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Military action won't be deterrent to ISIS

I was stunned when I saw the news. Paris had been the target of a terrorist attack, not just the work of a single suicide bomber, but a coordinated, bloody attack on a half-dozen targets: a concert hall, outside the national stadium and four other popular locations. More than 100 people died in these attacks; the bloodiest in France since the end of World War II.

These murders are nothing like the shootings at Charli Hebdo and a kosher market earlier this year. In those cases, the attackers had some rationale, however perverted, behind their attacks. We could comprehend their thoughts, even as we rejected them as outside the bounds of civilized behavior. But last Friday's massacre lacks even the tenuous, tortured logic that gave rise to last January's shootings. These suicide attacks were nothing other than acts of terrorism. They were not retaliation for French military actions in the Middle East, nor were these attacks a surrogate for attacking America. I think that ISIS wanted to use these actions to draw radicals in the Muslim world to their crazy cause, to show that they are more extreme than Al Qaeda. No matter how barbaric we think these attacks were, we can't effectively respond to them without knowing both how and why they were done.

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If 11/13 will come to be known as the French 9/11, then Europe and the United States need to think very carefully indeed how to respond to these attacks. The first thing we absolutely must recognize is that the perpetrators want the West to react with force; the greater the better. ISIS or Al Qaeda will be quick to use photos of American — or French or German or Russian — bombers having leveled some building in Syria or Iraq as recruitment tools. It is all but certain there will be some military response to Friday's attacks, but they must not be seen as revenge or punishment by the rest of the world, and especially not in Muslim countries. The way we counter these attacks will almost surely include a military component, but it would be foolish to think that military action will act as a deterrent.

If you believe that heaven awaits you for blowing yourself up in order to murder hundreds of non-believers, the threat of certain death in battle against infidels isn't likely to be of great concern. More to the point, it is just not possible to eradicate an idea by force alone. Nor will it be possible for American troops to prosecute a war against ISIS. When the so-called caliphate faces organized military opposition, it must come primarily from the Gulf states, supported by European and American technology. The West has great interest in eliminating the threat ISIS poses, but it's still up to the Gulf states and Iran to take the fight to the caliphate.

The Islamic world has to engage ISIS in another way: It must win the war of ideas by denouncing ISIS's perverted, medieval interpretation of Islam, but even that won't be enough. They must also improve their human rights records so that ISIL is seen for what it is and not as an attractive alternative.

ISIS must also understand that America is unified in its resolve and commitment to put an end to their efforts to destabilize the Middle East and to threaten Europe or the United States. And America must be unified. It used to be that politics ended at the water's edge. If anyone wants to take back our country, that would be a good place to take it back to.

And unrelated to the Middle East, to politics, or to anything else, for that matter, let me take this opportunity to wish you and your family a happy, peaceful Thanksgiving.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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