Britain has to fight ISIS, but should be wary of their trap

20th August, 2014 9:02 am

Yesterday night the terrorist group Islamic State released a video in which they beheaded the American journalist James Foley. I would not recommend watching it.

The ISIS video was gruesome but it showed more than tragedy – it was also a carefully constructed act of propaganda. And its important we take that into account before deciding on a response.

The video begins with President Obama talking about air-strikes against Islamic State. It ends with the executioner telling the camera: “[A]ny attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic Caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.” With his face fully covered, he speaks in a clearly British accent.


If earlier videos of British Muslims calling on others to join them in the Islamic State hadn’t convinced, this ends the debate over whether Britain should get involved against ISIS. It’s now matter of how far we go. Parliament has to be recalled. We need a proper debate on the UK’s foreign policy objectives and plans in Iraq in the open, rather than “scrutiny by BBC Breakfast”.

But its also worth remembering, ISIS want the United States and UK to engage in direct war against them, in full knowledge it won’t be enough to wipe them out (via troops on the ground), but enough to cause civilian casualties and attract more fighters to their cause. This is why an American was killed by a Briton. They waited till Obama specifically talked about hitting their Caliphate and immediately used that for their videos. They want to lure us to their trap.

I’ve written earlier why we have to tread carefully. A US and UK led force destroying the most successful and largest Caliphate in recent times, however reviled ISIS may be, would be very symbolic. It would be used as a recruiting tool for terrorists for generations. This is why ISIS want to lure us in and we must be wary of their plans.

This isn’t to say we should not confront Islamic State. We have no other choice now. But it must be led by Arab forces, for symbolic, logistical and theological reasons. This isn’t merely a military confrontation but an ideological one too. By taking the lead we also absolve the likes of Saudi Arabia from having to confront the religious extremism they’ve peddled for decades.

But to truly undermine the Islamic State we need security and stability across the Middle East. Britain has to take a lead in pushing Israel and Palestine towards an independent peace plan. We cannot support the murderous and dictatorial Egyptian regime, nor be seen as propping up other dictatorships across the region.

The astonishing speed with which ISIS has grown can be blamed on the invasion of Iraq, the subsequent political instability, Sunni-Shia sectarianism or financing from private donors and oil fields.

But the real spark for ISIS came from Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s genocide prompted a rebellion that became more religiously motivated with time. Of course, Arab states stood by as the dead bodies piled up, but so did the west. ISIS drew strength from the hopelessness in Syria, and grew because we looked away and became paralysed by inaction.

Unless we provide hope, stability and peace to the people of the Middle East, there will always be groups like ISIS to tempt them. That should also be part of our plan to hit back at ISIS.

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  • Aileen Cheetham

    Any Brits ou there with these murderous thugs should be denied repatriation to the UK, arrested on sight and if necessary we should start action and sequester all their assets in the Uk now.

  • markmyword49

    It’s not up to us (the West) to provide hope, stability and peace. That’s for the people who live in the region to do. We cannot force our ideas on them. That would be just as bad as what IS are doing. After all our idea of bringing peace is the bomb and the bullet just like IS. The dead and maimed are the result be it an IS or NATO operation.
    Don’t just blame Assad for the rise of IS. They were there before the Arab Spring but they were not listened to except for a few disaffected individuals. We gave political and military support to the overthrow of various regimes picking the most inept groups to back. That left IS who had a coherent policy and the command structure to take advantage and pick up support from those who hoped that stability and peace would be found in the area they control. They are wrong but who’s to blame them when they see the results of Western involvement.

    • Barry_Edwards

      But it is up to us to act, although not necessarily militarily, to repair the damage we have caused in the past. i posted this as a comment to Jon Wilson’s Labour List piece. It also applies here:

      “I am sure there are others who are far better able to comment on the
      history of the Middle East than me but, when reading about present
      events there, my thoughts go back to Iran in 1953.

      A democratically-elected government under Mohammad Mossadegh wanted Iran to have control over its own natural resources including oil. For 50 years this had been run by British Petroleum and its predecessors. They were supposed to pay a percentage to the Iranian government but kept the figures upon which the payment was made secret. When local workers objected to poor conditions and pay BP got the Shah to turn out the troops.

