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We Don't Need More Bombs to Defeat IS, We Need Less Bigotry

To really defeat ISIS we have to question an ideology that has killed over 1.3 million people.
December 8, 2015, 1:25pm

Photo by Chris Bethell

More on bombing Syria and ISIS:

We Talked to One of the World Trade Center Bombers About ISIS and Mass Shootings

What Would It Take to Destroy the Islamic State?

The Paris Attacks, Refugees, and the Brutal Fiction of Borders

How Many 'Boots on the Ground' Would It Take to Defeat ISIS?

For all the exclamation and invective that has characterized the so-called debate about air-strikes in Syria, we could be forgiven for just resigning ourselves to the fact we have declared war once again and there is little that can be done about it. In February 2003, before the invasion of Iraq, millions of people around the world marched against the war. In London alone at least 1 million people joined the Stop the War Coalition demonstration. This time around, there weren't nearly as many people at marches opposing our bombing campaign against the Islamic State being extended into Syria. It seems that since we have been at the "War on Terror" for 14 years, it is now just a technical decision for politicians to make about which battles we get involved in.


It is important therefore for us to remind ourselves how many lives have been lost as a result of these decisions. The IPPNW-Germany published "Body Count" this year, estimating that in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone the human toll is around 1.3 million. Iraq is the region that its research has the most accurate figures for. There, 1 million people have died in this war. That's all of the people who protested in London to stop the invasion over a decade ago, gone.

We are told that this kind of killing is necessary. That Islamists, jihadists, and other fundamentalists through their acts of terror have forced our hand. That it is the freedoms of liberalism that we are defending. But if liberalism is the sort of politics that can make the calculation that 1.3 million people dead is a reasonable price to pay for its own freedoms, isn't there something rotten and fundamentally wrong with liberalism?

But perhaps we shouldn't fully believe the narrative of "pragmatism" that justifies these various wars. If it looks ethically ludicrous that we would threaten even more lives in Syria with air-strikes, it is also pragmatically ludicrous, given that the last 14 years have done so much more to make matters worse than to end "terror." Should we really continue the same policy that helped incubate IS?

The current assault on IS doesn't seem to be born out of any genuine ability to either end the group's oppression of people in the areas it controls or lessen the likelihood of attacks like those in Paris last month. In fact, following the lone stabbing in Leytonstone on Saturday night, we were reminded by Commander Richard Walton of Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command that "The UK terrorism threat level remains at 'severe,' meaning an attack is highly likely." Will our addition of a handful of jets a few miles further into Syrian territory reduce that threat level? No. And that isn't ultimately the purpose of our current campaign. Just as we followed the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan out of a sense of Western revenge for 9/11, our current foray into Syria is an example of solidarity with France's revenge attacks on IS.


Many people obviously wouldn't mind if the back and forth revenge attacks that make up this bizarre "clash of civilizations" fantasy only impacted the equally brutal warring parties. But that isn't how war works, even in the age of drones, air strikes, and no boots on the ground.

In October the Intercept revealed as part of its series The Drone Papers, that nearly 90 percent of people killed by recent US drone strikes were not the intended target. When rulers and regimes go to war, there are always lives that are sacrificed as collateral. We no longer send ground forces in partly out of an unwillingness to sacrifice British lives, yet we are more than willing to jeopardize the lives of those who are most impacted by IS's oppression.

This has more than a little to do with the racist stereotypes of barbarism and medievalism perpetuated about parts of the world where many Muslims live. There is a direct chain between this kind of rhetoric, the increasing amount of Islamophobia experienced daily in Britain (in the weeks following the Paris attacks targeting of Muslims tripled with 76 reported incidents in one week) and our involvement in wars that kill so many people across the Arab world.

Those in Syria are now threatened from three sides, cornered, with fleeing or fighting their only hopes. On one side there is IS, the other Assad and finally from the heavens the dropping of our bombs and those of our allies.

If we have a real drive to end IS's threat then we need a radical rethink of what the problem is. There are those trying to live outside of the West who are currently labeled wholesale with terms like "Islamist" or "terrorist," but are in fact people having to fight for their lives daily against various oppressive forces. Syrians in IS's de-facto capital Raqqa, for example, have had their voices ignored in the current scramble by the West to stick its oar in. The citizen journalist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently have made it clear that, "In the end no one will liberate Raqqa except the people of Raqqa."

As long as we are perpetuating myths that this is a battle to defend the West, liberalism, and our freedoms, we are ignoring the real fight against IS.

People living with both the Assad regime and IS are not looking for the same liberal democracy that has killed 1.3 million people and sees no problem with that. They're too busy fighting for their lives and ours. Supporting them won't look like the brute force of air-strikes authorized by bien pensant fantasy anti-fascists like Hilary Benn. It'll be an end to the self-satisfied bigotry and revenge of Western powers that created this mess 14 years ago.

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