224 people, including 17 children, were killed when a Russian jet was downed on 31stOctober 2015. In November, a terror group affiliated with Isis released a statement online: “The fighters of the Islamic State were able to down a Russian plane over Sinai province that was carrying over 220 Russian crusaders”.
Russia stepped up its efforts to bomb Isis strongholds in Syria following the incident. But today Egyptian authorities report that there is ‘no evidence’ that the attack was in fact carried out by Isis.
The temptation is, of course, to brandish the Egyptian reports as an attempted cover up. That would, however, be misguided. Egypt – which has a large Christian and liberal Muslim population – has been described as a land of “apostates” by the so-called Islamic State. Even when the Muslim Brotherhood were in power, Isis described socially conservative Mohammed Morsi as a “traitor” of Islam. There is no reason for Egyptian authorities to actively and unlawfully pervert the course of justice.
Accusations of a cover up would allow us to bury our heads in the sand, to deny the possibility that Isis is taking credit for attacks that it has not carried out. That would trouble the West and Russia. How would we go about justifying airstrikes? What do we say to grieving mothers in Russia who mourn the death of their children? Will the world think we are weak if we carry out an investigation into the recent bloodshed, instead of bombing Syrian towns to shreds?
Let us believe – for argument’s sake – that Isis did not down the Russian plane. Putin will have gone to war with Isis over a false declaration: 23 words of propaganda.
Putin is not alone: after the deadly attacks in Paris, President Hollande declared the tragedy as an “act of war”, intensifying airstrikes in Raqqa within hours. His decision was in response to the claim that Isis was behind the attacks. We later learned in the days that followed that Isis had a part to play in the massacre, but bombs were bearing down on the people of Raqqa long before any confirmation came through.
By responding to Isis’ unverified claims we are empowering them, giving them the legitimacy that they are so desperate to acquire. Isis relishes the international community’s response to its antagonism: knee-jerk decisions are music to the ears of the caliphate.
The West and Russia have fallen victim to the Isis propaganda machine. And the detrimental effects can be seen much closer to home than we might like to think. It is no surprise that there has been a rise in the number of Isis-inspired attacks all over Europe.
So long as the world’s political elite continue to believe in Isis’ unfounded claims, like teenage gossip, disaffection, radicalisation, terrorism, bloodshed, fear, civic unrest and war will ensue. And that is something that grieving mothers in Russia will want to end more than anything: for peace is more comforting than revenge.
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