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Pouring petrol on a blazing fire will not extinguish it - Why the UK airstrikes on Isis are reckless

We’re all gung-ho for a counter attack but we need a conversation, writes Rob McDonnell.

Rob McDonnell

IT’S TIME TO broker a deal with the Islamic State. The “us and them” mind-set serves nobody well. There is no “us and them” – fundamentally we are all them.

I should point out that this article in no way seeks to defend or promote the attacks on Paris on 13 November, or indeed any other such cowardly, ill-minded atrocity enacted by the Islamic State or by any other individual or group.

It does, however, seek to highlight the glaring faults in our response to these atrocities.

Why are we praying?

The ‘Pray for Paris’ trend across social media platforms is an example of this. I’m uncomfortable with the notion of praying for Paris. Not because I don’t think solidarity should be shown, or that terror carried out in that way isn’t reprehensible, disgusting and absolutely inexcusable. But because religion helped get us here in the first place.

France Paris Attacks Source: Peter Dejong

I feel it’s ironic to call upon religion or faith of any sort to heal this – it’s narrow minded and it wont work. It’s telling of the ignorance and bigotry we in the West personify on a daily basis. We assume that there is a correct faith, and that this correct faith must be the one to which we subscribe.

Our faith is a product of geography, and nothing more. In our case, just because that particular geographical coincidence correlates with money and influence doesn’t make it correct. Those responsible for terror such as this commit their acts in the name of their faith. What a miserable, small, meek excuse for unimaginable wrong-doing.

The UK airstrikes are reckless 

With all that said, there is an obvious disconnect between us in the relatively secular west and the Islamic State’s unique take on Wahhabi Islam. We see an attack on Paris through our secular view and fail to remotely understand the inspiration for it.

You could argue that the inspiration doesn’t matter: that people died; that Europeans died; and if you’ll excuse the irony, that come hell or high water we’re going to make them pay. I understand that. I understand the heartache and the fear and the subsequent knee jerk reaction.

However, I would argue that an airstrike on Syria the following day was an ill advised strategy. I feel the decision of the British government to proceed with airstrikes on locations it considers to be strongholds of the Islamic State in Syria, is reckless. Even if we allow the assumption that it was a well intended decision, it’s still misdirected and unhelpful for a few reasons.

Firstly, it runs the risk of colossal collateral damage, in terms of property and money, and more importantly in terms of human lives. Imagine if this situation was in reverse: that an elected parliament somewhere in the Middle East supposed there was a threat of unknown quantity residing somewhere in London. The notion that such a government could even contemplate an airstrike on London, or on any other Western city, is inconceivable.

This harps back to the us and them argument: we can’t allow ourselves to be outraged by death in Paris, and in response to that outrage to deliver death in Syria. Pouring petrol on a blazing fire will not extinguish it.

Syria conflict Source: Danny Lawson

Second, we know from history that relatively untargeted, random airstrikes such as the recent visiting on Syria are ineffective. It has been noted that no enemy has ever been eradicated by airstrikes alone, as is sought in the case of the Islamic State.

There is also a risk that the collateral damage you effect becomes more than physical. If the vast unnecessary loss of innocent life wasn’t convincing enough to derail plans of aerial bombing, consider what the ideological backlash might be. The Islamic State, as an actively recruiting group, are capable of making attacks such as these work in their favour. The term Jihad with which we have all become familiar basically refers to struggle: a struggle that will be all the more apparent to extremist groups if it continues to be the case that they are aerially attacked by Western militaries.

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We’re all gung-ho for a counter attack but we need a conversation

The Americans are famed at this stage for their refusal to “negotiate with terrorists”. I would argue that not only is negotiation a good option, it’s the only option.  At a grassroots level, it’s abundantly clear that the average family that has been overrun by the Islamic State wishes no particular ill will on any given Parisian counterpart, or indeed any other counterpart of whatever varying colour or creed.

However, in the succinct knowledge that there is widespread fear among the people of Europe, European leaders continue to absolutely refuse the idea of understanding as a way forward.

Syria conflict Source: PA WIRE

I’ll say it in case you’ve got this far thinking I feel any different: Attacks are not acceptable, terrorism is not acceptable, curated panic is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in Europe or anywhere else. But maybe we should ask the Islamic State why they did it, and to strive for a dialogue that might bring the understanding that is required to make occurrences like the atrocities in Paris appear only in history books.

We’re all gung-ho for a counter attack, yet we all refuse to ask why there was any attack in the first place. I’m not promising you’ll get a reasonable answer; you might not get an answer at all. But you’ll have asked. Maybe people could understand, and with that understanding maybe people could drop the fear.

Nina Simone once said, “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear”.

So from that can we assume that in the absence of fear, there’d be freedom? From religion, from meek excuses, from unwarranted death? Assuming that freedom is the goal, then ask the question. It might just work. Pray it does.

Rob is a final year geography student at Trinity College, Dublin. He should have finished two years ago, but as with most things, he found procrastinating more fun. 

Read: Germany is getting ready to ‘destroy Islamic State’s safe havens’>

Read: Islamic State video shows children ‘killing Syrian security forces’>

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