Why is the war on ISIS a mistake?


Like other “With a Twist” blogs, the following is not a PeaceQuest editorial but a reflection of my thoughts about the current air attacks on ISIS. As the purpose of PeaceQuest is to generate conversation about war and Canada’s role in international politics, we encourage you to participate. What’s your take on these current events?

Why is the war on ISIS a mistake?

Jihadists say that they hate the west and westerners because of bombings inflicted on Muslim civilians during the recent wars our governments waged against Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 20,000 were killed in Afghanistan and more than 108,000 in Iraq. Every one of these deaths may have inspired revenge on the part of grief-stricken family members.

Many jihadists believe that the west is waging a war to destroy their version of Islam. In response, they have beheaded American and French citizens to send encouragement to other jihadists to similarly harm citizens of the countries who have terrorized them.

But what about the horrific beheadings?

Spectacles of beheadings by jihadists have been used by both sides as propaganda.

The message from ISIS is that indiscriminate killings of western citizens will continue if the west persists in bombing Muslims. These videos successfully traumatize and enrage western viewers who do not know that ISIS currently lacks the capability to launch large scale terrorist attacks on the west.

The message of many western politicians is that ISIS jihadists are subhuman monsters who deserve the ultimate use of force before they destroy the world as we know it.

Both sides are exaggerating their case, but the beheadings have served as brilliant propaganda.  Polls in western countries support the war on ISIS, largely motivated by the beheadings, and a Muslim Oklahoman with a work place grievance beheaded a co-worker this week.

Beheadings are indeed terrible but not the worst way to die.  The U.S. regularly executes its own citizens, and most recently, capital punishment by untested injections have resulted in tortured deaths that have lasted up to 43 minutes.

The Canadian government has shown remarkable tolerance for beheadings in dealings with Saudi Arabia.  In August of 2014, this country beheaded 8 people for alleged lack of faith, adultery, witchcraft and drug offences.  At the same time, Saudi Arabia is now the largest recipient of Canadian military exports.

Is the west directly threatened by ISIS?

No. ISIS does not yet possess military equipment capable of attacking Canada, the U.S. or Europe.  But Canadians seduced by Islamic jihad may be passionately committed to attack Canada if we engage in air strikes against ISIS.

What motivates Harper and other leaders to participate in this war on ISIS, even when they know that participation will increase the threat of terrorist acts at home?

Facing re-election soon, Harper needs to overcome strong criticism on many fronts and very negative polls.  The same is true for David Cameron of the U.K., Francois Hollande of France and Barack Obama who wants to see another Democratic president elected.  We are witnessing an age-old strategy: The best defence is a good offence.  These leaders distract their citizens from failed national policies by presenting themselves as international warriors for democracy. At the same time they feed the military industrial complex which funds their campaigns.

But democracy cannot be delivered by bombs.

What is an appropriate military response?

Iraqi forces abandoned significant military equipment when overwhelmed by ISIS.  These weapons must be destroyed and this is best done by very, very targeted airstrikes with transparent outcomes demonstrating no or few civilian casualties.

But not all coalition countries need to participate in this military response, especially when such a response triggers threats of retaliation.

What is the best contribution that Canada can make?

Canada should be a voice of reason:  Bombs cannot defeat terrorism.

Canada has the knowledge and resources to lead an international investigation into the social and psychological causes of terrorism. As part of our research, we could meet the leaders of ISIS to learn more about their grievances and how to counter them.

Finally, Canada and the U.S. should rescue Syrians from refugee camps before they are transformed into terrorists.  Sweden and Germany have welcomed 30,000 and 38,000 refugees respectively. Meanwhile, Canada has accepted only 200 Syrian refugees and the U.S. a mere 166.

By participating in the war on ISIS, Canada itself may inflict terror. If so, we will not defeat terrorism, but create more terrorists filled with hatred towards the west.

Please participate in the discussion by sharing your thoughts.