Wesley Wark is a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.
The terrible slaughter by Islamic State terrorists in Paris on the evening of Nov. 13 has been widely seen as something new. Commentators have linked it with a string of recent attacks, including alleged IS responsibility for the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai peninsula in Egypt and mass-casualty bombings in Hezbollah-held suburbs of Beirut. But it would be wrong to assume that we are witnessing some fundamental shift of strategy by the Islamic State. What the events in Paris have demonstrated is something we should long have appreciated.
The Islamic State is committed to a two-front war, and this is something that distinguishes its character from the terrorist menace that preceded it – the now mostly vanquished al-Qaeda. That war will be fought with equal brutality, barbarism if you like, both against the enemies of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and against Western states and societies that dare to oppose its apocalyptic dreams of religious empire and the subjugation of unbelievers. No distinction is to be made between civilians and combatants. All are enemies.
France is at the top of the list of external enemies, for reasons that the Islamic State's communiqué claiming responsibility for the attacks, issued on the morning after the attacks, made abundantly clear. France has launched air attacks against the Islamic State, France has made war against its own Muslim population, France represents a "perverted culture" where people can enjoy outdoor cafés, restaurants and concert halls. Paris is described in the communiqué as "the capital of prostitution and obscenity, the carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe." The communiqué ends by stating, "This attack is the first of the storm." The Paris attacks are neither the first nor, unhappily, likely to be the last that we will be forced to witness.
Why does a two-front war matter to Islamic State? It is not because its leaders believe they are losing the war in Syria and Iraq – far from it. They might lose territory, they might suffer losses from coalition air attacks, but they cannot lose, in their minds, a God-given war. Attacks that strike terror into Western societies, the so-called crusader nations, are the other front in the Islamic State's war. The Islamic State conducts them, tries to inspire and orchestrate such attacks, because they truly believe that through terrorist acts, weak and corrupt Western societies can be brought down and forced to disengage from the fight against the Islamic State.
What the Paris attacks represent is one successful strike in a campaign announced over a year ago by the IS media spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. His chilling exhortation to IS supporters everywhere is something we need to pay attention to:
"If you can kill a disbelieving American or European especially the spiteful and filthy French or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah and kill him in any manner or way however it may be."
The response to an Islamic State two-front war has to be a two-front war in return. There is no option but a sustained military effort to destroy the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. France will expect its allies, including Canada, to assist it in a renewed campaign, with the target being an assault from the air and on land against Islamic State's headquarters in Raqqa in northern Syria. The new Liberal government should rethink its desire to withdraw from the coalition bombing campaign. It's an unsustainable decision in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
The other (home) front will involve an intelligence-led war against anyone trying to fulfill IS's campaign by conducting terror strikes in the West. This will involve a multipronged effort to prevent the creation of jihadis within, to prevent their joining the foreign fighter caravan, to prevent them, should they slip away, from reaching their destinations in Syria and Iraq, and to prevent them doing harm should they return. This preventative effort tragically failed the French, for reasons that we shall eventually learn. But all Western states will have to redouble their efforts, within the rule of law, after Nov. 13, 2015. That is what we all owe the slaughtered of Paris.