The attacks last Friday night in Paris shook France to the core. French President François Hollande made a rousing and emotional speech in which he vowed to destroy ISIS. His words were backed by French planes targeting Raqqa, a city in Northern Syria, which is supposedly a stronghold of ISIS.
The response was understandable. 129 innocent people, some of whom were Muslims, lost their lives in last Friday’s disgraceful attack. But indiscriminate airstrikes (such as the US airstrikes that killed 14 Medecins Sans Frontieres staff in Kunduz, Afghanistan) with the intent of destroying the extremist terror organisation will only strengthen it instead. After the terror attacks on the twin towers in 2001, George Bush helped to instigate a vicious cycle of terror between extremist groups in the Middle East and the governments of developed nations. In Syria and Iraq, we must win the battle for hearts and minds, and be the liberators and not the oppressors – we cannot allow our fear to drive our actions in confronting terrorism.
The governments of the developed world must focus on a long term plan in order to overcome the terror of ISIS and end the effectiveness of terrorism in the Middle East. In the short term, bombing may make David Cameron feel good, he may even believe it is helping, but it will only force people into the arms of the terrorists we all want to stop. A person residing in Raqqa, Tikrit or any other town or city in Iraq and Syria won’t see the kind words offered to the victims of the atrocities in Paris and Beirut. All that they will see is the bombs of the US, UK and France as they rain down upon their home and their family. If you want to end ISIS, stop making them look like such an attractive option!
As for domestic policy, the threat of radicalised Brits is perhaps more prominent than the actions of the terrorists in the Middle East. Instead of publicly lambasting Muslims for not all shouting ‘death to Islam’ every ten minutes, the government, and the major political parties, should be working to reassure every person that every British Muslim will be allowed to practice their faith freely. If the government persecutes British Muslims simply because ISIS claim to act on behalf of Islam then the government will push more people into becoming disenfranchised from their communities and their country. Thus ISIS will have more members to throw into the fight for political control in the Middle East.
ISIS may have started out as some religious group committing atrocities in the name of God but that is not what they are now. ISIS is a political organisation only interested in extending its reign of terror over a greater land mass and over more people. To defeat it, the governments of the so called Western powers have to unite in stopping the bombing and working to make their own countries more tolerant and better places to live but also work to ensure a stable Middle East. A Middle East free from the weak institutions of state created deliberately in the aftermath of the Gulf war by the US and UK forces, free from the meddling intrusions of the Saudi king and free from the wars that created the perfect breeding ground for ISIS.
To defeat ISIS, we must indeed play ‘the long game’.