Fight ISIS with ideas, not weapons

Nicholas Riebel || Staff Writer

Scary things seem to be happening. ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) once seemed poised to take over Iraq, Syria, and overrun the Middle East. Republicans in particular were loudly worried about this threat, including the ostensibly moderate Senator Lindsey Graham, who claimed last year that “…(t)his president (Obama) needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home” ( http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/lindsey-graham-we-may-all-get-killed-isis ). Yet, we’re no longer hearingsuch alarming rhetoric. What happened?

Before I explain that, it should be noted that the Prime Minister of Israel gave a speech this week, I guess because President Obama is hellbent on letting Iran develop nuclear weapons. Premier Netanyahu did not directly say so, of course, but he seemed to insist in his belief that President Obama is blind, or at least unconcerned or under-concerned, about the threat Iran poses. This regime, after all, threatens humanity, with much of its hatred directed towards Israel, threatening the very existence of that state, even if Iran is very unlikely to have the capability to do so any time soon, whether or not it is pursuing nuclear weapons ( http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/03/politics/netanyahu-speech-5-claims/ ). Despite Iran’s focus on world conquest and/or the starting the apocalypse, surely a few more sanctions will bring them back to the negotiating table for a better deal, Mr. Netanyahu (but I digress).

Iran may or may not be developing nuclear weapons. If it is doing so, it knows that it is risking its destruction, the regime in particular will be worried for its survival, as the Green Revolution in that nation showed that the Iranian people have significant grievances against their theocratic government. Furthermore, if Iran is developing nuclear weapons, there is no guarantee that it will actually use them. This may be wishful or naive thinking, but the bellicose North Korean regime hasn’t used its weapons. I know little about international politics and about the strategic and tactical value of nuclear weaponry, yet it seems that for these isolated countries, a nuclear weapon is the only surefire deterrent, against not only its neighbors, but against the great nations of the world, especially the United States.

This is not a defense of Iran (and I know I am supposed to be talking about ISIS), but the Iranian government has reason to be worried about the United States and its allies (1953: Operation Ajax). Israel, seen by Iran and many other Middle Eastern nations as an American puppet state, is viewed with great suspicion, as a possible tool of the American government to change the politics of the Middle East, which Israel has done since its founding existence.

But I suspect that much of the hatred towards Israel from the Middle East isn’t just anti–semitism (as the Arabs are semitic themselves) or a hatred towards Jews (although that is a great component of it) but a fear that Israel will seek to dominate its neighbors through its technological superiority, and the backing of the most powerful nation on Earth. (Indeed, they have done so to the Palestinians historically, and under Netanyahu’s leadership continue to encroach on Palestinian land in the West Bank, building Israeli settlements there). This is also a major reason why much of the Middle East fears the United States: note how often they are opposed to our military presence and our cultural influence. It is this cultural influence that, (again, my suspicions may be wrong) is such an important, and perhaps the most important, reason that there even is a “War on Terror” today.

Most of the Muslims of the Middle East are not terrorists. This is a misconception that ignorant and misguided people across the world have of them. Yet, terrorists are there: like many criminals, they are often the young, the disaffected, often from disadvanted backgrounds, with little hope for the future. They are taught to blame their ills on the West, and terrorists exploit the fear that Western culture will eventually overtake Arab or Muslim culture. I suspect it is ultimately a fear of losing their identity and their lives to what they see as pervasive, un–Islamic ideas, exported most famously by the United States.

They join terrorists to be part of something greater: I think this is ISIS’s appeal- the chance to be part of a “caliphate” an Islamic army against the West and non–Muslims. They hope that they can defeat the West and restore their own ideas about how to live life, with earthly and heavenly rewards.

This is how we defeat ISIS and the other terrorists: with a war of ideas, which is how ISIS is actually trying to win, as we can see by their moderately successful efforts at propaganda. We just need to make people see the truth, that they actually offer a hopeless vision of fighting, pain, and death, nothing more or less, and when you combine that reality with the tragedies and atrocities they commit every day, they will lose the support of the people. Indeed, our very existence, as a somewhat happy society which exists without extreme religious fundamentalism and oppression, is a great alternative to the world the terrorists promise.

If we remember our history, we remember that we did not defeat the Soviet Union by invading Moscow, bombing Siberia, or funding anti–Communist militias across Eastern Europe (although these things may have helped lead to the USSR’s collapse.) We won the war of ideas. With the help of the secular Kurds, (and, grudgingly, with the far-less secular and pro–American “Iraqi” Shi’ite militias) ISIS is losing ground in Syria and Iraq (they most significantly lost Kobani) and I am confident they will be defeated, and hopefully tried for their crimes against humanity.

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