observations and opinion
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”, aka “ISIS”) seems unique in modern history: it is a growing gang of thugs and miscreants, welded together through the bonds of war, obeying a leader who says he speaks for Allah. It has tapped into oil reserves and infrastructure for funding. More potent, perhaps, it has tapped into a thick vein of rage formed by decades of oppressive oligarchy in Middle Eastern lands. It is well-organized and technically sophisticated in the arts of war , terror and propaganda. In a very short time it has rolled up more victories and acquired more territory than any recent aggressor. It has pledged to kill everyone it does not enslave and, interestingly, seems to be keeping that promise.
The rapid geographic and demographic expansion of ISIL (they’ve actually adopted a less-local name now, going with “Islamic State” because it doesn’t confine them to limited ambitions) is magnetic and attractive for the millions of dispossessed, theocratically-inclined occupants of squalor around the eastern Mediterranean and environs. As noted, it has the structure, resources and inclination to expand. ISIL is knocking on the door of NATO now (Turkey) and is no respecter of established borders (its current territory includes chunks of two countries).
No-one wanted another war in the Middle East. Unlike the last time, the U.S. administration did not trump up a case for invasion; indeed, until mere weeks ago that administration was desperately trying to minimize the threat of ISIL, the President himself referring to them as “a junior varsity team” dressed up like the L.A. Lakers. His Glibness appears to have gotten that one utterly, spectacularly wrong, as the next months and years will show. No-one, other than ISIL itself, was looking for this battle.
And there does not have to be a war, at least, not one involving the West. Not yet, anyway. Our geographic location gives us a considerable amount of time to wait this out back home. Some places (Iraq, Syria, now the Kurds and Turkey) are not so fortunately remote from the black-hooded troops. They cannot afford to pretend that time and luck will somehow spare them the surge of “The Caliphate” towards them. But for those of us walled off by water, it seems (and probably is) very unlikely that the beheadings will soon begin in our neighbourhoods.
The West, which has sucked resources out of the planet and given it back climate change, can just sit back and watch this unfold. There are some problems with that, however. ISIL sits on top of oil and precariously close to a lot more oil. It will pile up weapons and members as it grows. Many, many, many innocents will die as it does. Many more will become refugees. Many more than that will be enslaved. Countries who are trade partners to the West will teeter, or at the very least have to push substantial security resources into a prolonged battle against the threat. Maybe it will all just go away. Maybe.
But we should ask ourselves some questions. Is ISIL, an organization which has displayed ability and determination, likely to stop voluntarily? Having outlined its geographic ambitions so plainly, is there any reason at all to believe they will decide not to take over Spain, after claiming North Africa? And, having shown such remarkable talent for murder and mayhem in mere months, is there some evidence to suggest that they will soon adopt the chess-playing style of diplomacy? So adept with knives are these people, what might they do with more bombs, or perhaps Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons, or at some point germ warfare? We can scoff at this, but why would we scoff at this?
Civilization is not an accident. It is a victory against anarchy. Progress is always temporary and will always be at risk, because too many people are prepared or anxious, to roll it backwards. Our peace and freedom depends upon the peace and freedom of our neighbours, and so on, and so on. This is a lesson we have been taught repeatedly yet one, it seems, many people are not prepared to learn. They just want to think that all this wealth and fun we enjoy is an apple that has just fallen from the tree. Let’s just lay here and listen to them drop in our laps.
But our liberty is not free. We must defend what we have, or surrender it. We fight with words, with laws, with ideas, with acts of kindness and sometimes, with acts of ruthless violence. But we must act. And so we are engaged in a ceaseless, daily, hourly siege against the forces of darkness. The forces of darkness in our midst – men beating their wives, Quebec nationalists trying to whip-up votes by stoking hatred of head scarves, “pro-lifers” terrorizing doctors, disaffected college kids in body armour shooting up movie theatres – and the forces of darkness out there, beyond our borders, for now.
There are many people, including politicians, who don’t want to believe that, so they don’t believe it. They tell us we can and should do nothing about ISIL. Sure, ISIL is terrible and unpleasant, but it is far away and besides, we don’t have the money to spend on killing it. If you look at what people are saying – notably people who consider themselves liberal or progressive – you will hear a weird mix of denial, impotence and blame. Canadian New Democrats and Liberals have considerably more nasty to things to say about Stephen Harper than they do about ISIL – which is kind of amazing, when you think about it.
The desire for peace is sincere. We can all wish that bad people did not do bad things. We can also wish to ride unicorns to work or to find gold coins in our cherry pie. Denial is a key component to optimism. But it is also a key ingredient in delusion and disaster.
We do not want a war. Of course we don’t. The problem is, we are already at war. It has been declared against us. The question is, are we prepared to fight it, or simply to lose it?