Fri | Dec 9, 2016

War against Islamic State

Published:Monday | September 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Islamic State (IS) is estimated to be about 30,000 strong. It is now perhaps the world's largest jihadist organisation. It is believed that it is the 'progeny' of al-Qaida in Iraq. Its members are primarily drawn from Syria and Iraq. The organisation has utilised information and communication technology, bravado and barbarism to recruit radicalised Muslims from across the globe, including from the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK).

IS is in control of parts of Iraq and Syria. It is responsible for depraved violence and mass murders. It thumbs its nose at the world's most powerful nations by broadcasting the beheadings of three bound and helpless Western hostages.

The organisation is a direct threat to Iraq, Syria and several proximal Arab states and poses an increasing and real threat to the West partly because several of its members are bona fide citizens of the US and the UK and are therefore able to easily wreak havoc from within those countries.

There is now an unusual coalition of 40 nations (including 10 Arab states) focused on waging war against their common enemy: the Islamic State. The plan is to have fighter jets in the air, shiny shoes (military intelligence) on the ground advising and coordinating the coalition, but to avoid boots (actively fighting troops) on the ground.

I subscribe to CNN's Fareed Zakaria's assessment of the genesis and rabid extremism of radical, so-called Muslim groups like al-Qaida and, more recently, IS. They seem to germinate within very strict Islamic countries where all freedoms of expression, except religion, are severely oppressed.

American interference

Sometimes I wonder about US activities in the Middle East. When necessary, the US befriends and supports despots like the late Saddam Hussein and uses them as marionettes to fight the even greater evil of international terrorism. Such dictators are effective partners in the unholy alliances only because they rule their nations with iron fists.

Under their regime, warring factions/tribes/religious sects are forced into abeyance. However, historically, if for whatever reason the despot dictator is removed (directly or indirectly by the US and her allies), the internal wars begin.

Unrestrained by the loss of the only person (the dictator) capable of maintaining peace (albeit by using unspeakable violence) and free to pursue their own agendas, such countries go through internal turmoil until a new leader - usually another dictator - ends up in control.

In other words, our Westernised ideals of democracy are inconceivable concepts to such nations. Their social transformation will perhaps take several decades or even centuries. Hurried social evolution (meant to be a constructive process) becomes in reality forced social revolution (a destructive process). In spite of their socially accepted violence based on their religious beliefs and inter-religious fighting, they are best left alone with minimal external interference.

Live and let be

As a fan of the Star Trek series and movies, I wish that powerful Western countries would adopt the 'prime directive' of non-interference in the affairs and development of other people. However, it is what it is, and we are where we are.

The war against IS is necessarily a violent, military war. However, I was pleased to learn that there is a wider strategy wherein the religious leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia plan to 'fight' against IS by countering their radical and extremist ideology.

Good, but not good enough. The very vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, deeply religious people. In order to prevail against organisations that appeal to pseudo-religious fanaticism, the entire relevant global religious community (in this case, Islam) must urgently embark on an all-out campaign (also utilising information and communication technology) to counter the falsehoods being espoused by groups like IS. That is the only way to win this war and not just this current battle.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.