More thoughts on “How to Solve a Problem Like Daesh“.
As I write this, Britain’s bombing campaign has commenced. I watched with dismay as British MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of commencing bombardment in Syria. Dismay, because airstrikes will inevitably lead to the loss of innocent lives, compound existing problems in Syria and play into the hands of groups like Daesh. There are many that share in my dismay, with thoughts of the tragic consequences in Iraq and Afghanistan at the forefront of our minds.
Instinctively, we want more to be done to help those suffering at the hands of Daesh. We want a solution that will put a stop to Daesh, as quickly and comprehensively as possible.
Yet a bombing campaign in Syria will not yield the positive results we are so desperate for.
Historical consequences of previous airstrikes and power vacuums
There are many reasons bombing will not result in an end to the hostilities in Syria. Indeed, a bombing campaign is likely to create greater problems.
In an article from 2014, the journalist John Pilger sets out how the American bombardment of Cambodia between 1969 – 1973 led to growth of the genocidal Khmer Rouge from a paltry 5,000 poorly armed guerillas to an army of 200,000. Complementing this, Ian Sinclair cites sources in the American military as confirming that American drone strikes led to the creation of more terrorists.
More recently, Fareed Zakaria, the notable American commentator, suggested that a military defeat of Daesh is quite plausible but that thinking ahead, the lack of a credible alternative to rule their ‘conquered lands’ is likely to only lead to Daesh being replaced by another group. Jeremy Corbyn in his speech against the bombing in Syria touches on this likely outcome as well.
I would add that in such a vacuum, any group that replaces Daesh is likely to be more vicious and even more extreme. There is historical precedent for this. For an example, look at Palestine where Israeli efforts to decapitate and destroy the (relatively moderate and secular) Palestinian Liberation Organisation and its offshoot, Fatah, led to a power vacuum which allowed the Islamist group Hamas to rise to power.
A campaign of aerial bombardment will play right into the hands of Daesh. Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German politician and writer that interviewed members of Daesh, concurs.
At a time when Daesh has been losing territory, airstrikes may be just the shot in the arm that they need. A bombing campaign should only be considered as a last resort, when all other measures have failed.
What, then, are the other strategies that ought to be considered?
There is already a dearth of information available in the public domain discussing effective strategies that would not result in the devastating collateral damage that is an unavoidable consequence of airstrikes. I discuss some of these measures below.
Containment and implosion of Daesh
One school of thought as articulated by Michael Hirsch is that Daesh simply is incapable of establishing itself as a nation-state with a functioning economy and that if it were isolated and left to its own devices it would implode. This process would be hastened by coordinated economic and military pressure from its neighbours. A comparison with North Korea (which has yet to implode despite the isolationist strategy employed against it) may be tempting but would not be an apple to apple comparison given the material support that North Korea receives from China.
Hearts and minds
Nicolas Henin, a French journalist who was held captive by Daesh for 10 months and counts Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) amongst his captors, has spoken out against air strikes in Syria. He describes strikes on Daesh as “a trap” and suggests that the only way to win the war against Daesh is to win the hearts and minds of the people. Rather than aerial bombardment he suggests the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria.
Europe’s initial reaction to the refugee crisis which was to accommodate and in some cases even welcome the refugees was a slap in the face to Daesh. It was clear evidence that Muslims and others living in territory controlled by Daesh were desperate to escape. Henin goes on to suggest that the Paris attacks may have been part of a strategy by Daesh to get Europe to change its attitude towards the refugees and to close its borders.
I would continue to argue that part of the efforts to win hearts and minds is the need to undermine Daesh’s branding and slick marketing. An important part of this is referring to the group as ‘Daesh’ which they consider to be a pejorative rather than their presumptuous chosen moniker of ‘Islamic State’.
Action through the United Nations
Ian Sinclair in his article referred to above suggests that any military action should be carried out under the auspices of the United Nations. It would appear that questions remain over the legality of British airstrikes in Syria, particularly given that Assad’s government have objected to the airstrikes (unlike in Iraq where the present Iraqi government has requested Britain to carry out airstrikes).
Reigning in the West’s “allies”
The shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey has cast some doubt on Turkey’s motivations and wider objectives. For some time it has been believed that Turkey has been permitting Daesh to freely cross the border in the fight against the Kurdish Peshmerga. There is no love lost between Turkey and the Kurds given the long running Kurdish separatist movement. Added to this, Russia has since released information that links Turkish officials to the sale of Daesh’s oil. These allegations must be thoroughly investigated and dealt with, particularly given Turkey’s status as a member of NATO.
Other than Turkey, I have in my earlier article discussed the need to reign in another key Western ally, Saudi Arabia. Far from being an ally to the West or the Muslim world, in their proxy war against Shi’a Iran, the Saudis have poisoned the well of Muslim theology by spreading toxic Wahhabi teachings throughout the Muslim world. The link between Wahhabist teachings and the theology that underpins groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh is clear. Moreover, as custodians of the two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, they have also overseen the destruction of Muslim cultural heritage with 95% of buildings over 1000 years old in those cities having been bulldozed in the past 20 years.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Saudi Arabia is facing the prospect of bankruptcy within the next five years. This presents the West with significant leverage which it can use to apply pressure on Saudi Arabia to arrest the continued spread of Wahhabist teachings.
Returning to a point also touched on in my earlier article, I cannot emphasize enough the need to support those that are countering Daesh theology with progressive interpretations of Islam. Although this is unlikely to yield immediate results, this is crucial if the theology drawn upon by groups like Daesh is to be defeated. Central to this is to demonstrate the inherent inconsistencies in the theology of Daesh and Wahhabism in general.
For instance, on the question of apostasy, the Quran does not prescribe an earthly punishment for apostasy, reserving such judgment for God. Instead, it states unequivocally at verse 2:256 that “there is no compulsion in religion“. However, groups like Daesh that enforce the death penalty for apostasy are by their own admission choosing to uphold man-made Hadith that advocate the death penalty for apostasy over the Quran, which they hold to be the inerrant word of God. Here, the parallels between Saudi Arabia and Daesh become clear as just a few days ago Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet, was sentenced to death for apostasy in Saudi Arabia.
It is clear that there is much more that can be done by a Western governments before resorting to airstrikes. It is incumbent on us all to continue to object to foolhardy policies that will ultimately lead greater suffering on innocent people whilst simultaneously making the world even less secure than it already is.
*Ed: The headline of this article was changed from “Daesh Won’t Be Bombed Away”