Even after the unspeakable horrors of the Paris attacks, do we really comprehend the depraved fervour of the terrorist organisation that confronts us? And when we do, to what extent do we tolerate the, hopefully temporary, abandonment of our normal civilised moral standards in order to eradicate it?
We absolutely must maintain some values. We should continue to welcome refugees from the ravaged country of Syria, while making what checks we can that they are not terrorists in refugee clothing. That is not just a matter of compassion, it is a vital weapon in the mission to defeat Islamic State (IS).
This argument may be difficult to understand, but it becomes obvious when you learn more about IS. Some aspects are glaringly apparent – its ideological core is a complete and utter intolerance of any religion but its own to the point of being completely indifferent to the deaths of anyone – man, woman, or child – that does not completely accept all of IS’s tenets, including many who believe themselves to be devout Muslims.
To call the IS religion Islam is an insult to the 99.9 per cent of Muslims who are as appalled as non-Muslims by not just the Paris outrages but also the conflagration in Syria and parts of Iraq. Welcoming those fleeing conflict gives the lie to IS claims that the West aims to exterminate Islam.
Even to describe IS as Wahhabi – an 18th century creed advocating a return to the original teachings of the Koran and which was enthusiastically adopted by the family which now rules Saudi Arabia – doesn’t fit IS, for it regards the House of Saud as not true believers.
The element of IS doctrine which begins to explain what it is doing in the Middle East is its belief in the establishment by apocalypse of its version of the true Islamic State or Caliphate. Apocalyptic fire will cleanse the Earth of all non-believers so establishing a peaceful Caliphate governed by strict Sharia law.
Thus, according to this doctrine, the beheadings of western hostages which so repulsed us by the so-called, now thankfully dead, Jihadi John were entirely justified by Sharia law. The nauseating massacres of Yazidi men and women (except those young enough to be sex slaves) are also justified as part of the onward march to apocalypse.
This being the 21st century, I can hardly believe that this diseased Dark Ages gibberish makes any sense to anyone. But unfortunately it does. William McCants, a respected scholar of militant Islamism, says: “References to the ‘End Times’ fill Islamic State propaganda. It’s a big selling point with foreign fighters, who want to travel to the lands where the final battles of the apocalypse will take place.
“The civil wars raging in those countries today [Iraq and Syria] lend credibility to the prophecies. For Bin Laden’s generation, the apocalypse wasn’t a great recruiting pitch. Governments in the Middle East two decades ago were more stable, and sectarianism was more subdued. It was better to recruit by calling to arms against corruption and tyranny than against the Antichrist. Today, though the apocalyptic recruiting pitch makes more sense.”
That’s why the potential killers that should worry us most are not those who may be masquerading as Syrian refugees (though there may be some), but those who are already here. The Charlie Hebdo assassins, the Paris Jewish supermarket killer, the London 7/7 attackers, and now, from what has been so far confirmed, the Paris attackers, were all citizens of western European countries.
That reveals the first point of abandonment of civilised values. We should be prepared to let the security services access our e-mails, tweets and web surfing so they can locate those in our midst who seek to bring forward the apocalypse by killing us. What does it profit us to keep our electronic communications secret if the price we pay is to be fearful of going to a concert, a football match, or just out to a restaurant?
If we defeat IS, this need not be permanent. Sunset clauses in the legislation could require such a loss of liberty to be renewed every three or four years. In the defence of the liberty of all, we must be prepared to lose a little individual privacy.
The second point is to understand that IS ideology has a weakness – that the apocalypse is supposed to begin in Syria and Iraq. So if the apocalypse does not happen, or more relevantly, becomes perceived to be an impossibility, then IS will die. That means bringing peace to those lands, a long process in which the first step is the eradication of IS.
The main reason that IS has grown so strong in such a short space of time is that its originators were henchmen of Saddam Hussein – some used their time in prison after the Iraq invasion to plot the rise of IS as did some who were simply left without a role after Saddam’s Iraqi army was disbanded.
Documents obtained by German magazine Der Spiegel after the happenstance killing in 2014 of Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, also known as Haji Bakr, a former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air force who became IS’s head of strategy, show how sophisticated the plan is.
It mimics aspects of Saddam’s rule-by-fear apparatus and adds in a layer of Sharia courts which all have Saudi judges. It has a financial structure and the international reach to recruit fighters, and now terrorists, in more than a dozen countries. Disrupting western-targeted plots is well and good, but IS has to be stopped in its tracks. The lesson of the Iraq war is avoid invasions if you can, but if it becomes unavoidable, as seems probable in Syria, do it properly and thoroughly.
The US disastrously failed to do that in Iraq by failing to win a stable peace, creating only conditions for corruption and vacuums in which sectarian violence and IS flourished.
Such is the mess of Syria, and much of Iraq still, that the task is immensely complex and will require intense planning to resolve a multiplicity of conflicting agendas, both in Syria and internationally. But we helped to create this monster which threatens death to as many Muslims as non-believers. Now we have to help kill it.