As Parliament calls for a vote to extend UK military intervention in the fight against daesh (ISIS) to Syria, the question that we must ask is whether a bombing strategy will be effective in ultimately defeating ISIS. In the aftermath of the Iraq War, there is justifiable apprehension over calls for further military action in the region as there needs to be a clear approach in place that focusses on the short term defeat of ISIS and the long term rehabilitation of a people and country ravaged by conflict and political unrest.
The eradication of ISIS is something that all citizens, Muslims and Non-Muslims, wholeheartedly agree with and sincere efforts that are working towards their defeat are something that must be supported. However, what must take priority when strategizing these efforts is that they do not come at the expense of further innocent lives nor feed into grievances that will increase the support for the likes of ISIS. The approach to defeating ISIS needs to focus on three interrelating contexts, namely:
- International Diplomacy
There is no doubting the political complexities at play when looking to find a solution in the middle east. The key to tackling the issue of ISIS is for influential powers in and out of the region to redouble their effort and refocus on bringing about meaningful change. There is an important role to be played by powerful gulf nations that have the resources to cater for displaced Syrians and the advantage of proximity that can help facilitate dialogue and other interventions. There must also be an emphasis on embargos and sanctions over funding, arms and the publication of propaganda from ISIS. The role of the UK government in facilitating this is crucial.
Tackling the ideology being peddled by ISIS is an area that the Muslim community must lead on. There is no denying that ISIS have perverted the Islamic religion and misinterpreted scripture to suit their own gains. The responsibility of promoting positive, normative Islamic teaching falls on the Muslim community and in particular Muslim religious leadership. By empowering our Imams and Scholars and building coalitions between Muslim civil society organisations, we can provide the necessary antidote to extremist teaching. Note that the emphasis here is on more religion, not less. It is important that we widely strengthen the normative understanding of Islam rooted in consensual scholarship.
A military approach that focusses on impacting the infrastructure of ISIS is the most challenging to get right. Focussing on this as the predominate strategy will not be sufficient. With ISIS strongholds having been embedded into wider Syrian society, the risk of mass collateral damage and the loss of countless innocent lives is potentially very high. Indiscriminate and undefined aerial bombardment will only result in a perpetual cycle of displacement and grief. A decision on extending military intervention in this way cannot be taken lightly and guarantees must be made that innocent Syrian civilians will not get caught in the crossfire. If Military intervention is agreed by the British parliament, its application needs to be measured, surgical and targeted at degrading ISIL and its affiliates. Extensive bombing in the region should not take place.
What we need to understand then, is that the notion of simply ‘bombing’ the problem away will not suffice. The state of affairs in the Syria and Iraq is very complex and only through a holistic approach, one that focusses on the economic, socio-political and ideological can we hope to achieve change. Efforts must be focussed on rehabilitating those already affected (the refugees) and ensuring that our actions do not provide those that wish to divide us the opportunity to further entrench their narrative. Above all else though, the protection of human life must be the prevailing sentiment, both in the West, where terrorists wish to kill and maim and with military action in Syria and Iraq. Any action taken must ensure the safety and security of the innocent, innocents that have seen too much pain and suffering for any generation, and a post conflict action plan needs to be clearly articulated so vacuums are not filled with even worse characters and ideologies.