The first is from one of the few good columnists left on the Daily Telegraph - Janet Daily. An ex-Marxist American of the 'centre-right', she always displays a deep poiltical understanding combined with admirable common sense. I hope you agree. Since her article garnered more than 2,000 comments, I guess some of you won't. Feel free to differ. This is a time for all shades of opinion. Or almost all, I guess.
My own view is that, absent an exit from the madness of the Middle East, what she recommends is the only sensible option available to the West. Which - for one thing - must reach an accommodation with Russia, regardless of Putin's objectives and the relentless anti-West propaganda of its government-controlled media. The US and the UK have certainly cosied up to worse regimes in the past.
The Paris terror attacks: The West is at war with a death cult – we must join together to stamp it out
In Islamist terrorism we face a violent and highly contagious madness that believes the killing of civilians is a moral act
There is no point now arguing about the historical or theological roots, about correct or incorrect interpretations of the Koran or even the social role of Islamic leadership. When the lucid try to impose logic on behaviour that is pathological, they will be driven into a dead end – or waste time coming to blows among themselves on matters that are no longer relevant.
What we are faced with is a virulent and highly contagious madness, a hysterical death cult which has, almost by accident, fallen on the fertile ground of global circumstances: chaos in the Middle East, confusion and lack of resolve in the West and the awakening of a ruthless, opportunistic power base in the East.
But there is no time any more for international recriminations or parochial introspection. The old enmities and suspicions – between the West and Russia, Turkey and the Kurds – are going to have to be put aside in the name of one unified, relentless effort to stamp out an epidemic of murderous lunacy. Civilians are not collateral damage in this campaign: their deaths are the whole point. This time there isn’t even the “logic” of the Charlie Hebdo attacks whose pretext was the blasphemous depiction of the Prophet. Just the slaughter of random innocents, many of whom may have been Muslims themselves, carried out for the sheer nihilistic thrill of it.
It is that thrill – the brief absolute power of anarchic terror – that is going to have to be forcibly suppressed with all the weapons at our disposal. Francois Holland declared that France would provide “a merciless response to [these] Isil barbarians”. But the question remains: how do you respond to unreason? All the things that make an enemy – however evil and malign – predictable, analysable, and intelligible are missing here. The actions make no sense in any terms that are within common understanding.
Europe will have, paradoxically, to be both more united and less convergent. If the Schengen agreement – the sacred principle of “open borders” – was already in question because of the flood of migrants from precisely the region which is spawning this movement, it must now be regarded as outrageously dangerous. The prospect of free, unchecked movement between EU countries was one of the great attractions of those thousands of people who arrived at the unpoliced external borders. Once having set foot on European soil it is possible to move from one end of the Schengen zone to another, to become effectively untraceable, seeking out the most favourable circumstances in any country at any moment.
It is an economic migrant’s dream, which may be no bad thing, but it is also an open field for terrorists – a thought which obviously occurred to Mr Hollande when, on Friday night, he closed the French borders, presumably indefinitely. The wire services are reporting as I write that a Syrian passport was found on the body of one of the terrorists. If this turns out to be true, it is going to raise fresh controversy about the EU policy on migration – even about the accommodation of Syrian refugees who had been considered one of the most unambiguously deserving categories of asylum-seekers in the current wave.
France and its attitude toward Islam are already being analysed and dissected for all they are worth. Is it the willingness of the country to become involved in action in the regions claimed by Isil that has incited this terrible vindictiveness? Or the enforced secularism of the society in which such a large Muslim minority lives in alienation from national civic norms?
Was it the French military intervention in Libya, or the banning of the burka that was responsible for this havoc? Maybe none – or all – of the above. But none of this speculation is to the point. France has the honourable and consistent foreign policy that it has. It is a proudly secular republic which made the decision to separate civil life from religious observance several centuries ago for what it believed then – and believes now – to be historically sound reasons.
And what is the alternative that is being demanded? Sharia law? The subjection of women? An end to liberal democracy? Are any of these things even within the bounds of consideration? What could be accomplished by national self-doubt or criticism at this point, when there is not even a reasonable basis for discussion with the enemy?
If there is any need to argue about these matters, it should come at some other time. This debate cannot be conducted at the point of a gun held by a madman. Whatever the attitudes of France’s authorities, whatever mistakes might have been made in the assimilation of North African or Middle Eastern minorities, the French people did not deserve this, just as Americans did not deserve 9/11.
It is wicked and irresponsible to suggest otherwise. The indiscriminate mass murder of civilians must put an end to that. The sane people of the world – even when their ultimate objectives differ or conflict – will need to join together now to stamp out, by whatever means are necessary, a threat to all varieties of civilised life.
The second article is by the controversial British historian, Niall Ferguson, writing in today's Times. It's of particular interest to those of us who wonder how great civilisations end. And how things will develop in the EU.
Readers of my Facebook comment of yesterday will know that I agree with Ferguson's views of the grandiloquent but empty, 'pious' responses of Hollande, Obama et al. Such words are cheap and pointless. Concerted action is necessary. And the fear of upsetting 'reasonable Muslims' must be given the weight it really deserves.
