Let me just say something straight out. ISIS/Daesh are a gang of murderous, vicious thugs. They are part of a network of religious cults that would put the Moonies, Scientology and Jim Jones in the shade. Their poisonous ideology is reminiscent of the Blut und Stahl mindset of Nazi Germany, where ideology overrode basic humanity, allowing all manner of atrocities to occur. It’s the worst, most hermetically sealed, conspiracy laden, violent, misogynistic, racist, anti-human worldview of our time. ISIS/Daesh must be defeated.
The question is, how to defeat them.
There appears to be a small number of widely-held views, depending on which side of the political spectrum you lie on, that I call “placebo solutions”. The aim seems to be to address the feelings of those who espouse them, without actually dealing with the real problem.
On the political right, you have the “they are all the same” placebo solution. Under this idea, all Muslims are considered to be potential (or actual) terrorists, particularly the hapless refugees who have left their homes in Syria and Iraq in search of an uncertain future in foreign states. Right wingers want them scrutinised, vetted, isolated and thrown back to their own countries. In those lands, they want to bomb them into oblivion. All this in spite of overwhelming evidence that most Muslims and refugees are peace-loving ordinary people. Irish people should be well familiar with this mindset, given how we were viewed with suspicion during the murderous IRA campaigns of the 1970s and 80s.
Not only are these just salves for right-wing anger, they have the side-effect of further marginalising Muslims and pushing unemployed youths into the arms of the terrorists. It also creates local, reactionary terrorism – vigilante gangs whose lack of forethought is matched by their violence.
On the political left, you have the view that this terrorism is solely the creation of the West and that military action is never appropriate. the more conspiratorially minded would suggest that ISIS/Daesh is a creation of the West. That, instead of going to war against ISIS/Daesh, we need to understand the causes, maybe even pander to their views as if they had an equal place at the ideological table. This is to discount the fact that Salafism is a pretty hard-boiled system of thought at this stage. It is far more than a response to victimisation. The main focus of ISIS/Daesh wrath has not really been Westerners, but other Muslim sects and local groups, such as Yazidis and Kurds, with no record of imperialism and domination. In fact, local civilians have been, by far, the greatest victims of their outrages, thus the refugee crisis.
When threatened with war, countries have no choice but to use whatever means are at their disposal to protect their citizens and those who call their country home. War is an abomination, but what do you do when confronted by war from others? There is always a fine line to be tread between civil liberties and protection and in a peaceful society it should always veer towards personal liberty. But in times of war and evidence of real danger from an enemy force? What then? Just stand by and hold out flowers to them?
Placebo responses only help to sate pre-existing views. They do nothing to solve the problem. What we need are cool heads, better intelligence sharing, and intense co-ordination between multiple states. Strategies are needed to identify the ringleaders, destroy their ability to function and, ultimately, eliminate them. If ISIS/Daesh want to play war, then, for certain, our war professionals – generals and military experts – are more adept, more strategic, more networked and better resourced than any rag-tag bunch of terrorists could ever be. In situations such as what we are seeing, we need to let them get on with their jobs with a minimum of political interference.
Ultimately, the crucial objective is not really the elimination of ISIS/Daesh, although this is a necessary pre-condition. It’s the rebuilding afterwords and the creation of a long lasting peace that will allow people to return to their homelands. Hospitals, homes, schools, electricity, water – the basic services of life. Remove the threat, then rebuild. This is the big challenge for the civilised world if the peace is to be permanent.