Vengeance is a normal, human reaction. So it is understandable that many, if not most, of us in the West today wish to inflict it upon Daesh. Our safety has been under what feels like a constant attack by ignorant thugs who veil themselves in an absolute and medieval interpretation of their religion. Quite understandably, we want to hit back so hard they don’t ever dare to get back up. We want them to fear the hell we will rain down upon them if they attack us again.
Such an emotional response is precisely why none of us should be in a position to decide how to respond to the threat of Daesh. A decision that could put the lives of a nation’s defenders on the threshold of death needs to be made according to deeply considered facts, strategies and tactics, not a gut reaction to anger and fear.
Vengeance tells us to mercilessly attack Daesh in the heart of its so-called caliphate. We conflate this with a sense of moral duty to protect people who cannot protect themselves. We tell ourselves that if it comes to war, the West would be standing up for the people of Syria and Iraq when their own governments are unable or unwilling to. But at the same time we would be satisfying a thirst to exact retribution for our own fallen.
There is an increasingly prevalent view in some quarters that Daesh will be defeated if Western nations deploy troops and take the fight directly to the militia in Iraq and Syria. Consider this though: if our reaction to an attack is to fight back, why would we expect the reaction of Daesh to be world-wide submission? Any unilateral ground-based military intervention by Americans and Europeans will simply be seen as Western imperialism. It will galvanise Daesh and provide the propaganda images it craves. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has taught us anything, it is that such a military response only serves to strengthen a group’s ideological resolve and recruit supporters to their cause.
Daesh must be contained and degraded within the faux-caliphate for the sake of the (relative) stability of the Middle East, as well as to undermine the legitimacy the facade of an Islamic state confers upon Daesh. Western nations will undoubtedly contribute to an international force if asked, but such a force has to be led by and be predominately comprised of Middle Eastern military personnel. The faintest scent of the Great Satan and its allies storming the cradle of civilisation will have dire ramifications for the region in the long run. The defeat of Daesh in the Middle East must be accomplished by the nations of the Middle East if the new order is to have any hope of achieving legitimacy in the eyes of the people of the Middle East.
The defeat of Daesh in the West is an entirely different proposition. In the West we must defeat an idea, not an army. As we have seen, it is not the extremist jihadis of Syria and Iraq who threaten our immediate security, it is the people within our own communities who have been radicalised by the ideology of Daesh. If government is to meet its core duty of keeping its people safe, its focus must be on domestic counter terrorism measures and the building of a stronger, more cohesive society. That means implementing strategies to prevent the radicalisation of at-risk people and to identify candidates for de-radicalisation programs.It means gathering intelligence that can be used to avert a terrorist attack. It means ensuring people know that the ideology of Daesh is as much an affront to Islam as it is to the broader global community.
It also means not isolating people because of their culture or religion. Ignorance and prejudice are not an excuse for violent extremism, but their presence creates an environment within which it festers. People in positions of power and influence would do well to remember that. Recent media forays by such individuals tarring all Muslims with the same extremist brush and clumsily proclaiming Islam to be an inferior culture demonstrate a level of unenlightened thinking that is beyond belief given our increasingly sophisticated understanding of the psychological process behind radicalisation.
Our best weapon against Daesh is a united society. Daesh recruit to their malevolent cause by preying on vulnerable individuals and deforming the reality they live in. By establishing a resilient series of networks that include family, friends, schools, churches, law enforcement and community groups, we reduce the prospect of people turning to ideologues for support and make it far more likely that individuals at risk of radicalisation or violent extremism will be diverted or arrested before anyone comes to harm. Every nation can cut Daesh off at the knees by starving it of new blood. We can all expose its ideology for the barbaric joke it is. Together we can defeat this threat at home in the way Daesh fear most: peacefully.