Like the Roman empire, Europe has let its defences crumble.
I am not going to repeat what you have already read or heard. I am not going to say that what happened in Paris on Friday night was unprecedented horror, for it was not. I am not going to say that the world stands with France, for it is a hollow phrase. Nor am I going to applaud François Hollande’s pledge of “pitiless” vengeance, for I do not believe it. I am, instead, going to tell you that this is exactly how civilisations fall.
Here is how Edward Gibbon described the Goths’ sack of Rome in August 410AD: “. . . In the hour of savage licence, when every passion was inflamed, and every restraint was removed . . . a cruel slaughter was made of the Romans; and . . . the streets of the city were filled with dead bodies . . . Whenever the Barbarians were provoked by opposition, they extended the promiscuous massacre to the feeble, the innocent, and the helpless. . .”
Now, does that not describe the scenes we witnessed in Paris on Friday night? True, Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788, represented Rome’s demise as a slow burn. Gibbon covered more than 1,400 years of history. The causes he identified ranged from the personality disorders of individual emperors to the power of the Praetorian Guard and the rise of Sassanid Persia. Decline shaded into fall, with monotheism acting as a kind of imperial dry rot.
For many years, more modern historians of “late antiquity” tended to agree with Gibbon about the gradual nature of the process. Indeed, some went further, arguing that “decline” was an anachronistic term, like the word “barbarian”. Far from declining and falling, they insisted, the Roman empire had imperceptibly merged with the Germanic tribes, producing a multicultural post-imperial idyll that deserved a more flattering label than “Dark Ages”. Recently, however, a new generation of historians has raised the possibility that the process of Roman decline was in fact sudden — and bloody — rather than smooth.
For Bryan Ward-Perkins, what happened was “violent seizure . . . by barbarian invaders”. The end of the Roman west, he writes in The Fall of Rome (2005), “witnessed horrors and dislocation of a kind I sincerely hope never to have to live through; and it destroyed a complex civilisation, throwing the inhabitants of the West back to a standard of living typical of prehistoric times”.
In five decades the population of Rome itself fell by three-quarters. Archaeological evidence from the late fifth century — inferior housing, more primitive pottery, fewer coins, smaller cattle — shows that the benign influence of Rome diminished rapidly in the rest of western Europe. “The end of civilisation”, in Ward-Perkins’s phrase, came within a single generation.
Peter Heather’s Fall of the Roman Empire emphasises the disastrous effects not just of mass migration but of organised violence: first the westward shift of the Huns of Central Asia and then the Germanic irruption into Roman territory. In his reading, the Visigoths who settled in Aquitaine and the Vandals who conquered Carthage were attracted to the Roman empire by its wealth, but were enabled to seize that wealth by the arms they acquired and the skills they learnt from the Romans themselves.
“For the adventurous,” writes Heather, “the Roman empire, while being a threat to their existence, also presented an unprecedented opportunity to prosper . . . Once the Huns had pushed large numbers of [alien groups] across the frontier, the Roman state became its own worst enemy. Its military power and financial sophistication both hastened the process whereby streams of incomers became coherent forces capable of carving out kingdoms from its own body politic.”
Uncannily similar processes are destroying the European Union today, though few of us want to recognise them for what they are. Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defences to crumble. As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its shopping malls and sports stadiums. At the same time it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith.
The distant shock to this weakened edifice has been the Syrian civil war, though it has been a catalyst as much as a direct cause for the great Völkerwanderung of 2015. As before, they have come from all over the imperial periphery — from North Africa, from the Levant, from south Asia — but this time they have come in their millions, not in mere tens of thousands.
To be sure, most have come hoping only for a better life. Things in their own countries have become just good enough economically for them to afford to leave and just bad enough politically for them to risk leaving. But they cannot stream northwards and westwards without some of that political malaise coming with them. As Gibbon saw, convinced monotheists pose a grave threat to a secular empire.
It is doubtless true to say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe are not violent. But it is also true that the majority hold views not easily reconciled with the principles of our liberal democracies, including our novel notions about sexual equality and tolerance not merely of religious diversity but of nearly all sexual proclivities. And it is thus remarkably easy for a violent minority to acquire their weapons and prepare their assaults on civilisation within these avowedly peace-loving communities.
I do not know enough about the fifth century to be able to quote Romans who described each new act of barbarism as unprecedented, even when it had happened multiple times before; or who issued pious calls for solidarity after the fall of Rome, even when standing together meant falling together; or who issued empty threats of pitiless revenge, even when all they intended to do was to strike a melodramatic posture.
I do know that 21st-century Europe has itself to blame for the mess it is now in. Surely nowhere in the world has devoted more resources to the study of history than modern Europe did. When I went up to Oxford more than 30 years ago, it was taken for granted that in the first term I would study Gibbon. It did no good. We learnt a lot of nonsense to the effect that nationalism was a bad thing, nation states worse and empires the worst things of all.
“Romans before the fall”, wrote Ward-Perkins, “were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.”
Poor, poor Paris. Killed by complacency.