The latest atrocities in Paris confirm that “Islamic State” is a direct threat to our way of life, and one we must respond to. We must meet this challenge with all that we have – and quickly – if we are to continue to enjoy our way of life in peace.
I love La Marseillaise, but it’s a violent song. To its marching rhythm it talks about tyranny’s bloody banner being raised and glorious armies of liberty meeting the challenge by watering furrows with impure blood.
It was born of embattled revolutionary France in 1792. Then, France faced the combined armies of European monarchies bent on the destruction of the revolution and the newly enshrined principles of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”. In response, the French public rose in defence of the motherland and marched to victory to the sounds of “Aux Armes, Citoyen!”
Today, tyranny’s bloody banner has been raised against France again. By Islamic State.
Make no mistake, this is a fight
Before discussing how we respond to Islamic State, it’s worth discussing what kind of an organisation it is and dispelling one of the more insidious myths of the Paris attack – that we brought this on ourselves. We didn’t and furthermore, this belief infantilises the terrorists plays into their hands by removing responsibility for their actions.
Shortly after the attacks, the cuddly pacifists over at “Stop the War” summed up this naïve foolishness. In a piece titled “Paris reaps whirlwind of Western support for extremist violence in the Middle East” they write:
“Let’s be as clear as possible. The hellish world we live in today is the result of deliberate policies and actions undertaken by the United States and its allies over the past decades.”
It was taken down shortly afterwards following a backlash – a whirlwind even – of anger from right minded readers.
Central to this belief is that Islamic State are merely a reactionary force aimed at defending their land against outside intervention. Even the most cursory review of their statements and actions render this view ridiculous.
Islamic State is a fascist organisation aimed at spreading chaos in Muslim nations so as to capitalise on the relative security it offers the populace. The goal is simple – spread chaos, then capitalise. The playbook, for there is a playbook – The Management of Chaos/Savagery – was written over a decade ago by Abu Bakr Naji while part of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the organisation from which ISIS morphed.
Far from wanting the West to attack so as to inspire further jihadists – although they say this – they fear involvement of the West and aim to hit us at our weak spot, our conscience. In a chilling recruitment strategy, IS aim for youth and decry our “moderation”;
“Capture the rebelliousness of youth, their energy and idealism, and their readiness for self-sacrifice, while fools preach ‘moderation’ (wasatiyyah), security and avoidance of risk.”
They have no care for moderation and do not restrict their ambitions to the Middle East. The manifesto continues;
“Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.”
They aim to hit at our resolve believing we will crumble when the going gets tough. They’re right, many of us would indeed crumble as we enjoy our liberty at little too much to pay for its upkeep.
Don’t be confused, the mention of “crusader” nations in Islamic State’s literature does not just refer to those part of the current alliance or those involved in the catastrophic Iraq War. We’re talking about the 12th century Crusades here. The manifesto calls on the continuation of the war until the fall of Rome. I don’t remember Italy being a prominent member of the coalition of the willing.
Islamic State is not a defensive reaction to Western aggression. They openly want to spread chaos, they want to attack us and they want to use our moderation against us. We mustn’t be naïve, either we take the fight to them, or they will bring it to us.
This is not however a fight of religions.
Islamic State is not Islamic
French Journalist Didier Francois recounts his 10 month ordeal as an ISIS hostage
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking IS is a particularly Muslim organisation, despite their protestations or goal of an Islamic caliphate. Although few people see IS up close and live to tell the tale, some do, and they have great insight into the kind of organisation we’re talking about. Didier Francois, a French journalist held by IS for ten months before being released in 2014 was recently interviewed by CNN.
“There was never really discussion about texts…. It was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion…. It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran… We didn’t even have the Quran. They didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”
In an excellent analysis of IS, Mehdi Hasan makes clear those fighting for IS drink, party and liaise with prostitutes. They know little of Islam. We’ve known this for a long time. He notes that in 2008 an Mi5 report stated:
“Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices”
Islam isn’t the motive for foreign jihadis either. For them, it’s a question of identity. Islam forms a part of this but the not central part. Two British jiahidis, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar bought copies of “The Koran for Dummies” before travelling to Syria. They are not in search of Islamic purity – they don’t even know what that is.
A backlash against Muslims is therefore nonsensical and counter-productive. These people travel to Syria looking for identity, a sense of belonging. Therefore the appropriate reaction for us at home is to redouble our efforts at integrating Muslims into wider society and removing the glory and prestige that is associated with IS.
So we have not brought the attacks on ourselves, nor should be worried out the “Islam” in Islamic State. However, our actions in the Middle East have created the conditions in which organisations like IS flourish.
Correcting this is where our efforts must be focussed.
