Defeat ISIS? Reform Europe

Go to war or don’t go to war: it amounts to the same thing. Intervene, and the deaths will be collateral. Don’t intervene, and the deaths might have been preventable. So long as ISIS and Assad are intent on having a war civilians are going to die.

Conventional warfare normally looks like this: you cost the enemy so much that they have to come to the table, and accept terms they would otherwise reject because the threat of further losses is too great to risk.

This strategy is not viable.

The Caliphate seeks to create a state under a radical, neo-traditionalist interpretation of Islamic scripture without the corrupting influence of ‘modern’ philosophy. It does not matter if this influence is from the West or Muslim scholars. This state will then provoke the ‘armies of Rome’ into a battle at Dabiq, which is supposed to precede the apocalypse.

Anybody who opposes, disobeys, or resents the law of the self-appointed Caliphate is a potential victim. Gays, Christians, women, Jews, free thinkers, and any Muslims who doesn’t accept the Caliph as their sovereign, can all legally be killed under their law. There is no room for negotiation. 

We might intervene in Syria to defeat ISIS, but the intervention would require a coalition of regional actors committed to a common plan of peaceful reconstruction afterwards. No such coalition exists at this time.

Thus far, the greatest damage to ISIS has been done by Syrians themselves. Thousands of Muslims who ought to be citizens of the new utopia are leaving and taking their skills and manpower with them. And they’re going West, to the heart of corruption!

Europe has struggled to handle the refugee crisis and Paris attacks.  Just as in the sovereign debt issue, the lack joined-up thinking at the level of the Union has been exposed. Coordination between security and migration services is lacklustre at best and non-existent at worst.

Many regard refugees as a threat: a terrorist could sneak in among them, even if recent terror attacks have been perpetrated by disaffected European citizens. The scale of the exodus could overwhelm public services in any particular country. ‘They do not share our values’.

On the contrary: Syrians are our greatest ally against ISIS. Every Muslim who chooses to be European is a part of our community, and stands for what we all stand for.

But what we stand for isn’t obvious. Forget our Muslim fellows: Britons disagree about what Britain stands for. A large number of Scots want to leave. The EU means very different things to Greece and Poland. Orban is building a Putin-eque Hungary to oppose values we think are European. How can anyone integrate into an unarticulated ideal?

Europe is too weak to help the refugees or protect ourselves. It is missing essential pieces.

We need a border guard with the power to check, aid, and house refugees. We need a shared intelligence agency. We need a common sense of our ideals, history, and spirit. These must be democratically instituted as a constitution.

To end Europe’s weakness, we need a comprehensive take-it-or-leave-it referendum on our shared institutions, rights, and foundational beliefs. Those who want independence can have it. The Europe that remains will at least be a country with the tools needed to coordinate its affairs and combat ISIS.

We need the refugees, and they need us.  Together, we send a message to ISIS: ‘We choose freedom over terror.’

* Toby MacDonnell is a Lib Dem member. He is a graduate in history from Sussex university reading Keynes and Baudrillard in preparation for postgraduate studies.

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  • nigel hunter 2nd Dec '15 - 9:49am

    ISIS are fighting past wars. They are going back to Roman Imperial times when Christianity rejected Muhammads approach and formed his own religion. History has moved on. The refugees only want what everybody wants, safety food and shelter a future for their family. True ,the perpetrators in France were disaffected Europeans, maybe we should ask ourselves whether we can improve how we belong to the human race. Human values are the same wherever you are, lack of education of others cultures is our weakness. Yes we are not a united area we need to be and to act as one.

  • nigel hunter 2nd Dec '15 - 10:01am

    We hear of attacks being stopped on the country but we do not hear any details, only brief comments. How is bombing ISIS in Syria protecting the UK from attack? The terrorists will be here already in sleeper cells, if here at all. In the rush to keep us safe the case is made that we need the bombing but this could be what the sleepers, if here ,want The US has it right, SAS style boots on the ground.

  • “These must be democratically instituted as a constitution”

    “The adoption of which should be subject to country by country referenda in order to cement its full democratic legitimacy”, as European leaders never said, ever.

  • Christopher Haigh 2nd Dec '15 - 10:28am

    First class analysis of the Isis problem Toby.

