Editorial Comment

Illuminating The ISIS Crisis

As so often is the case in this complex new millennial world, many of us are conflicted about recent developments on the international stage.

The latest concern, which is competing with our fears over the tragic instability in Ukraine, is the West’s recent decision to ramp up their military engagement with ISIS, ISIL, just IS, or whatever they are being called this week. On the one hand, our hearts go out to those being slaughtered by this violent, extremist faction; a group so brutal and bloodthirsty, even the current al-Qaeda leadership considers them too extreme for their fancy.

On the other hand, however, I don’t know as I believe it is up to us to solve other countries’ issues.

‘Their problems are our problems’ holds little water as an argument in this case. We may be affected by the violence in the stricken area if terrorist incidents in the West increase as a result, but those incidents would remain police matters, not military matters. It is arguable that intervening anywhere, in the easily enflamed Middle East, may actually create more terrorists than are destroyed. There is much research that suggests each drone death manufactures legions of individuals who have a deep, abiding abhorrence for us, and our way of life. These deaths create terrorist-level hatred in dozens, even hundreds of other previously uncommitted minds. The drone victims may be enemies of our belief systems, but they still have family and friends that will feel the grief from their violent passing and wish to avenge it.

Other than the increased potential for terrorism, it is doubtful the Islamic State truly represents a military threat to our continent directly. They have no air force or navy. An existential threat is usually the litmus test for a truly defensible argument for lethal engagement, whether as an individual or as a peaceful country. We are taught fighting is bad and should be avoided at all costs, only to be engaged in if they throw the first punch. Is murdering two American journalists really enough to ‘honourably’ start a war in the name of self defense?

Another concern is the inescapable fact that tinkering with baddies in foreign countries never turns out the way we hope they will. A fine example is if you were to ask Iraqi citizens if life has improved for them following the removal of that country’s former ruthless dictator, Saddam Hussein. It is unlikely few would think so. 500,000 Iraqi lives have been lost since the war began, directly or indirectly a result of that conflict. As well, 5000 American troops didn’t come home to their families. (The Iraqi casualty figures are according to a University of Washington study reported in the Huffington Post.)

And all these deaths were for what? To save people the violence of the Iraqi people’s former boss? Doesn’t it all seem so counter-productive? Our efforts in Afghanistan, too, have really failed to effect the change that was supposed to occur.

What a shock. The Russians were stupidly mired in the country for years. Could we not have seen the folly of their ways? Whatever infrastructure left behind by our well-meaning efforts will likely be as wasted as the lives of the 158 Canadian troops that didn’t make it home.

Ultimately, it seems we can’t really help these people as everything we do makes the situation worse. We are arming Syria’s moderate rebel forces, as part of the plan concocted by US president Barack Obama, as if such a thing as a ‘Syrian moderate rebel’ actually existed. Do we have any assurances these weapons won’t eventually be levelled at western forces? Even if these are truly just simple shop keepers and pharmacists and are nominally on ‘our side’, as they have been described as, will they have the military acumen to protect these armaments so they don’t fall into enemy hands?

The problem is that the Islamic State is a foe unlike any other the world has faced. Their pure, brutish barbarism is so appalling to our sensibilities, our consciences scream for the brutality to stop. Unfortunately, brutality seems to be part of the political mix in much of the Middle East.

Iraq seems to require a brutal leader such as Hussein to control all the warring factions. The tribal leaders don’t seem to respond to entreaties to, “just get along.”

Besides their viciousness, this foe isn’t a country. There are Islamic State volunteers signing up from seemingly most countries, including Canada. What element of life here in the West makes fighting there more appealing? As much as Justin Trudeau tends to the verbal gaffe, his comment that we need to understand root causes of those that hate us was bang on. It isn’t always jealousy and resentment that fuels their passionate hatred, but legitimate grievances of mistreatment. There are millions and millions of peaceful Muslims. It behooves us to try and discover why some believers get radicalized although obviously the vast majority do not. If the answer is because they were whacked out nutbars to begin with, then so be it. At least we would know for sure.

I think we must ask ourselves many questions, whenever faced with choices such as whether to confront the conflagration in the Middle East or just stay away until the fires have burned themselves out. Is the situation a credible threat to our own country? Will our involvement improve the situation? Can our involvement actually exacerbate matters? And the most important, “Is this war important enough that I would volunteer to fight or give my blessing to my son or daughter to go?”

I can’t answer for anyone else for the last question but it seems obvious to me what my response would be; a resounding ‘no’.

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