On Saturday the first widespread negotiated ‘cessation of hostilities’ started in Syria, and a day later it is still in place despite some violations – already a small victory. The deal has been brokered and supported by the US and Russia, two of the most powerful backers on each side of the conflict, and the UN has also backed it with a resolution. So what are the chances this ceasefire will succeed?
Over the last few days it’s been hard not to think about Paris. I heard about the attacks in Oxford, in the evening after a gala hosted by the Oxford Model United Nations conference. When the news came through that over a hundred were dead and that Paris was in lockdown, the joy slipped out of the room. As removed from the events as we were, we were horrified, lacking words for a response. That’s still the way I feel now about the actual shootings. Just like after the Peshawar school shooting, it’s impossible to understand the sheer hatred, the cult-like dedication, that can bring someone to execute 19 people at a café, or 89 people enjoying a concert. It’s so far removed from war, from politics, from a cause, that you just can’t get a grip on it, on the violence of the act.
In the aftermath as well, it feels like this time is different. There’s still the expressions of solidarity and of “we are not afraid”, but they seem a little empty. This could have been absolutely any one of us. People across Europe are scared, and it’s hard to just say “that’s what the terrorists want”. Well, this time they’ve succeeded.
The reaction in France this time is not one of peaceful marches, but one of war. Hollande has declared war on Islamic State – whatever that may mean – and it is looking like it will actually make a difference to their policy. This, together with the recent bombing of the Russian Metrojet in the Sinai, may finally line up the West and Russia on the same page. Assad can wait – Islamic State must be destroyed.
And while I still fully stand behind the idea that only tolerance and inclusion can defeat the ideology of terror, the response to IS itself must be one of full on confrontation. There can be no doubt that they pose a significant and direct threat to not only the Middle East (which has been obvious for years), but to the West and to Russia. When 129 people are massacred in a European capital in the name of a self-proclaimed state, mere calls for tolerance will not suffice.
At the same time though, continuing respect for and inclusion of Muslims is incredibly important, both practically and morally. They have absolutely nothing to do with this, and any response must not be aimed at them. It is too easy to allow ourselves to be caught up in anti-Muslim sentiment, and we must make the right distinction between Muslims and the group which perverts and twists their faith. It is an organization despised by almost everyone, with nothing to offer the world but hate. Again, for them, there can be no tolerance.
Destroying Islamic State by no means easy, as I’ve pointed out many times on this blog. But the events in Paris make painfully clear how quickly the cost of letting the Syrian Civil War run on can spread across the world. There are few good answers to the situation in Iraq and Syria, but the West must truly engage in helping to bring peace to these states, not just bombing them, no matter how complex this will be. If the killings in Paris can help eventually bring an end to one of the worst wars of the 21st century, maybe some good can come out of this evil.
I might significantly revise my opinion on some of this in the coming days and weeks, but this is what I’m thinking now. Besides, it’s always useful to get ideas out of my head and on to paper.
As the years go by, the war in Syria has taken on more and more of the characteristics of a proxy war, where Iran’s ally Assad fights it out against Gulf State supported militants. However, the situation is now becoming even more complicated. Over the last year the US has become directly involved, though they’re currently only targeting the Islamic State. And over the last weeks increasing reports have come out that Russia is stepping up its support for Assad, sending more shipments arms, and even looking ready to start operating an airbase. So what are these two superpowers trying to achieve? And how are they going about it? Continue reading
More than a year after Islamic State took over Mosul it is easy to get used to the fact that one of the most violent, extreme and expansionist theocracies in modern history rules over 10 million people. Today I’ve collected four different articles from this week that in some way relate to the rise of IS and its horrifying treatment of its ‘citizens’. Continue reading
After a few months in which it seemed that the Islamic State was on the back foot, one week has shaken things up all over again. IS scored two of its biggest victories since taking over Mosul last year, seizing first the Iraqi city of Ramadi, then the Syrian city of Palmyra, and finally the last border crossing between Iraq and Syria they still didn’t control. So why are these cities so important? What will the effect be on Iraq and Syria? And what does this mean for the US’s strategy? Continue reading
On Saturday night Islamic State released a video of their third beheading in less than a month. This time the victim was British aid worker David Haines. Haines was kidnapped last year in Syria where he was delivering humanitarian aid. He had previously worked for charities from Croatia to South Sudan, and leaves behind a Croatian wife and a four year old son. This latest horrific murder will only steel the resolve of the West and their Middle Eastern allies to destroy the organisation. So who is working against IS? How can they hit hardest? And what will work in the long term? Continue reading
On Saturday Iraqi Shi’a militias paraded through the streets of Baghdad in a powerful show of strength. Thousands of uniformed militiamen marched alongside trucks carrying impressive weaponry, showing their determination to stop ISIS and protect their holy cities. For the Iraqi government it comes as both a blessing and curse. While the militas will help Iraq’s demoralised army confront ISIS, it will disturb them that the militias are at least as strong as the regular army. The parade of Shi’a fighters also reinforces the sectarian differences tearing Iraq apart. But what are these differences between Sunni and Shia? Why is there such strife between them? And is this really just a religious conflict? Continue reading