Column: In the aftermath of Paris, there must be unity

Joel and Sarah Quie carry American and French flags as they walk during a march in Minneapolis, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, to show solidarity with France after the deadly attacks in Paris on Friday. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)

On Friday evening, a series of deadly attacks took place throughout Paris. Violence erupted at restaurants, at a soccer match between France and Germany and a concert hall where an American band was performing. The massacre left 129 dead and about 352 wounded. The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the carnage.

The devastation of these attacks is unquestionable. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends were brutally murdered, leaving voids in hearts the world over. But perhaps the saddest truth is that despite the shock of the attacks, it seems that nobody is truly surprised by these random acts of violence. Perhaps it’s because they don’t appear to be random anymore. Terrorist massacres have become all too commonplace as extremist ideologies infect vulnerable minds to carry out such pathetic brutality. 

In the wake of this cowardice, France and the rest of NATO are left with a responsibility for retaliation. But how does one fight a faceless enemy? Bombing raids have left scores of ISIS militants dead, with the death of Mohammed Emwazi (the most wanted executioner of ISIS, known as “Jihadi John”) being a recent, notable casualty. But these bombings aren’t enough anymore. ISIS is a multi-headed snake: sever one head and another more vicious one will take its place. It’s time to take the threat of the Islamic State seriously and confront it directly, or it will continue to terrorize the West.

While direct military action against ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria is to be expected, I’m afraid it won’t be enough to truly curb this threat. The U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has demonstrated the efficacy of such efforts to be questionable at best and an impetus for the growth of such extremist groups at worst. No, the solution to this threat is not just a military one.

Islam itself lies at a precipice, with conflict between Sunni and Shia interests as well as the reconciliation of fervent anti-Western ideologies and ultraconservative Wahhabi views with modernity. The millions of nonviolent Muslims who are enraged by the inhumane acts carried out by extremists must quell this volatile attempt at equilibrium from within. Their scattered calls for peace must amalgamate into a unified effort that will speak louder than the gunfire and bombs of their hateful counterparts.

A peaceful approach may be the only way to formulate any sort of meaningful end to the chaos, as violence only serves to breed even greater violence. 

The West must accommodate these peaceful Muslims and take the effort to distinguish between the friendly and the fanatical. Obviously, this is no simple task, and the idea of acceptance may very well have gone up in smoke in the minds of many in the wake of these attacks.

Undoubtedly, the burgeoning Syrian refugee crisis strains Western-Muslim relations even further. Still, Western nations must show they can rise above the hatred of these Islamic radicals and show compassion towards the afflicted. 

This infectious xenophobia has even found its way into Storrs, where UConn junior Mahmoud Hashem’s dorm room nametag was vandalized with the words “Mahmoud killed Paris” scrawled on it. It’s important to remember that this is the goal of the radicals—to breed hatred that alienates all Muslims. Every hateful crime or bigoted remark towards innocent Muslims deepens the wounds of those bombs and bullets in Paris.

Stopping ISIS requires uncompromising resolve on many fronts. Above all, it requires unity. There must be a unified military effort to destroy the military centers and breeding grounds of the Islamic State to curb its ability to organize and carry out these atrocities.

There must be unity within Islam itself to distance peaceful Muslims from those who would harm innocents and propagate hatred. Perhaps most importantly, there must be unity amongst the people of the West to show that they can rise above hatred and despair, even in the face of such unimaginable horror.


Vinay Maliakal is associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at vinay.maliakal@uconn.edu.