  • This is about the UK maintaining the illusion of being a World power.
    We need to justify our spend on weapons of force projection (influence) – Aircraft carriers / Astute class submarines / Trident replacement etc.
    The Paris deaths are to be used to Camerons advantage and the LibDems will be right there to support him as always.
    If you ever pause to consider the party reduction to 8 MPs you may come to realise that being the lap dog of the Tories is not the best plan.

    Are your members really in support of such a poorly put together “War Plan” – I doubt it.

  • nigel hunter

    If you stepped back and looked at the history of the Christian Wars (not just the middle east, have a look at the Cathars in France). The history of “Britain” as it built an Empire – How many died 150million / 200million from the 16th to the 20th century…ah the good old days of rifle against spear. (Now we have Brimstone)

    Do you really think being aggressive is the answer to such problems in the World?

  • Mark Seaman 2nd Dec '15 - 10:53am

    I think it important to remember that many of those leaving Syria are fleeing from the actions of the Assad regime, so may not be particularly anti ISIS at all.

  • Only a couple of years ago terrorist “sleeper cells” would have been attributed to Al Qaeda. I suspect that the problem is really hands full of people who are attracted to extreme views with only very loose ties to any organisation getting together to commit atrocities and that we are being sold something of a pup. Right-wingers tend to see open borders letting dangerous people in and left wingers see disenfranchisement, alienation creating angry people etc. But in the former case more people have left Britain to fight for ISIL than have come in to extend the fight and in the latter case there really aren’t that many of them and it’s entirely possible that as with their white Nazi counterparts they are just people with nasty views. I agree that there is very little evidence that refugees pose a threat and that we could and should do more to help. but the problem is that great chunks of the British public aren’t so sold on the idea and it’s a tough sell.

  • Peter Townes 2nd Dec '15 - 12:53pm

    I am a former member of the party,which I left following the disastrous lurch to the right following the right wing coup of the Orangebookers and the subsequent coalition in which Nick Clegg went far further than the Coalition Agreement(ie dropping the top rate of tax when everybody else was expected to make sacrifices)and of course the disaster of tuition fees.
    Cameron is now saying that if you don’t support the motion you are a terrorist sympathiser.

    I had hoped that when Tim Farron became leader we should see the party return to its former principles as practised during the successful years under Messrs Steele,Ashdown and Kennedy.

    However it would appear that this is not the case where Syria is concerned and Tim Farron is following Cameron just as his predecessor did with such disastrous consequences.Has he sounded out his party and what about the cost in money and lives to heap more misery on the population and probably increase the risk of reprisals.Has he thought why the Australians and Canadians have pulled out, and heard what a lot of defence experts have opined.

    I do hope that during the debate he changes his mind,and that the remaining seven MP’s vote against bombing Syria.

  • A Sad, Sad day. Bye bye fight back. This is Tim’s “tuition fee ” moment. There is no coherent plan. There can be no ‘good’ outcome. Daesh is a cancer and first one has to isolate it and shrink the tumour before a surgical operation to remove the infected site. Surgery too early simply spreads the cancerous cells all around the body.

  • John Roffey 2nd Dec '15 - 1:58pm

    Clootie 2nd Dec ’15 – 10:35am
    “This is about the UK maintaining the illusion of being a World power.
    We need to justify our spend on weapons of force projection (influence) – Aircraft carriers / Astute class submarines / Trident replacement etc.
    The Paris deaths are to be used to Camerons advantage and the LibDems will be right there to support him as always.
    If you ever pause to consider the party reduction to 8 MPs you may come to realise that being the lap dog of the Tories is not the best plan.”

    Very well put. Coupled to the fact that each of the proposed missions would cost the same as around 250 homes being fitted with solar panels – had Osborne not cancelled the grant to help pay for the pointless destruction of Syria.

    Cameron should just accept that we are no longer a world power.

  • A good analysis of the problem Islamic State represents. Too many people fall back on lazily blaming the West for everything, and believe that if only we stopped doing things to annoy the likes of IS, they would leave us alone. The reality is that some of those things we do that annoy IS to the extent of sending them in to a murderous rage include educating girls and listening to rock music.

    “On the contrary: Syrians are our greatest ally against ISIS. Every Muslim who chooses to be European is a part of our community, and stands for what we all stand for.”

