Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for December 9th, 2015

Among the inconvenient truths about terrorism that European and American publics avoid facing up to is this: aerial bombardments with drones, cruise missiles and fighter jets are merely expensive, knee-jerk reactions by governments designed to give the semblance of “doing something” to their electorates. They have no clearly defined military or political end in view. If no conventional war has ever been won by air campaigns, how much less likely the unconventional war against ISIL (or al-Qa’ida).

The UK and US governments have clearly not learned from the fiascos in Iraq and Libya. These military adventures left over a million Iraqis killed and the region awash in advanced weapons that have fallen into the hands of new militias of which ISIL is the most dangerous. Indeed, ISIL could be called George W. Bush’s baby. The latter’s post-9/11 “war on terror” was the perfect global recruiting program for Islamist terrorists.

Prior to 9/11 the international community was threatened by a few hundred terrorists in the Hindu Kush mountains. Today there are tens of thousands, and these numbers are bound to swell as every child killed by French, American Russian or British jets becomes a propaganda victory for ISIL. Their leaders must be rubbing their hands with glee as Hollande’s and Cameron’s response to the Paris attacks is just what they sought. It bolsters their apocalyptic scenario of a final war of Islam vs West- and, of course, the ignorant Donald Trumps of the West play right into their hands.

I doubt if the French people, by and large, have any idea of who and what is being bombed in Syria and Iraq. The French President has not told us how many ISIL fighters are occupying the Syrian city of Raqqa with a population of around 200,000; yet this city has been bombed mercilessly by French jets since the Paris attacks. The bombing of oilfields by British jets will only hurt the millions of people who live in ISIL-controlled territory who need diesel for heating, transport and electricity. As for “putting boots on the ground”, I doubt if ISIL fighters are going to engage U.S forces directly; they will do what the Taliban did- melt into the towns and countryside and come back to fight another day.

Instead of bombing oilfields, Western powers could coordinate their national military intelligence services to find answers to such questions as: Who are the middle-men who are buying oil from ISIL and to which states do they sell it? Who is funding ISIL (some, I suspect, are wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that are Western allies!)? How can we better equip and support the Kurds who are the fighters most likely to inflict major causalities on ISIL? How can we help Turkey secure its long border with ISIL-held territory to prevent fresh fighters entering the area? How can we counter ISIL’s populist propaganda in the West and build better community relations in cities where the radicalization of Muslim youth is greatest? I pointed out in a previous Blog post that the Danish city of Aarhus has an excellent program of rehabilitating (rather than incarcerating) young Muslim Danes who went to Syria with romantic ideals of jihad, and came back disillusioned. (

Given that the UN Security Council is united (a rare event!) in denouncing ISIL as a terrorist threat, this is an opportune moment to bring regional and international pressure to bear on the Iraqi and Syrian regimes to accommodate Sunni demands for greater political participation. That would pull the rug from under ISIL which has claimed for itself the role of Sunni liberators. The political situation has changed dramatically now that Russia is also in the fray. Assad, like Saddam and Gaddafi before him, will have be constrained rather than toppled, however repugnant such a solution may be to all of us who care deeply about human rights.

David Cameron was right in telling the British Parliament that this was a battle against “intolerance and fascism”. But the same ideology is rampant across Europe and the U.S., and the EU is making shameful deals with Turkey to take all Syrian refugees (there are already over 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, living in abysmal conditions). Surrendering to collective fear, closing ranks against foreigners, and authorizing governments to sacrifice others for the sake of our “absolute security”- this is to show ourselves as morally bankrupt as ISIL and its supporters. Addressing “intolerance and fascism” at home is the best way the West can show that it retains some aspects of its Christian heritage. At the end of the day, this is a battle between fundamental narratives concerning how we conceive both divinity and humanity.



December 2015