FROM the bloodstained streets of central Paris, the reverberations from the most murderous terrorist assault on French soil and the worst in Europe for a decade have spread fast.
This slaughter by Islamic terrorists is universally seen as a direct attack not only on the editor and staff of a magazine but on democracy itself and the right of free speech unfettered by fear of murderous assault.
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It is by no means the first such attack. It is the latest in a series of outrages by Islamic extremists. So far the response has been to treat these attacks as separate, isolated incidents; soon pushed from the forefront of attention once arrests have been made and security levels reduced.
This misses the bigger picture of the deadly threat that Islamic fundamentalism poses for the West, both in terms of the danger to human life and to the exercise of basic freedoms and the rule of law. The horror of this week’s slaughter has at least brought a shattering clarity to the aims and purposes of the Islamic terrorists. And it is a moment of clarity that should guide us in our response.
The aim goes further than the intimidation of western institutions, and inhibiting newspapers and publications from expressing views deemed to criticise or denigrate their faith. It is to foment a religious war between Islam and the West.
To that end, any reaction which polarises opinion – both within the Muslim community and between Muslims and non-believers – exactly serves their purpose.
If they are able to provoke violent retaliation of the type that drives moderate Muslim opinion to the extremes, all the better for terrorists.
Therefore, we need to be mindful, in our reaction to events such as those in Paris this week, of the message being sent to ordinary Muslims in our midst. The vast majority live amicably with the institutions and culture of the West and respect the values of tolerance and freedom that enable them to make a constructive contribution to our way of life. Our response should not be directed against them but against violent Islamic fundamentalism.
We need constantly to have that distinction in our minds as we wrestle with the dilemmas posed by Islamic terrorism, wherever and whenever it appears.
It has little to lose and everything to gain from actions that provoke the very alienation and divisions that serve their macabre and malevolent purpose.
And that, of necessity, requires action on a range of fronts; firmer border controls, tighter surveillance of suspects, more robust procedure for the imprisonment of those found guilty of terrorism, and greater co-ordination between cross-border police forces.
Arguably as important as all of these is an intensifying programme of education in schools on the dangers of poisonous religious extremism.
If we fail in these efforts, the butchers of Paris will have won.
Pouring oil on troubled waters
Far from the plunge in the price of oil throwing a blanket over divisions between Nationalists and Unionists it has fired them up, judging by the latest exchanges. The near halving of the price in five months to barely $50 this week has triggered Labour accusations of inaction on the part of the SNP while the SNP in turn has accused the Treasury of dragging its feet in introducing measures to aid new exploration projects.
The threat to the North Sea oil industry is formidable. As many as 15,750 job could lost in Scotland – equivalent, says Labour, to the closure of Ravenscraig. Both the speed and the scale of the oil price collapse has stunned markets, the industry and politicians. Everyone recognised that commodity prices are volatile. But the fall has caught both the UK and Holyrood administrations on the hop.
Adjusting policy in the face of such violent and unpredictable swings is hazardous and some hesitancy should be allowed for, not least given the possibility of a rebound in the coming months.
That said, the Scottish Government’s response now seems to be gathering pace, with a report calling for urgent reform of the North Sea tax regime. Much of this makes sense. The three key proposals are: an investment allowance to provide support for fields that incur higher costs; a phased reversal of the increase in the Supplementary Charge; and an exploration tax credit to help sustain future production.
All this would still leave Westminster with a shortfall in oil tax revenues for the foreseeable future. But in the national interest all political parties have to put politics aside and co-operate on protecting a key Scottish industry.
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