Opinion: Islamic State – it’s a conundrum

iraqI see myself as a small time politician who has an opinion on everything. But the proposed bombing of ISEL / ISIS (IS) worries me as I am conflicted as to what the right answer is. Does the term ‘We’ve been here’ before resonate?  And how about ‘We can’t just stand back and let these atrocities continue’?

Our record of being involved in the Middle East is very poor. On the last two Gulf wars we have demonstrated our military might but not foresight. We have demolished the perceived threat (although we still haven’t found weapons of mass destruction) excused ourselves out with ‘Now the right people will step up and do the right thing’. In each case we have failed to note that the population has been devastated by the wars. Ironically, we in the west have continually failed to recognise that the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent, if given the choice, much prefer the Western way of life. But if you have just been battered in a war, and those you hope would ally with you have done this, you turn to what is familiar and away from what you may have once aspired.

People whose hopes are dashed and feel alienated are sure fodder for extremists who, in their way, offer a degree of surety. Every time we have left the Middle East we have left a vacuum that has been filled by extremists. Islamic State is a direct consequence of Iraq and the surrounding states that are fighting for a Shia/Sunni domination of the area (Saudi and Iran). If we go in again and bomb Iraq (and it doesn’t matter if it’s legal and Iraq has asked us to assist) this will further destabilise Iraq and the region; and who knows how extreme the next incarnation will be. This will do little to diminish the Shia/Sunni differences/ambitions in the region and that rift will manifest itself in some ugly way elsewhere.

The politicians are saying this is a long term thing, that we are in it for years, but I am sorry to say I am very cynical about this. The main driver here are the Americans, the next election is about two years away; you have to ask will the new President really want to deal with this and what develops as they come into their Presidency. I suspect after 4 months or so the press will lose focus on this and most of the vile behaviours of IS will diminish as they will be in retreat; we will declare it a victory, make some declaration about assisting Iraq and support on diplomatic efforts – ‘Now the right people have stepped up to do the right thing’ – and leave another mess behind.

Yet, as human beings, how can we ignore the plight of innocent people being so brutally treated by this vile IS? How can we not counter, in my opinion as a Muslim, their incorrect and vile interpretation of Islam that is used as a political tool to manipulate people to carry out such inhuman acts of abuse?

It’s a conundrum.

I don’t think we should bomb IS in Iraq. For me it’s a mistake that will build on previous strategic failures. The situation is intolerable for those in Iraq. As much as I hate to say it, we need to support Iraq to fight their own battles; for me, this is the best of a number of bad options. For the long term we need to mediate between the Saudis (Sunni) in the main and the ambitious Iranians (Shia) to find a resolution over their conflict; we should not become pawns in their sponsored wars.

* Tahir Maher is a former Chair of South Central Liberal Democrats and lives in Wokingham.

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  • Julian Tisi 29th Sep '14 - 3:58pm

    I wouldn’t lump the first gulf war in with the second. The first had a very specific aim and it was achieved and kept to – to rescue Kuwait from invasion by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It was legal (a very clear breach of international law and clear UN resolutions) and necessary. Had we allowed Saddam to keep Kuwait then no such small state would have been safe from opportunistic aggresors.

    The second gulf war was neither legal nor necessary (not just that there were no WMDs but that the government of the day had materially falsified the evidence to remove all doubt in the intelligence put before parliament).

    How this war pans out depends on the extent to which IS are damaged by the bombing versus the extent to which ordinary people are by the same. I too am sceptical about the “long term” nature of this, coupled with the refusal to countenance ground troops. The war will never be won without the latter and I did suspect that this is more about public unwillingness to get too involved but the political need to be seen to do something. That said, air power would clearly be the first step in trying to eradicate IS.

  • ‘we in the west have continually failed to recognise that the Middle East , if given the choice, much prefer the Western way of life”
    I don’t know what the people in the Indian sub-continent want but in the Middle East there are still supporters of socialism. I don’t feel Liberal Democracy is just around the corner in that part of the world.

  • Richard Dean 29th Sep '14 - 6:36pm

    My impression is that the House of Commons motion does actually imply what Tahir wants: that we aim “to support Iraq to fight their own battles”. Our support is in the form of a little bit of air power – bombers that can be called in to assist ground troops, and surveillance craft to help them and us work out what’s happening.

