Let there be no doubt that I want to see Islamic State obliterated. Whether that is actually possible or not, my instinctive reaction to this vile cult is to want it destroyed. Eradicated. I abhor Islamic State with a fervour that disturbs me, lest it resemble in any degree the fervour which drives these murderous thugs.
Let’s be clear that I entertain absolutely no illusions about the repulsive nature of Islamic State’s odious ideology. No more than any other sane individual do I relish the prospect of humanity being dragged by black-clad, sword-wielding psychopaths to ultimate oblivion via a purgatory that compresses all the horrors of ancient religious ignorance, intolerance, zealotry and brutality into the shortest period of time possible as it rushes towards the obscene embrace of Armageddon.
Let’s have none of this nonsense about it being “nothing to do with religion”. Let’s dispense with the fallacy (which I confess to having been lured towards on occasion) that Islamic Sate is not Islamic. Or non-Islamic. Or, even, anti-Islamic. The reality is that it is too Islamic. It is excessively Islamic. It is a manifestation of what we can only call hyper-fundamentalism, ugly as that term may be. Only in that sense is the Islam of Islamic State alien to the Islam known and practised by millions of perfectly decent, caring, peaceful, hard-working law-abiding Muslims throughout the world. The people who are our neighbours, our colleagues, our friends and, crucially, our allies in the fight against a cult which is at least as much of a threat to “ordinary” Muslims as it is to anyone else. Statistically, a vastly greater threat.
Let’s have no self-satisfied smugness or self-righteous condemnation, either, from adherents of and apologists for the other Abrahamic cults – Christianity and Judaism. It is only by serial accidents of history and various catastrophes of geo-politics that this hyper-fundamentalism has arisen where it has. Had circumstances been no more than somewhat different, either of these creeds is perfectly capable of throwing up its own brand of hyper-fundamentalism. Indeed, it might well be argued that both have already done so, albeit on a scale that cannot rival the massive madness of Islamic State.
There is no such thing as benign religion. What we are pleased to regard as “moderate” religion is the fertile soil in which grow orthodoxy, absolutism and fanaticism. Religion sows the seed of blind faith – belief against evidence – and the world reaps the whirlwind of hyper-fundamentalism. Religion bids us abandon our intellect and put mediaeval superstition, proud ignorance and the dogma of long-dead scribes before progressive enlightenment, accumulated knowledge and intuitive awareness of the constraints on our behaviour derived from our shared humanity and sociability.
For the most part, we cope with this incipient malignancy. For the most part, we keep it in check. Islamic State is what happens when we fail.
Listen to buffoons such as Stephen Daisley and you’d suppose all those whose voices were raised against the UK joining in the bombing of Iraq were as absolutist in their opposition to military action as the warmongers were in their pursuit of armed conflict. Not so. I do not claim to speak for others, but my opposition was not to action against Islamic Sate, but to action that was ill-conceived, needlessly murderous, utterly pointless, and almost certainly destined to be ineffective.
The British war-machine may have hitched a ride on the wave of fear and revulsion that Islamic State has provoked, but it would be naive to imagine that Cameron and his British establishment cronies are acting from anything that might pass for honourable motives. The British state’s puny contribution to the bombing in Syria has precious little to do with striking at Islamic State and a great deal to do with Britain ensuring Britain is not excluded from the game being played by the big boys in the playground of a strategically important and resource-rich region.
It is about status. It is about the increasingly desperate and unseemly scrabble to maintain the British state’s place at the “top table”.
And, of course, it is about laying claim to a share of the spoils once Islamic State is “defeated” – whatever that may mean. Not just oil, but influence. British nationalists simply cannot abide the thought of other members of the imperialist club carving up the remnants to suit themselves. It’s about power. Power is relative. In this game, it is as important for each player to prevent others gaining power as it is to gain power for themselves.
Those who oppose the intervention in Syria do so for a variety of reasons. They are not, as some of the more shallow-minded commentators seem to suppose, a homogeneous group. These reasons are generally worthy. Or, at least, more worthy than the short-sighted, self-serving motives of the warmongers. My own view is that, even if Islamic State could be vanquished in a military sense – which is a questionable proposition at best – it would not be wiped out. Something of it would survive. And that something could be even more dangerous and problematic.
When incidents such as the Paris attacks happen, or military intervention is proposed, apologists for the imperialist powers instinctively and vehemently deny any historical context. Any suggestion that the past policies and actions of British state and others are related in any way to the morass that is the Syrian conflict will be met with flat denial and hysterical accusations of terrorist sympathies. Being wilfully blind to history as a process, and thus to the connections between and among past events, there can be no extrapolation to future developments.
Pretty much every one of the imperialist military adventures of recent history, from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan through the “War on Terror” to the invasion of Iraq and “regime change” in Libya, had “unfortunate” outcomes which were both entirely foreseeable and, in every case, well predicted. But the ruling elites, obsessed with the pursuit of power, would not be warned and could not be induced to pause and think – any more than the British establishment could be dissuaded from its latest doomed adventure in Syria.
The likes of Hilary Benn will make rabble-rousing speeches filled with jingoistic historical references of dubious relevance while remaining stubbornly oblivious to the lessons of history which hold the most valuable lessons.
The most fundamental lesson of history is that military defeat of Islamic State – to the extent that this is a realistic prospect – will not be an end point. Something else will follow. And if you do not seek to understand what might follow there is little chance of being prepared to deal with it. What you have then is a recipe for perpetual war. The perpetual war in which we are now embroiled.
I object to UK participation in the bombing of Syria on a number of grounds. (Such as the serious constitutional issues that have been raised. Of which more anon.) Not the least of these grounds is that it is a move which contributes to this perpetual war, rather than offering the possibility of a route out of it. It is a diversion. A side-show. A squandering of effort. And an unforgivable waste of the innocent lives that will be be part of the price of the British establishment’s hubris.
I would have preferred to see the effort going into starving Islamic State of money and weapons. I wanted a massive effort, not only to block Islamic State’s propaganda channels, but to counter its propaganda. Islamic State will not be destroyed by bombs and missiles and artillery. Islamic State will not be dead until its pernicious ideology is dead. It will not be defeated until it is exposed for the abomination that it is. Exposed in such a way as to arouse revulsion rather than curiosity in those to whom its appeal is directed.
Islamic State will not be defeated until the disaffected, disillusioned and dis-empowered see a viable alternative to the comforting certainties and promised empowerment that Islamic State touts. Until they see a space in which reason can function and be effective.
Islamic State exists because those who possess the power to shape the world have created an Islamic State-shaped space that had to be filled. The decision to bomb Syria is a decision to continue making it a space where hyper-fundamentalists survive and thrive.