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IS will be defeated, but it may be a long and drawn-out conflict

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 23/03/2016

We in Northern Ireland, having come through nigh on 30 years of terrorism, can empathise with the people of Brussels today as they begin to come to terms with the horrors visited on them yesterday by Islamic State
We in Northern Ireland, having come through nigh on 30 years of terrorism, can empathise with the people of Brussels today as they begin to come to terms with the horrors visited on them yesterday by Islamic State

We in Northern Ireland, having come through nigh on 30 years of terrorism, can empathise with the people of Brussels today as they begin to come to terms with the horrors visited on them yesterday by Islamic State.

With a death toll of 34 and scores more injured, it is another massacre of the innocent by a nihilistic organisation with the seemingly singular ambition of destroying everything that western society holds dear.

We know the terror those citizens felt when the bombs went off in the airport and the Metro. We endured no-warning attacks many times, fled in terror from the scenes of bombs or gun attacks and wondered when it would ever end. Our only advice, based on our experiences, is that, ultimately, evil will be defeated - but it could be a long, drawn-out conflict.

The people of Brussels are asking the same questions today as we often asked. How did the State, with all its security and intelligence apparatus, find itself unable to defend its people against small terrorist cells?

This was a city and a country on high alert, yet terrorists set off three bombs. But IS has a more fearsome fanaticism than even we faced. How do you defend against terrorists who hold no more regard for their own lives than they do for their targets? They are prepared to strap explosives to themselves and become human bombs, if that is what is required.

It is a form of warfare for which modern democratic societies are ill-prepared and even ill-equipped to deal with. IS is a body that cannot be reasoned with. It doesn't seek negotiation or recognition of any legitimacy in its actions. It simply wants to annihilate those it sees as its enemies.

There does seem to be an intelligence failure on the part of the Belgian authorities. Given that radicalisation of young Muslims is a recognised problem in the country, it seems strange that those most likely to pose a risk have not been under more intense surveillance. There inevitably will be a debate within Europe now on just how far governments, police and intelligence services can dilute civil liberties in pursuit of information on suspected terrorists. There will be calls for greater powers to scrutinise, even intercept, electronic mail and telephone calls, but this is an issue requiring very careful consideration before any decisions are made.

The liberties people throughout Europe and the western world enjoy have been hard won and are the manifestation of civilised societies. To begin to erode them, even for valid reasons, would be to begin to create the sort of totalitarian society IS rejoices in.

We also have to remember that the attacks on Brussels, just like those in Paris last year, have their genesis in what is happening in places like Syria and Iraq.

The West must accept its military adventurism in Iraq in particular has unintentionally helped create a monster now threatening the lives of people far from the fields of conflict.

Belfast Telegraph

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