What’s worse than a demagogue who thinks violence is the only way? One who commands the world’s biggest military. Trump’s decision to drop the “mother of all bombs” on caves in Afghanistan was no more than an expensive stunt. It will excite the media, fool some Americans into thinking it will help defeat terrorists and drive up his poll ratings. As Robert De Niro once said in Wag the Dog, “War is show business – that's why we're here.”
Dropping bombs on caves in Afghanistan won’t even come near destroying Isis. Why? For a start, Isis has had little success in Afghanistan despite trying for years. The Taliban is far more of a force. And in most cases the Taliban is embedded in civilian areas rather than hiding in caves as Bin Laden did. Trump dropped a bomb to get accolades from TV news pundits. That is how success is measured in Washington DC.
But if not this, then what are we meant to do? Isis may be losing territory in Syria and Iraq but it still commands significant support worldwide. In the last month alone, we have seen Isis-inspired attacks in London, Stockholm and Dortmund, let alone Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. The group is diverting its focus from building a caliphate to creating terror elsewhere.
We don't need to panic but we do need a mature discussion on how to better defeat its sympathisers. For most of us in the West, Isis is less a military threat than an ideological foe. To defeat it we cannot “bomb the sh*t out of it”, as Trump wants. That will only energise supporters. So what else?
First, we need to accept that Isis is driven not by revenge for western foreign policy but a deep-seated hatred of all “unbelievers”. Theirs is a crusade against all who don’t sign up to their extremist interpretation of Islam. The attacks on Sweden and Germany, let alone earlier peace rallies in Turkey and mosques in Yemen, emphasise the same point: everyone is a target. A debate on whether we “invite” Isis attacks is as redundant as one on whether climate change is happening.
Of course certain conditions make it easier for Isis to recruit, like dropping huge bombs on civilians, but we shouldn’t confuse ideology with self-serving propaganda. Claiming that Isis is avenging the death of Muslims only feeds the image it has tried to build for itself, even as the reality is vastly different.
Secondly, Isis sympathisers cannot be treated with kid gloves. It beggars belief that Swedish authorities had the Stockholm attacker on their watchlist but did not deport him immediately. Europe has to take a harder line against those who express sympathy for terrorist groups, even if they came as refugees.
Lastly, we need to stand up more stridently against “anti-blasphemy” laws across the world, because they are increasingly being used to radicalise British youths. Over the last few years, Europe has let in a worryingly large number of hate preachers from Pakistan who advocate violent death for blasphemy. The hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard who murdered Pakistani politician Salman Taseer, has energised them. So did the murder of British man Asad Shah. Just yesterday a mob killed a student in Pakistan for being an Ahmadi.
The same trend is surfacing in India, where anti-blasphemy laws are being used by extremist Hindus to target secular voices. The movement against blasphemy is the kind of radicalisation that aids Isis, and yet our governments have ignored it. This is short-sighted.
Isis is more than just a terror group: it is an ideology. Its creed is a hatred of pluralism and secularism. And put simply, we would have a much better chance of defeating it if we had a smarter strategy than simply dropping big bombs.
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