    While that is a good point powerfully made, you can’t say it’s true of everybody who comes – some of them have literally been killing other migrants on the way over for the usual unhinged reasons (e.g. praying to the wrong god). Those, we could do without. There’s a deeper problem. As the attacks in Paris showed – and other attacks in Europe in recent years – we have a particular problem with a few disaffected young Muslims whose parents and grandparents may well have come to Europe with every intention of sharing our values in the way you describe, but this spirit has not been passed on to the next generation, who feel alienated and rootless. If we want to prevent further terrorist attacks at home, this is the biggest problem we have to tackle. And it’s not an easy problem for liberals to even admit to, since it goes against the tacit liberal assumption that it’s only the “indigenous” people who need to be persuaded of the benefits of living in a multicultural society, rather then the immigrants (and their offspring) themselves.

  • Brilliant Toby. If only Historians and not Politicians had had the vote on this.

  • Margaret Gray 3rd Dec '15 - 10:36am

    How could we fall for this “must do something” nonsense. So disappointing after Charles Kennedy’s principled stand.
    I was relieved however to see that Norman Lamb and Mark Williams, at least, voted against.

  • As you might be able to tell, I’m a bombing agnostic. It’s not possible to know in advance whether our efforts and those of the Vienna group might deplete the forces of ISIS and Assad to such a level that a secure state can then emerge. As with all risks, you’ve got to suck it and see.

    What I know will help is helping those fleeing this war. The more we can help the less potent the war will be. If the émigré then want to return to the state which emerges, hopefully that will be because a government they can live with has emerged. If not, I hope they can live with ours.

    Stuart, I anticipated your criticism. I actually believe the people who go to ISIS are just one demographic of people who have been affected by a crisis in our own social contract.

    If you listen to radicals on the left and right, they are saying similar things: that our state is not strong enough to defend us from international forces (migrants, global capitalism) and that we need to reverse the decline of our state’s power, to an imagined golden age. This is all to reverse a diminished sense of pride, power, or prospects which has come to the fore since the financial crisis.

    The people who turn to politicised Islam, I think, are witnessing the same crisis as these other radicals and have turned to Islam for the same reasons others have turned to leaving the EU or brands of socialist-anarchism. Being Muslim, our recent wars in Africa and the Middle East combined with their latent alienation from our culture has given their sense of this on-going crisis a collectivist, Muslim tinge.

    Is it any coincidence that political Islam has become popular now in a way it wasn’t after 9/11, at the same time as socialism, anarchism, Scots nationalism, and Europhobia?

    This is what I mean when I say we, Britons and Europeans, are divided within ourselves. The vast majority of people have very little trust in the political process, and these fringe ideas are coming to the fore because there the traditional parties in France, Belgium, and the UK are cosy enough that they will not admit that they themselves are in crisis. They will displace the crisis in confidence into the economy, or into our society.

  • A constitutional moment, to be ratified by the European people, would be a Hobbesian gambit. If all of us would participate in the ratification, as Scots have in the independence referendum, we may have an event which would serve to push our media toward a deeper, more involved, educational narrative. We may be able to restore confidence in democratic principles by overtly voting to endorse them, and constituting a whole new state to resolve the issues which the EU has repeatedly failed to. Obviously, the convention is going to be very complex.

    In one fell swoop we would have given not only alienated Muslims a sense of where they stand in our society, we give it to everyone else as well. We articulate the secular faith which would underpin a single European state. We then end the sovereign debt crisis. We then provide shelter to the refugees that need it. We create a unified law enforcement agency to combat terror and organised crime. We create a self defence force to deter Russia from further testing the regional norms. And we create a common standard of rights which can be regulated and enforced across the single market.

    Today, the tools just don’t exist to resolve these rolling, inter-connected crises. Creating those tools is the first big step.

  • @Toby
    I agree with much of what you say. It gives much food for thought.

    I think though that there is a limit to the extent that support for IS is synonymous with being anti-EU or for Scottish Independence, though I don’t argue there is no connection. It’s very easy to understand why young Muslims feel alienated from British society – such feelings are commonplace in many communities. What is much harder to understand is why a few of them do not feel equally alienated from the psychopathic (and often Muslim-killing) exploits of IS. Religion plays a large part here, but people are reluctant to talk about this for the understandable though wrong-headed reason that they don’t want to upset the 99.9% of Muslims who lead peaceful lives. This reluctance actually does Muslims no favours, because they are the people who would benefit most from the liberalisation of Islamic societies – unless of course we think that this liberalism lark is something that’s only good for us, not others.

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