WHAT else is there to say?
“We – the west — should declare war on ISIS and expunge them from the face of the earth.”
“We should close our borders to Muslim refugees and immigrants.”
“We should monitor all Muslims within our borders.”
“Islam is a religion of violence and conquest and so ISIS will not be satisfied until the world is under its control.”
“The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and ISIS is unIslamic.”
“We should reach out to Muslims living in our countries and seek their help in condemning terrorist violence.”
“We should understand that western attacks and interference in the Middle East results in death of innocents there prompting reprisals in the west.
“The western media makes a big thing of deaths of westerners and ignores or plays down similar atrocities in Muslim countries.”
“This is a just a fight between Sunnis and Shiites – baddies v baddies – and we should let them get on with it without taking sides.”
“We must not let terrorists make us cower.”
“We must not allow measures against terrorism defeat the very freedoms we are seeking to observe.”
“We must sacrifice the occasional liberty in order to ensure terrorism is defeated.”
“ISIS is using the very tools of the freedom of speech it abhors to recruit people to its cause.”
“The terrorist acts are unspeakably awful, but they need to be put into perspective. The chances of being killed or injured in a terrorist act are very low.”
“The Paris attack has been a major failing of western intelligence and security measures.”
“Western intelligence and security measures have worked well in preventing terrorists getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction.”
And so, it has been a week of contradictory arguments – many persuasive, some not so. That is the strength of democracy and freedom of speech.
Importantly, out of this Hegelian thesis v antithesis, we might be able to draw some conclusions.
One conclusion is emerging from these seeming contradictions and it is therefore worth drawing attention to it. Many in security- and intelligence-related occupations are saying we have to take on ISIS fully with boots on theground to defeat them or we will only face more terrorist attacks, particularly against innocent people in places that extreme Islam sees as decadent – bars, music venues, sporting and cultural events.
Conversely, others in security- and intelligence-related occupations are saying this is essentially a Shiite v Sunni war and we should never have interfered and we should withdraw totally as soon as possible.
This should lead people to an inescapable conclusion: that what we are doing now (air strikes with no boots on the ground) is dumb. That policy is producing the propaganda and rallying point that Islam is a victim of western aggression, yet not doing anywhere near enough to wipe out the capacity of the extremists to launch terrorist attacks in the west.
Yet that was exactly France’s response – more of the same. Being seen to do something in the wake of popular grief and fury.
Surely, we should either go all out with boots on the ground or we should withdraw altogether and deny them the propaganda point which is propping up most of their radicalisation and recruiting attempts.
Even if NATO and Australia want to stay in the fray but do not want their troops involved, we should at least allow the Russians and the Kurds to do our dirty work for us. But no, we have put no pressure on Turkey to help rather than hinder the Kurds in their fight against ISIS – a fight which would be effective or even decisive if they were not under such a handicap.
Rather, NATO turns a blind eye to Turkish paranoia about the minority Kurds within their borders linking up with Kurds in northern Iraq to demand a separate state.
Russia could be given the nod to do more. After all, for a decade after 1979, the Russians held extremist Islam at bay in Afghanistan.
Also, greater pressure could be put on Saudi Arabia to stop supporting Sunni extremism. One of the best ways to do that would be to stop selling them arms.
And there lies the core to the whole problem. A far better “road map” to peace could be drawn if the US and NATO countries stopped selling arms to any country in the Middle East, including Israel.
France is the third-largest sellers of arms after the US and China. Unlike most other exports, it is an export of death and misery.
Radical Islam is similar to two other belief systems that posed existential threats to democracy and liberty – fascism and communism. The aim of all three has been a demand for universal submission to their system.
German and Japanese fascism was defeated by force. Communism was defeated by letting it defeat itself.
With radical Islam, do we fight with all-out force or do we no longer engage directly and wait patiently until it defeat itself – when enough people realise that religion is not worth dying for?
I’m tending towards the latter. At least we will be denying them a key driver of recruitment and the major justification for terrorist attacks in the west. Moreover, with a bit of help from the Kurds and the Russians, ISIS might have so much on its hands holding on to its existing territory, it might well leave us alone.
Further, history shows that boots on the ground or even swords and horses on the ground in the Middle East has never ended well for the west in the past 1000 years. So why would it now?
One thing is fairly certain: sorties from the air combined with continued hypocrisy over Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Russia will only result in more attacks like those in Paris last weekend.
But at least our leaders will be seen to be doing something.
This article first appeared in the Canberra Times and other Fairfax Media on 21 November 2015.