The Brain Supremacy

From the frontiers of neuroscience

The Truth About Islamic State We Don't Want to Hear Part 2

Answers aren't easy, but militaristic posturing isn't sense

In my previous post, I asked what the West can do about Islamic State, other than waging war on them.

The answer begins with a simple, but difficult change of approach on our part. Instead of seeing them as terrorists, think of them as people who do terrorism. If you think of them as people, some of whom at least may not have gone out intending to kill innocents, then you start to see possible ways of starting to defuse the threat they pose, by draining their support. (Some of these are already being advocated, or even done, despite their lack of appeal to the media, because, I hope, many of those set over us don’t actually believe the rhetoric they feed to the tabloids.) For example:

  • Stop ranting about ‘terrorists’. UK politicians these days are cagey about using the term ‘evil’, if only because it brings them such scorn from many quarters. But they hardly need it, since ‘terrorist’ now fills the gap – and has inherited much of the glamour and excitement of the older term, among people still immature enough to find violence exciting. Far better to make it seem childish, cowardly and contemptible – which killing unarmed innocents is, after all.
  • Give them an escape route – make it easier for those who are out of their depth and want to get away from Islamic State to do so. Have we done this? Or are we threatening to put them all in prison, whether or not they’ve actually committed atrocities?
  • Stick religiously to the rule of law. Don’t call them terrorists; instead refer – if you can, with weary patience – to criminals. Murderous criminals, yes, but we’ve come across those before. Make it clear that you, unlike their masters, will treat everyone fairly, however severe their crimes. State the punishments clearly, and by all means make them harsh; but state too that they will not be arbitrarily handed out, and that families and friends will not be made to suffer. And keep your promises.
  • Work on deradicalisation. The key is, again, to offer a way back to a decent life, albeit with strict terms and conditions. Boxing people into a corner is not going to encourage them to stop supporting Islamic State.
  • Ask some serious questions about why young men, and especially some young Muslims, feel the need to do this. Is society really as unfair and disrespectful to them as they seem to believe, or are their expectations unrealistic? If the latter, where do those expectations come from, and can we change them? Is the West as fair in its foreign policy as it likes to pretend, or is perfidious Albion still being somewhat hypocritical? Why don’t these people have a stake in the UK? If they want respect, can we give it to them – or at least to the vast majority of them who don’t go off on bloodthirsty rampages? If those who do are being inflamed by tales of our past misdeeds, can we do anything to show we’re publicly sorry for past brutality – and will come down hard on anyone who does it again?
  • When you have some answers, act accordingly, and put some serious political will into the effort.

Once you think of the enemy as human, strategies for dealing with him open up. They involve a lot of effort, some of it painful and much of it counter-intuitive. But they have two great advantages over blitzing him, his neighbours and his kids. (Or demonising him, which makes the blitzing more probable – whatever the government says about “no boots on the ground”.) These strategies are a lot less striking, from a media perspective, and they make our leaders look much less aggressively heroic; but they reduce the risk of British soldiers dying. And, unlike aggressive heroism, they might reduce the risk to civilians too.

 

If these posts have resonated with you, and you would like to know more, my book Cruelty offers more information.

Copyright @neurotaylor 2014.

Kathleen Taylor is a freelance science writer and researcher at Oxford University.

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