      As I understand it BP did not want anything to change so they asked the British Prime Minister, Churchill, to do something about Mossadegh. Churchill knew that the UK was too weak to do anything so asked the US and the CIA executed a plan to destabilize Iran, overthrow Mossadegh and restore the autocratic power of the Shah, who handed the oil back to BP.

      What the Iranians, and others, seemed to have learned was that you could not trust democracy; it was too easily overthrown by the west. I think that is why, in 1979, we got the Khomeini-led theocratic revolution and a new form of politics in the Middle East.

      I would welcome someone with more expertise to write about this and about how it might be possible to help restore trust in democracy in the Middle East.”

  • Rangjan

    Right. What about these internet rumours that ISIS was setup, funded and supported by MI6, the CIA and Mossad? That also needs investigation by (& probably better oversight from) our elected representatives.

    • Mike B

      Yep there are also rumours that the earth is flat, the guy down the chip shop is Elvis and the moon is made of cheese. Most people are on planet normal.

    • Grouchy Oldgit

      Dunno about that but since Bliar’s dodgy dossier I treat anything from gov’t or mainstream media with skepticism. Can’t help feeling the public are treated like mushrooms, kept in dark & fed full of ****

  • Grouchy Oldgit

    I don’t pretend to know the difference between a sunni or shia or any of the sects doing these terrible things, but the only real solution is to stop bringing up kids to hate those of different “religion” / “god”. Only question is whether this will happen before humanity perishes in WW3. Only intervention Britain should make is as part of UN authorized response.

    • SlackbladderPB

      One would hope that living in the UK you would be brought up in this way, but the number of people going to ISIS from this country would show that for these people at least, that failed.

  • lyndon666

    “But to truly undermine the Islamic State we need security and stability across the Middle East. Britain has to take a lead in pushing Israel and Palestine towards an independent peace plan”

    Oh come on Sunny, not you too?

    ISIS reject all forms of nationalism as apostasy, so it is a matter of complete and utter indifference to them whether the Palestinians have their own state or not. ISIS’s problem with Israel is not a political one, it is the very existence of Jews living on “muslim lands.” And since plenty of Europeans also live on “muslim land” (Spain, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria etc.), Israel’s problem is also our problem.

  • I doubt they actually want the US to fight them, Sunny. There’s not much they can do to deter US action against them, but they’ve chosen to try the one possible move within their power that could possibly achieve that. So I think it’s much more likely that that’s their aim.

    As for your fear of creating a long term “recruiting sergeant”, the problem with that sort of thinking, it seems to me, is the implication that if we just do nothing for an undefined period (10 years? 20?), those attracted to terrorism will let bygones be bygones and make peace with “the West”. I can’t really imagine that, to be honest. And in the meantime, what happens to people in Kurdistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria?

    Your idea of an Arab-led force has attractions, but I doubt the Iraqi army and others can defeat “IS” without American help. So I back American involvement, and will support British action too if it’s proposed. I think Britain should help in any way it can, humanitarian or military.

    It seems to me there are two other questions for us specifically.

    First: what are we going to do stop the export of British “jihadis”? I think we have a responsibility to the people of these region, who have already suffered far too much at the hands of “IS” torturers, to really tackle the flow from here. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think “let’s do nothing so we’re not recruiting sergeants” is a remotely adequate response.

    Second: what approach is Labour going to develop to all of this? I want to see Ed in Number 10 inside twelve months, and expect to see it too. I support him. But I have to admit I worry that his approach to global issues like this has been unserious and tactical. I think you’re right to be critical of the international non-response to Syria, and Ed’s disastrous attempt to create a popular dividing line really didn’t help. He took a similar shallow and tactical approach to Gaza recently, I thought, again trying to get a few quick votes by drawing a fine dividing line from Cameron.

    I want now to see a serious, principled approach from Labour to both the international and the domestic aspects of this issue.

  • keithveness

    The Kurds – who are doing all the ground fighting – are NOT Arabs and have made it clear they won’t fight past the traditional Kurdish areas. The Baghdad regime basically want a Shia-I-Stan and a Shia versus Sunni bloodbath is not a great idea. A democratic federal Iraq may have worked after 2003 but the idiots in Washington & London sabotaged this and still prattle on about keeping Iraq together. However, its now like Monty Python’s parrot – “joined the choir immortal” – and a new settlement is needed that gives independence to the Kurds and two new smaller Arab states.


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