The first shot of WWIII

I walked out of my hotel room this morning, past a newspaper stand and saw the shocking images of a flaming Russian warplane, shot down by Turkey no less. History tells us that it is the incidental – but strategic – assassination that causes war. I can only be grateful for Putin’s measured comments that it was a “stab in the back” and not “an act of war”.

Turkey is NATO, and so this is serious.

The truth is, I believe we have been engaged in a World War since 9/11. The events that have transpired in the Middle East since that fateful day have involved dozens of nations. The difference has been that the target was “terrorists”, powerful but stateless organisations, mostly the detritus of decades of geopolitical shenanigans. In my opinion the most recent Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns were mostly still about national interests and, to some extent, attempting to put the “hydra” back in the box.

Syria is very different.

In my (wholly non-expert) opinion, Syria is significant because it presses the boundary conditions between major powers that, until now, have approximately behaved like children trying to carve out their own corner of a messy and complex sandpit. What Syria – and ISIS – has done, is create extreme polarity between forces and when something like this most recent Russia-Turkey incident happens, it can be cataclysmic.

I am hoping good sense will prevail. I am hoping that this is more about a lack of judgment than a signal that the boundaries of power sharing and regional cooperation have been irrevocably drawn.

This would be a good time to say “sorry”.

Why I am not going to “Francophile” my Facebook status…

Over the past 24 hours or so I have watched the world “Francophile” itself in support and recognition of the awful events in Paris. Monuments have been illuminated in red-white-blue and Facebook profiles now consist of once familiar friends peering out between ribbons of colour.

Story Bridge in Brisbane, illuminated in solidarity.

The Story Bridge in Brisbane tonight, illuminated in solidarity.

I am very fond of France. I have many French friends, wonderful memories and few could argue against Paris being truly one of the iconic cities of the World. Indeed, Paris is one of those incredibly special cities that simply cannot belong to just France, it really belongs to people everywhere. Thus, when such unthinkable acts of terror are committed, they are committed against us all.

The problem is that to give credence to ISIS, to call the Paris atrocity an “act of war”, is to do nothing more than further entrench the notion of ISIS’ caliphate (statehood). Only one sovereign entity’s act of aggression against another can establish an “act of war”. By determining those innocent lives lost to be an “act of war”, we simply give ISIS what they want : legitimacy, and implied sovereignty.

Moreover, despite the awful events in Paris, there was no less tragic loss of life in Lebanon, in Kenya. But we did not stop and mourn for those lives because they did not fit within our mental “Champs- Élysées”, the perfect and idyllic boulevards of our western minds. We did not paint our faces those colours. We have not owned the fact that the turmoil and instability in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, is the direct result of decades of self-interested meddling, artificial borders drawn across tribal boundaries and covertly-financed (and not so covert) bipartisanship. We probably didn’t create it, but we made it worse. A lot worse. Those innocent people in Paris didn’t deserve to die – but it can also not be said that there is never a consequence to our actions. For example, it cannot be said that when our own youth flock to Syria to join the ranks of ISIS, that we were not responsible for youth disengagement, for unemployment, for lack of opportunity in our own countries.

We should be defiant, be we should also take responsibility.

This even extends to the idea that we would somehow attempt to “demean” our oppressors by calling them “Daesh“, like taunting a bully in the playground. It is a dangerous game. It is one thing to stoically go on with life and refuse to alter our daily lives in response to terrorism (correctly so), but it is another to mock one’s enemy.

The purpose of this commentary is not to attribute recognition to ISIS. Although, in my opinion, to pretend that it is an artifice is a huge mistake. Similarly, to reduce ISIS to merely a violent hybrid of religious fundamentalism and terrorism is also a mistake, a gross simplification. In the 21st century, we are being forced to reconsider what statehood means and how we respond to “acts of war”. It started with 9/11 and it is – tragically – far from over with Paris (#2).

This is why I will not change my Facebook profile to “tricolour”. Defiance and mourning for our freedom should be muted, and devoid of banners. Only terrorists wave banners, and I personally cannot bear to change the hue of my face again tomorrow.


The (now) iconic feature image by Jean Jullien…