THE CIVIL WAR IN SYRIA –THE WEST FACES A THREE-HEADED MONSTER

Boston Globe on November 23, 2015, published a commentary by Niall Ferguson. He is professor of history at Harvard University, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford, and the author of “Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist.’’ Well known from BBC, for which he has produced several TV series, he is a leading scholar in the field of civilizational studies. Excerpts below:

“The terrible events in Paris” were a “setback,” declared a haggard and at times wild-eyed President Obama in a press conference that was painful to watch.

The world faces three distinct threats: an epidemic of jihadist violence, most of it in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia; uncontrolled mass migration from these places to Europe; and the emergence of a “fifth column” of Islamic extremists within nearly all Western societies, including the United States.

The jihadist epidemic is by no means confined to Syria. Last year alone, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, 32,658 people were killed by terrorism, compared to 18,111 in 2013. The two most deadly terrorist groups were Boko Haram and the Islamic State, which together were responsible for half of the fatalities. Nearly four in five attacks occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria. But the plague of jihad extends as far as the Malian capital Bamako, where Islamist gunmen [recently] slaughtered hotel guests.

There is clearly an urgent need to end the civil war in Syria. But let’s not kid ourselves. Even if President Obama recalled David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal to run a counterinsurgency campaign against the Islamic State similar to the one they ran against Al Qaeda in Iraq, the jihadist epidemic would still infect a dozen other countries.

Threat number two is a wave of mass migration to Europe that has been triggered by the Syrian crisis, but is by no means exclusively Syrian or even Middle Eastern. Statistics on the “country of origin” of asylum seekers in Germany show that they come not only from Syria but also from Albania, Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia, and Eritrea.

At present, continental Europe has almost no way of controlling this influx, which grows larger with every passing month. Although the German government has now restored the Dublin regulation — which stipulates that asylum seekers can claim asylum only in the member state in which they entered the EU — in practice the entire apparatus for assessing applications has collapsed, as has the hotly contested scheme to redistribute asylum seekers between countries.

Even if every single one of the newcomers was an angel in human form, this would be a disastrous state of affairs, not least because continental labor markets are notoriously bad at integrating foreign-born workers.

The third threat is posed by a fifth column within Western societies of young Muslims or converts to Islam who join or at least sympathize with groups like the Islamic State. The overwhelming majority of these people are not refugees from Syria or anywhere else. Many are the children or grandchildren of an earlier wave of economic immigrants from former colonies. The biographies of the Paris terrorists tell the story.

What links the three threats together is the fact that at least six of the Paris terrorists spent time in Syria; and at least two of them were able to use the refugee route through Greece to return to France undetected. But that does not mean that the Syrian war or the immigration crisis were necessary for the Paris attacks to happen. Young Muslims are getting radicalized all over the Western world without going anywhere near Syria.

The ancient Greeks believed that the gates of Hades were guarded by a monstrous three-headed dog. Like Cerberus, the monster we confront today has three heads: rampant jihadism, uncontrolled mass migration, and homegrown extremists. To defeat it, we shall need to keep our own heads very clear indeed.

Comment: If the West had dealt decisively with jihadism in Syria to stop the civil war it would have prevented at least part of the mass migration to Europe. Had there been no civil war in Syria this would have meant less homegrown terrorists, returnees from the civil war in the former French colony. Failure to integrate refugees in Europe is one of the main reasons for jihadist strikes like those in Paris. The European Union ought also to have improved relations with Turkey long ago.

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