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Beyond the Hysteria of Vengeance: to Defeat ISIS, End the ‘War on Terror’


The hysteria of vengeance has once again grasped hold of the West. Almost instantly, the West’s veneer of civilization has been peeled away, leaving in its place, a renewed commitment to barbarity and retribution against the monsters known as ISIS.

France, like the US after September 11, immediately rolled back its citizen’s rights and made promises to escalate the harassment and surveillance of Muslims. President François Hollande, taking a page from some of the darkest days of the Bush administration, pledged bloody revenge in a “pitiless” war against ISIS.

Hollande wasted no time making good on his pledge.

On Sunday, France announced it was working with the US to intensify airstrikes in Syria. Reuters reported that the Western coalition, led by France, dropped 20 bombs on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Northern Syria. Reports on the damage caused by the air strikes were not immediately known, though ISIS claimed the sites hit had all been evacuated in advance.

This toxic cocktail of escalating violence in the Middle East, increasing surveillance of citizens, and dehumanizing Muslims has been a major Western policy for more than 14 years now. The phrase we use for it is the “War on Terror”.

Yet, as the West’s bloodthirsty hordes scream for increased violence, one question should come to mind. Has the “War on Terror” been successful?

According to the US State Department’s own numbers, incidents of terrorism have increased by 6,500% since the “War on Terror” began in 2001. The centerpiece of the “War on Terror” was the US war in Iraq, which is quickly turned to a hellscape of bloodshed, and gave birth to ISIS. The chaos in Iraq then destabilized Syria. The jihadists in Iraq then moved to Syria to exploit the chaos of the uprising against Assad.

The US air war on ISIS has actually enhanced its recruiting ability according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. FBI Director James Comey agrees. He recently told congress that the US air wars on ISIS have only increased support for the group. Despite a year of US-led bombing, the numbers of ISIS fighters have not dropped because 30,000 new recruits have replaced those killed.

The “War on Terror” has killed 1.3 million people according to a study by Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and number of other humanitarian groups. This amount of death and destruction creates an immense amount of chaos, especially in a region, which has been held together by Western-backed dictators for decades.

The US wars in Iraq caused a sectarian conflict to erupt, which led to the creation of ISIS, and eventually to the massive refugee crisis, which is spilling over into Europe.

Even if it were possible, in theory, to engage in war against ISIS, which didn’t just add to the chaos and bloodshed, the record of the “War on Terror” shows the West, and particularly the US, is incapable of it.

So if war won’t defeat ISIS, what will?

We have to try to understand the draw of ISIS for the thousands who join.

Some Sunnis in Iraq and Syria see ISIS as their best option at the moment. They see ISIS offering some form of protection from a discriminatory Shia government in Baghdad, ruthless Shia militias in Iraq, and a repressive and violent Assad regime in Syria.

For jihadis that join ISIS from abroad, they may have legitimate grievances with Western atrocities, Western backed dictators, and the West’s looting of the region’s energy resources. Or they may have been radicalized by Wahhabist religion doctrine, which originated in the mosques of US ally Saudi Arabia, and was even supported by the US in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

For Westerners who join ISIS, the draw could be the alienation they feel from a society, which discriminates against them, dehumanizes them, distrusts them, and shoves them into the economically disadvantaged margins of society.

In France, the racism against Muslims is well documented, and the unemployment rate for Arabs and Africans in Paris’ suburbs is over 50%.

In 2013, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France recorded 691 Islamophobic acts in the country.

Individuals may even be harassed by Western governments to the point they decide to join ISIS. One example of this is “Jihadi John”, who suffered 4 years of harassment from the British government. This harassment included preventing him from moving to Kuwait where he was due to get married and start a new job.

Bombing the Middle East and increasing discrimination against Muslims will only exacerbate terrorism. ISIS cannot be bombed away. It will only be defeated by eliminating the conditions, which allow it to flourish.

After 14 years of “War on Terror” policies, which increase terror, perhaps it’s time to try policies that may decrease it.

Things the West could do which may actually decrease the specter of terror in the world:

1 Make a serious effort to end the war in Syria and pressure the Gulf to end its support for extremists.

2 End Western atrocities in the Middle East and Western support for undemocratic and dictatorial regimes.

3 Provide huge increases in humanitarian support for those affected by conflict in the Middle East. This, of course, includes the refugees arriving in Europe.

4 End austerity in the West, which forces already marginalized people into an even more difficult situation.

5Work to end Islamophobia and systematic discrimination of Muslims in the West.

These policy changes would not be easy, but they’re the only way out of this death spiral known as the “War on Terror”.

Paul Gottinger is a journalist based in Madison, WI whose work focuses on the Middle East. He can be reached via Twitter @paulgottinger or email:

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