Former U.S. President George W. Bush and his handlers were right about one thing (and really only one) - the ‘War on Terror’ is not a conventional war. The strategies and tactics of those behind the terrorism are not as straightforward as those taught at West Point.
There are two goals behind attacks such as those in Paris. The most obvious is to inspire hate, fear and overreaction. Ideally this will be directed at Muslims or Arabs generally.
(There are 1.57 billion muslims in the world and about 400 million Arabs. If all Arabs and Muslims or even a substantial fraction of them supported groups like Al Quaeda most western cities would be in ruins and the Middle East, North Africa, most of Eurasia and southern Asia would be united against the west.)
If ISIS is successful in achieving the first objective (and they usually are) then they can attempt their second goal which is to use the misplaced hatred of Arabs and Muslims as propaganda. The leaders of groups like ISIS/ISIL can then say “See, they hate you because of your religion and nationality. There is no reasoning with them, you have to fight them. You also have to fight their allies among our people.”
This won’t work on many. Most people, regardless of who or where they are, simply want to live their lives in peace and care for their families. As someone pointed out on Twitter yesterday, most Arabs and Muslims hate groups like ISIS more than westerners do:
Attacks like those in Paris happen on an almost daily basis somewhere in the developing world. While these attacks may not make the news in the US and Europe, this Wikipedia page maintains a list. The west is largely left out of the violence.We hate them more than Westerners do. They kill our people AND make us look responsible which also gets us killed https://t.co/SWxtQiBJa1— ; (@soumayonnaise) November 13, 2015
Despite this, every racist, ignorant, Islamophobic statement, every attack against immigrants and refugees in the west and every accidental military attack with civilian casualties helps anti-western groups to recruit and ‘radicalize’ new members.
Ironically that means that George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, Stephen Harper and their allies are ‘on the side of the terrorists’. They may not help them directly, but they definitely do provide ‘aid and comfort’. Racist groups, xenophobic groups, anti-immigrant groups and the individuals making anti-muslim statements and posting racist memes in your Twitter and Facebook feeds are also providing ‘aid and comfort’ to ISIS.
The enemies of the war on terror, the people who are trying to stop the killing are those who respond to atrocities with compassion - those who know the difference between Muslims and Al Quaeda, between Arabs and ISIS/ISIL, those who choose to aid the victims of this war rather than create new ones.
(It’s worth noting that those in the west who believe that the ‘terrorists’ are practicing self-defence or who think that they are in any way justified are not on anyone’s side. Their points are largely ill-informed and absurd. Terrorist groups kill people and get people killed, and that is all that they do. You don’t practice “self-defence” by committing genocide against minority groups or by murdering thousands of your own people.)
In his final letter to Canadians, the late NDP leader Jack Layton said “my friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
In this unconventional war, that is the only path to victory. All other roads lead to more ignorance, hate, suspicion and death. It is not always easy to maintain your resolve and do the right thing in the face of unspeakable evil, but true progress is rarely easy.
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