    Unfortunately, some people including the defence secretary seem to believe that our aim is to help the Americans. That’s not what the motion calls for at all.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Sep '14 - 8:09pm

    Tahir, thanks for your thoughtful contribution. It recognises the complexities of the situation and doesn’t simply say “Never use the military (but the police force are OK.)”.

    The problem I see with not attacking IS and helping those who in the region that want it is that it suggests the actions of IS can be excused for religious differences. Why can’t they campaign for their laws democratically?

    When it comes to campaigning for interpretations of Islamic law democratically, can someone tell me why we don’t support the Muslim Brotherhood as a possible peaceful alternative? I don’t know much about the situation, but the fundamentals of democracy versus violent land seizures look recognisable.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Sep '14 - 11:12pm

    Tahir Maher

    But if you have just been battered in a war, and those you hope would ally with you have done this, you turn to what is familiar and away from what you may have once aspired.

    What, to killing other people like you, and turning their daughters into sex slaves? And claiming that you are the holiest people doing the will of God when you do this?

  • Eddie Sammon
    Because these places have never been democracies.

    Matthew Huntback
    Wars are full of atrocities and people become brutalised.
    In this conflict zone there are two other elements.The old Saddam army and Sunni tribesmen.
    A new political settlement is needed which is inclusive of the Sunnis which will break the grip
    of extremists and their grossly distorted religious faith.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Sep '14 - 12:55pm


    Matthew Huntback
    Wars are full of atrocities and people become brutalised.

    Sure, so just maybe we’ve been a bit brutalised as well. When one sees the brutality that is associated with Islam in so many places – all those places where people are getting killed for “blasphemy”, the death penalty imposed on a young mum recently in Sudan because she stuck to the Christian beliefs she was brought up with, the glorification of violence from Hamas in Gaza, the worship of the gun and cruel killing and the like which this “ISIS” seems to be all about, yet they claim they are the most true of all Muslims, how is that going to make the rest of us feel?

    Well, sorry, but it doesn’t make me feel like I want to give much respect to Muslims and their faith. Thanks to what is being done NOW by people claiming to be the most devout followers of it, I’ve been brutalised into thinking very bad things about it. So just maybe Muslims who don’t agree with all this should stop making excuses, stop just complaining about “Islamophobia”, and realise that it is actually up to THEM to do more to push a more decent interpretation of Islam that would help me maintain my respect for their religion.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Oct '14 - 11:51am


    In the second Gulf war we destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq – has it been rebuilt?

    Perhaps it has not because the men there are too busy having fun killing each other, claiming that if they get killed by the other side they are glorious “martyrs”, and blaming it all on “The West”.

  • Jonathan Brown 1st Oct '14 - 3:20pm

    Thanks for your very thoughtful article Tahir. Personally I feel that supporting the Iraqi state, and the Kurds, and trying to prevent further destabilisation of Iraq and the region require us to help – by bombing IS forces.

    But I share your cynecism about the wisdom of our long term plans – or lack of them.

    I would add to your comment about supporting Iraq that we ought to be supporting what’s left of the moderate Syrian opposition too. The only chance of peace in Syria is an opposition that is strong enough to force the Assad regime to negotiate seriously as well as oppose the (in practice, regime backed) ISIS. Bombing alone will only make things worse. ONLY in support of credible regional action will it have a chance of being effective. We have accepted that our partners in Iraq are far from ideal, but we seem to be doing the opposite in Syria – ignoring those we could work with and cosying up to the regime which started this all in the first place.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Oct '14 - 4:08am

    The murder of Alan Henning has slightly increased my support for intervening in Syria too. We must try very hard to prevent civilian casualties, but we also have a duty to look after our soldiers. I am very much in favour of bringing over refugees. There is a risk that we will bring over terrorists, but we can de-radicalise people by helping them.

    In my eyes the strategy needs to be to help refugees trying to escape, bomb IS and then use ground troops, possibly our own too. What we can’t do is refuse to help the refugees and then bomb them in their home-town. I am aware we have already helped Syrian refugees, but we should do more.

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