Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hearts, Minds and Bombs

Before we get back to the schlocky movies and other usual business of this blog, I feel I must digress to more serious business.  I've decided that I have to address the whole business of the recent terror attacks in Paris.  The knee jerk reactionary furore which has followed this appalling business has itself been almost as appalling.  Particularly the conviction of our political leaders that the best way to respond to acts of extreme violence is to commit even more extreme acts of violence yourself.  As I've grown older, it has become ever clearer to me that violence simply begets more violence, it becomes a vicious circle which becomes ever wider and destroys more and more lives.  When it comes to combatting amorophous terror groups like ISIS, it is highly questionable whether conventional military tactics will be effective.  It's all very well bombing ISIS-held parts of Syria and Iraq, but what exactly is this achieving?  The likes of ISIS don't have conventional military or civil infrastructures to denude and disrupt.  Ordinarily, bombing would be expected to reduce the enemy's military capability, reducing their ability to attack us.  But the problem with ISIS is that they don't have a conventional military capability - as Paris has shown, they only require a handful of operatives to cause widespread chaos and fatalities. You can bomb Syria and Iraq as much as you like and it won't reduce that sort of capability.

The problem with things like ISIS are that they represent an idea or philosophy which, for one reason or another, appeals to a particular group of people at a particular time in history.  Conventional military action can only 'treat' the symptoms, to truly defeat terror organisations of this size, you need to deploy other tactics to try and undercut their support.  You have to try and understand why all those disaffected young Muslims are prepared to blow themselves up and gun down innocent civilians in the name of ISIS, rather than pursue other avenues of protest.  In order to do that, we have to do the unthinkable: ask ourselves what we, as a society, are doing to so alienate the people who become suicide bombers and terrorist gunmen, that they feel that violence is their only recourse?  I know that people don't want to here this sort of thing, insisting that we're the victims and this makes it sound as if we were 'asking for it'.  But the sad fact is that terrorist organisations prey upon young and disaffected individuals, offering them something which these individuals clearly feel that society doesn't: a sense of belonging, of worth and comradeship.  They give them the belief that they have the power to change society, despite being made to feel insignificant by the community.  To take an example, the Provisional IRA typically appealed to Catholic youths in Northern Ireland who had no jobs, no hope of a job in the foreseeable future and saw all the instruments of government dominated by the protestants, consequently perceiving them to be entirely oppressive.  By joining the IRA  they became 'someone', they had the power that a gun gives you and felt they could now strike back at their oppressors.

It's no different with the current Muslim extremists - the people they recruit to do their dirty work feel that they have no investment in the societies they attack.  Bombing towns and cities in the Middle East will only serve to reinforce this feeling and strengthen their sense of grievance. It's their hearts and minds we need to battle for if we want to 'win' this war.  Sure, I know the government likes to talk about combatting the 'radicalisation' of young Muslims, but other than harassing anyone they deem a 'radical', this doesn't seem to be achieving much.  Which isn't surprising, as it doesn't address he fundamental issues: why do they feel so disaffected, what is it about modern society which so alienates them?  I'm not saying that we need to radically change our way of life to appease potential terrorists, but perhaps a bit more accommodation and tolerance, so as to make all UK citizens feel that they belong and are valued, might help.  Ultimately, we'll have to come back to this issue, like it or not.  Unless we can totally destroy ISIS, as the Romans did to Carthage in order to end the Punic Wars, razing the city to the ground, killing the men folk and selling the women and children into slavery, then the bombing won't work.  In fact, it will just deepen their resolve, as the Blitz did with UK in World War Two.  But even then, that lesson went unlearned - what was our response to the Blitz?  That's right, bombing the shit out of Germany's cities.         

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