an op-ed Sunday. "America failed this test post-9/11; yet it does not sound like France understands anything more than America. 'We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,' French president [François] Hollande said outside the Bataclan concert hall, scene of the most bloodshed."

Indeed, beating the drum for "all-out war" would not be strategically sound, critics cautioned in the wake of the attacks.

ISIS leadership "is hoping to precipitate a Western ground offensive in Syria that would be as disastrous as the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the very invasion that fed what would become the 'Islamic State'," wrote author and academic Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor of Middle East studies the Paris School of International Affairs, at Politico on Sunday. 

And there's little reason to think France and its Western allies won't take the bait. The Intercept's Murtaza Hussain similarly warned: "I'm pretty much certain whatever is done in response to this attack will end up further exacerbating terrorism. This is the post-9/11 model."

"But," Phyllis Bennis wrote for The Nation, "wars of vengeance won’t work for France anymore than they worked for the United States."

"Terrorism survives wars; people don’t," she said. "We saw the proof of that again last night in Paris, and we saw it the day before in Beirut. We were hearing sounds of victory from US war-makers. The Obama strategy was working, they said... Yet the war—a new version of that same 'global war on terror'—is still being waged, and clearly it still isn’t working. Because you can’t bomb terrorism—you can only bomb people. You can bomb cities. Sometimes you might kill a terrorist—but that doesn’t end terrorism; it only encourages more of it."

As of Sunday evening—just hours after it was launched—a petition rejecting "any attempt by political leaders to exploit tragic events to promote more war" had already garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

'Paris Changes Everything'

Immediately in the wake of Friday's attacks, as Hollande declared a state of emergency, re-established external border controls, and mobilized the French military, fears emerged of a backlash against refugees in Europe.

"The recent violence will help justify the policies of those who most fear the influx of refugees," warned Cassie Werber at Quartz.

Indeed, Agence France-Presse reported Sunday that the French police's discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one attacker in particular "has sparked concerns that some of the assailants might have entered Europe as part of the huge influx of people fleeing Syria's civil war."

Poland's new European Affairs Minister Konrad Szymanski said that the attacks ruled out the chances of taking in refugees under the scheme to help ease the burden on EU frontier states Italy and Greece. And Bavarian finance minister Markus Soeder told Welt am Sonntag newspaper: "The days of uncontrolled immigration and illegal entry can't continue just like that. Paris changes everything." 

However, Werber continued: "This stirring-up of anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim, feeling is no accident. It is, in fact, one of the expressed aims of the groups that organize attacks on Western targets."

Guardian migration correspondent Patrick Kingsley agreed, questioning the narrative of the Syrian passport and noting it strange "that a bomber would remember to bring his passport on a mission, particularly one who does not intend to return alive."

"One theory is that ISIS hopes to turn Europe against Syrian refugees," Kingsley wrote. "This would reinforce the idea of unresolvable divisions between east and west, and Christians and Muslims, and so persuade Syrians that Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate is their best hope of protection. 'You know what pissed off Islamist extremists the most about Europe?' summarised Iyad El-Baghdadi, an activist and jihadi-watcher, on Twitter. 'It was watching their very humane, moral response to the refugee crisis'."

Because, as regional expert Aaron Y. Zelin wrote at his blog, Jihadology, on Saturday:

The reality is, The Islamic State (IS) loathes that individuals are fleeing Syria for Europe. It undermines IS’ message that its self-styled Caliphate is a refuge, because if it was, individuals would actually go there in droves since it’s so close instead of 100,000s of people risking their lives through arduous journeys that could lead to death en route to Europe.

In fact, Margaret Corvid pointed out at The Establishment: "Closing the borders as the terrifying war continues in Syria will not punish the terrorists; it will only cause more needless suffering and death, including to innocent children."

'Desperate to Shift Blame'

Meanwhile, at The Intercept, journalist Glenn Greenwald explores how U.S. "'officials' and their various media allies" are exploiting the Paris attacks in an attempt to vilify NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—and in turn shift the focus from their own failures. 

After acknowledging how absurd it would be to believe that "The Terrorists only learned to avoid telephones and use encryption once Snowden came along," Greenwald argues that such claims have a larger goal in mind.

The perpetrators of these accusations, he concludes, "are desperate to shift blame away from themselves for ISIS and terror attacks and onto Edward Snowden, journalism about surveillance, or encryption-providing tech companies," Greenwald said. "Wouldn’t you if you were them? Imagine simultaneously devoting all your efforts to depicting ISIS as the Greatest and Most Evil Threat Ever, while knowing the vital role you played in its genesis and growth."

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