Denying Islamic State a State to plot in
We’ve been here before. Prior to the attacks of 9/11, Al-Qaeda enjoyed the time and space in Afghanistan to plot against the West and build up contacts and cells across the West. Ever since then, we’ve focused on denying terrorist organisations the time and space a safe haven allows. US State Department policy is clear:
“Denying terrorists safe haven plays a major role in undermining terrorists’ capacity to operate effectively, and thus forms a key element of U.S. counterterrorism strategy as well as the cornerstone of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 that was adopted in September 2001.”
Before learning this lesson we suffered the first Trade Centre bombing in 1993, attacks on Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Yemen hotel bombings of 1992 and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and of course 9/11 itself.
Where the recent attacks on Paris, Beirut and Sinai lie on a similar escalation path is hard to say but we mustn’t be complacent. IS have shown they are capable of projecting their power across borders.
There are a number of differences between Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Syria and Iraq are not the safest of safe havens, they are contested by the Kurds and Iraqi Army in Iraq and by Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. Technological advances also mean they do not need the same physical space as in the days before online tools of communication and propaganda.
These differences only mean that we should widen our definition of safe havens and not ignore their significance. We must continue to deny Islamic State of space to work in, whether it be physical or digital. This includes restricting financial support from Islamic State’s allies.
War is just politics by other means
So what do we actually do? Firstly, let’s separate the ideal world from the real world. Ideally, a political solution in Syria allowing a strong central government to police the wild Eastern region owned by IS would be the most agreeable outcome. This is to what President Obama referred this week when he said a political solution in the country is essential and that includes the removal of Bashar Al-Assad.
This is fine, but pointless talk at this point. Former special advisor to the US government on Syria summed up the predicament and lack of time facing the West:
“Nothing good – dialogue, negotiations, compromise, elections, or a new constitution – can happen in Syria so long as civilians are on the bullseye in the west and Isis is riding high in the east. It may take decades for Syria to get to the promised land of political legitimacy. It will get there never at all until the country’s current downward trajectory is arrested and redirected. Time is of the essence”
The pursuit of a political solution should continue, but this mustn’t be our only action in Syria. We do not have the years it may take to achieve it. Therefore, airstrikes against IS in Syria is an obvious first step. This should be done via a UN resolution if possible but without one if it’s not forthcoming.
Drone strikes have been successful in killing many of the top Al Qaeda operatives and should be brought fully to bear against IS. Everywhere they go, everywhere they hide they should be harassed and pressured. We have the resources to do this. The fact we aren’t is an indictment on our collective lack of resolution.
Secondly, as Jeremy Corbyn has suggested, we should apply meaningful pressure to all regimes arming IS, Saudi Arabia being the main culprit. I guess even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Thirdly, we should support our allies in the region. We should provide Special Forces to augment the Iraqi Army and the Kurds in the north of Iraq. Our support for those bearing the brunt of IS cruelty has been woeful and morally abhorrent so far. We are enjoying our freedom on the back of fighters ill equipped for the task but with courage vastly outweighing our own.
Finally, we must deal with the migrant issue in Europe. Details are sketchy on the bombers but it seems the so called “mastermind” of the Paris attacks made use of the situation to slip into Europe. It is not acceptable that while we mourn the loss of 129 innocent civilians we fail to not only close the back door but the front door as well. As Nigel Farage unfortunately prophesied;
“Free movement of people means free movement of jihadis”
Aux Armes, Citoyens!
When the 70,000 present at Wembley sang La Marseillaise in fraternal unity this week, I doubt many knew exactly of what they sang.
But La Marseillaise is instructive
Then, as now, freedom must be earned and protected. It won’t be if we simply fall back on our gentle lay of life lazily suggesting that to protect it would be to undermine it and mean “the terrorists have won”. The terrorists win if we do nothing. It gives them precisely the space they need to plot further atrocities and enslave still more of the region within its medieval regime.
Fortunately, many agree with me. Support for airstrikes stands at 60% according to one poll and rises still further if combined UN forces are the medium for attacks.
Tyranny’s bloody banner has been raised once again and we must be resolute in our defence. We cannot fight the “last war” and allow past mistakes to cloud our judgement and lull us into further ones.
So “aux Armes, Citoyens”! Time, as well as a fearsome enemy, is against us.
Allons enfants de la Patrie, Arise, children of the Fatherland,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé ! The day of glory has arrived!
Contre nous de la tyrannie, Against us tyranny’s
L’étendard sanglant est levé, Bloody banner is raised,
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes Do you hear, in the countryside,
Mugir ces féroces soldats ? The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras They’re coming right into your arms
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes ! To cut the throats of your sons, your women!
Aux armes, citoyens, To arms, citizens,
Formez vos bataillons, Form your battalions,
Marchons, marchons ! Let’s march, let’s march!
Qu’un sang impur Let an impure blood
Abreuve nos sillons ! (bis) Water our furrows!