Allister Sparks

There's a better way to deal with ISIS than war

2015-11-18 08:40

Allister Sparks

Last Friday night's terrorist attacks in Paris have brought the question of how to deal with this dreadful threat to a point where action is required.

These attacks are increasing in frequency and intensity. Coming on top of the  killing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists last February, the blast that killed 102 people outside the Ankara train station last month, the downing of the Russian airliner with 224 occupants in Sinai 11 days ago, and the suicide bombing that took 43 lives in Beirut last Thursday, the carnage has reached a point where the major world powers must decide on a policy to confront it.

This perverted form or religious warfare, which aims at causing shock by slaughtering civilians en masse, began with the al-Qaeda attack of 9/11 when two hijacked airliners packed with passengers flew into the World Trade Centre towers in New York, killing 2 977 people, while another flew into the Pentagon.

Now, 14 years later, we have 13/11 with the co-ordinated ISIS attacks on a concert hall, restaurants and the national football stadium in the French capital that killed 129 people and injuring 352. By my rough count, this brought the number of such terrorist attacks this year to 2010.

And by my reckoning there are now some 15 jihadist organisations carrying out these operations, from the Middle East to the Maghreb, from Afghanistan to Pakistan to the Philippines, as well as in Nigeria, Mali and Somalia. Plus a number of lone-wolf activists who blow themselves up in public places - and sometimes use children to do that ghastly work.

What is to be done about it?

Predictably, the candidates in the US Republican Party primaries are trying to out-howl one another in their cries for a war of retaliation and their condemnation of the Obama Administration for showing "weakness" with his reluctance to keep pitching the US into an endless series of foreign wars.

Disrupting a hornet's nest

What these Republicans forget is that it was their man, George W Bush, and his "shock and awe" war to unseat Saddam Hussein and democratise Iraq as a model for whole Middle East that sowed the seeds for this unholy mess. I'm no lover of dictators, but it is evident that for all his faults Saddam Hussein was probably the only one who could hold his theological melange of a country together.

The notion that you can remove a strong-man dictator from power and have democracy spring up naturally from the desert sands was pure fantasy. What Bush did was to disrupt a hornet's nest of religious rivalries that are now ripping the whole Middle East to anarchic shreds.

But what worries me is that even some liberal voices are calling for another war. French President Francois Hollande, a social democrat, has declared that he regards Friday's attacks as "an act of war." And outside the Bataclan concert hall, where the most blood was shed on Friday, he vowed that, "We are going to lead a war that will be pitiless."

Noting this, my favourite columnist, Roger Cohen of The New York Times, normally a commentator with a clear liberal mind, has urged that all Nato states should go to war against ISIS under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that, "An armed attack against one or more of them in Europe shall be considered an attack against them all."

The inconclusive Western interventions that have taken place in the Middle East so far are not enough, Cohen argues. This time there must be NATO forces on the ground.

"The only adequate military," he writes, "and the only objective commensurate with the ongoing threat is the crushing of ISIS and the elimination of its stronghold in Syria and Iraq. The barbaric terrorists exulting on the social media at the blood they have spilled cannot be allowed any longer to control territory on which they are able to organise, finance, direct and plan their strategy."

No military solution

Understandable perhaps, given the emotional intensity of these attacks, but wrong. There were plenty of boots on the ground in Bush's "war on terrorism" and they failed to crush the enemy. All they did was cause hundreds of millions of deaths, shatter what stability Saddam Hussein had imposed on Iraq, trigger what is effectively a Shi'ite-Sunni civil war across the region, and create this monster called ISIS with its distorted theological death cult.

There can be no military solution to what is happening in the Middle East. The equivalent of the whole of Napoleon's Grand Army won't stop one motivated fanatic from emptying the clip of an AK-47 into a crowded restaurant, nor prevent another with a suicide belt from blowing himself up in a jam-packed concert hall.

No, there has to be another way, a more sophisticated way, of dealing with this menace.

For years I have been reading and hearing about oil-rich Saudi Arabia funding the propagation abroad of a fundamentalist strain of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. It has done so by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build  madrassas, or theological schools, among Muslim communities around the world. They have done so as a kind of tithe stemming from the House of Saud's sense of responsibility to the faith for having Islam's two most sacred sites, Mecca and Meduna, on its soil.

Madrassas were long regarded simply as quality schools with a religious slant, but in recent years they have been increasingly taken over, hijacked in fact, by fundamentalist Wahhabi sectarians.

As Dr Youssaf Butt, senior adviser to the British-American Security Information Service and director of the Cultural Intelligence Service, writes: "The fountainhead of Islamic extremism that promotes and legitimises such violence lies with the fanatical Wahhabi strain of Islam centred on Saudi Arabia. If the world wants to tamp down and eliminate such violent extremism it must confront this primary host and facilitator."

They key to Obama's success

The US has recently undertaken a hugely successful sanctions campaign against Iran, bringing that problematic country to its knees and forcing it to conclude an agreement that will prevent it from developing a nuclear bomb for the next 10 years at least - and perhaps also cool its revolutionary fervour and draw it back into the community of nations.

The key to Obama's success was his use of the Swift code, the unique identification code used to transfer money internationally between banks and other financial institutions. This enabled the US to monitor all financial transactions into and out of Iran, and thus to identify and take action against any who violated the sanctions that had been imposed on Iran. That is what made the sanctions so effective.

The West, especially the US, have coddled the Saudis for far too long. Now, instead of going to war with ISIS, the Nato powers would do better to put a strong collective diplomatic squeeze on them, backed up by Swift-monitored sanctions to compel the House of Saud to clean up those theo-fascist nests which are propagating a travesty of peace-loving Islam.

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