No wonder the forum was dominated by pressing security questions pertaining to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Paris attacks have undoubtedly shaken the West. True, it is not the first attack in Europe or Paris in recent years but the simple scale and randomness of the victims have somewhat made the Paris attacks Europe’s 9/11.

The small number of people and resources needed to execute the Paris attacks suggests we may see more of such attacks in the future. Needless to say, we are genuinely concerned about the potential of new attacks. Former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Gen. John Allen noted he is concerned about incoherence among allies fighting against ISIL. Indeed, experts warn the lack of effective and timely coordination may become a serious liability in the fight against ISIL.

On the other hand, North American Aerospace Defense Commander Adm. Bill Gortney predicted ISIL would take its war to the air. Hence, we might see air travel become more problematic and the airline industry introducing new security measures. The attack on a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula has demonstrated that the threat is real.

There was unanimity among speakers that the fight against ISIL cannot and should not be limited to military means. ISIL must be defeated ideologically as well. In this respect responsibility largely rests with Muslims themselves. Muslim scholars, preachers, universities must denounce and delegitimize Salafism and ISIL in particular. Sunni Islam needs to confront this menace.

Given the intense securitization of the political climate, many Muslims are likely to find themselves living in an increasingly discriminatory world. European Muslims are especially vulnerable. If ISIL attacks in Europe increase, social cohesion and tolerance may break in many European societies. We are already seeing signs of such an approach in the US where the debate is more intense due to the primaries in each political party.

Europe is finally realizing that its relative peace and stability have come to an end. European living standards can only be sustained if defense budgets increase and there is more investment in intelligence and anti-terrorism tools. The world has become more condensed and interdependent. Europe is not immune from that. The Syrian crisis has literally brought terrorism into the heart of Europe. Unless and until there is a political settlement in Syria it is unlikely that ISIL will be diminished. It might be degraded and militarily suppressed, but if there is no proper governance order replacing it, ISIL or a version of ISIL might come back.

ISIL and similar Salafist organizations constitute a serious threat to global security. The invasion of Iraq, which undoubtedly is the biggest US foreign policy blunder, not only tore Iraq and Syria apart but also produced byproducts such as ISIL. All of us are paying a very high price because of that irresponsible decision which has traumatized the region. The 2015 Halifax International Security Forum offered an important forum where these pressing issues were debated and discussed by a multitude of actors. Let us hope we will have a calmer and more stable security environment next year in Halifax.


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