History: How it could be our best weapon against ISIS
Photograph: Flickr / A.Anis
No horror movie could be as terrifying as the fate which befell Paris on Friday the 13th. Chants of "Allah Hu Akbar" amidst shooting and “This is for Syria" were apparently yelled. Given the recent targeting of “Jihadi John" by US airstrikes, you do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out who was responsible. I propose why and how we must defeat ISIS.
ISIS have told their supporters in the West to undertake 'domestic operations'. In the 2014 shootings in Ottawa, the Sydney hostage crisis and Charlie Hebdo, the black and white flag of ISIS was raised. Whether ISIS coordinated these attacks or inspired them is not that important. They have said there is more to come. For us in the West, this is not another Rwanda. No longer can we sit in our comfort bubble as foreign faces get massacred.
Boots on the ground? I say no. Why did it take fifteen years for the most powerful armies in the world to 'defeat' the Taliban? Partly because soldiers want to retreat to their families and homes; such insurgents want to die on the battlefield and “go to paradise”. To intervene in this way is to give ISIS what they want. The late Jihadi John chided Obama, urging him to send troops. This gives ISIS a major propaganda tool. For many reasons, but especially the 2003 Iraq war, the US and Britain are despised by vast sections of the region. By sending troops, ISIS will be able to present themselves as "defenders of the Muslims" against the "Western imperialists." This would legitimise the terror group. We may end up seeing more flock to fight this fight.
NATO and Russia both spend billions on manufacturing weapons each year – a resource which should be put into the hands of the right people. The other resource we have is history. With pickaxes, sledgehammers and dynamite ISIS destroy Iraq's museums and ancient sites. Our libraries remain intact. Three conflicts provide valuable lessons: the Bangladeshi War of Liberation in 1971, the defeat of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and the Second World War. Remembering how we defeated the Nazis of the past is essential if we are to defeat the Nazis of today.
When the Pakistani military was committing genocide in Bangladesh, neighbouring India put a stop to it. Similarly when Pol Pot's Cambodia resulted in 20,000 mass graves, Vietnam came to the rescue. History shines light on the success of neighbours to stop slaughter in their backyard. Today, we must empower the neighbours of ISIS, such as the Iraqi government, Peshmerga and PKK.
Citizens of former colonies are naturally sceptical of those coming to "save" them. Neighbours are also far more likely to understand the complexities of the situation on the ground, unlike those who are thousands of miles away. An example of this lack of cultural understanding would be how George Bush did not even know the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam.
WWII taught us how war is not a conflict between good and evil. It’s a conflict between evil and lesser evil. Churchill and Roosevelt shook the bloody hand of Stalin to defeat Hitler. Together we defeated the Nazis on the seas, in the air and on the beaches. Nine out of ten German soldiers were killed by the Red Army who liberated Auschwitz. It was a high point in human history but it was orchestrated by one of history's mass murderers. To dislodge Stalin would have been insane if our aim was to defeat Hitler.
Today’s Stalin is Bashar Al-Assad. He is a despot and a dictator and a scoundrel but he is the lesser evil in the conflict. “Oh but Assad has killed more!” This is highly questionable but even if we grant it to be true, morality is not based on death toll alone. In WWII the allies killed far more civilians than the Nazis did in their bombing campaigns in Dresden, Japan and elsewhere. Did this make the allies morally worse than the Nazis? Intention also has to matter.
The Nazis had intentions to carry out mass extermination in Russia while the division of the world into two nuclear camps was hardly desirable but it was a better world than the Hitler alternative. ISIS want an empire, Assad wants to cling onto power. Who would kill more if they had the chance?
The hope invested in “moderate rebels” is misplaced. The vast majority fight for Al Nusra, another name for Al Qaeda. They throw postmen off rooftops, kill Christians and eat the hearts of human beings, and they are somehow classified as “moderates”. The WWII equivalents are the Fascist Italian or Japanese imperial forces. They collaborate with ISIS and so must also be wiped out.
Another key player has to be Iran. Although the 1979 revolution gave birth to this vile regime, it was never an existential threat to you or me. Its mullah establishment condemned 9/11, even offering to help oust the Taliban. Most importantly Iran have a powerful army and are willing to fight in defence of the Shias who ISIS have said they want to "slaughter like sheep."
Conversations with organisations like Hezbollah are also required, regardless of them being labelled terrorists or Islamists. There exist different species of poisonous snake. An adder is not as dangerous as a rattlesnake. In Lebanon, Hezbollah play a part in both the parliament and government, operating democratically. Their response to Charlie Hebdo was distinctly different than that of ISIS. While ISIS took ownership of the atrocity, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, proclaimed that the terrorists do more damage to Islam than any cartoon or book. He has called for our help, we should answer his call.
ISIS is a death cult which views this world as a mere transitory lounge to the next. Their raison d’être is “We love death more than you love life!” Uncomfortable political bed-fellows are a small price to pay for the victory of life. Our leaders have been crying 'wolf' and have invaded countries which did not pose a threat to us. Now there is a wolf which is real, bigger and badder than we could ever have imaged. If we needed Stalin, Mao and Xiang Kai-Shek to defeat the Nazis, we may need Assad, Iran and Hezbollah to defeat ISIS.