By Trevor Law

When I got the alert on my phone that Paris was attacked, my reaction was one of sad resignation. I didn’t feel indignation that murders rampaged through one of the great cities of the world. I didn’t feel horror, that so few were capable of causing such carnage. All I felt was the depressing, and sinking feeling that I knew this had been coming, and that not one nation on the planet is willing to accept the greater implications of it.

Oh I am not saying I knew it would be Paris, or that it would happen just like this, but I knew that a major terrorist attack from Daish (also known as ISIS) was coming. The west has been banging the drums of war, sending special forces teams, and bombing them for months, approaching years at this point. A retaliation was inevitable. Not only that but ISIS is a truly international organization, with members from all over the world flocking to the banner of this, in the words of David Cameron, Death Cult. No, no one should be surprised this happened.

That being said the worst part about Daish isn’t its international reach and resources, its resilience to an international bombing campaign, its preoccupation with destroying relics of the pre-Islamic past, its love of massacring whole villages, or its alarmingly large and efficient network of sex slaves. Its that ISIS isn’t the cancer. It is a symptom, of a larger problem plaguing the middle east

To understand the middle east today, you have to look at Europe in the 1800’s. It started with the French Revolution, noble cries of freedom and liberty that descended into blood lust and madness. The French Revolution shook the foundations of Europe so much that after it and the Napoleonic wars Europe had to come up with the first version of international law with the “concert of Europe”. It is a tragic irony that the same blood lust was thrust upon the people of Paris.

The order of events in that crisis was started by economic hardships brought on by a corrupt regime. The people of France revolted but instead of replacing their monarch, they changed their government entirely, and when that occurred multiple nations intervened in France to stabilize the situation. France was able to hold its own with the help of a little known artillery officer named Napoleon and he led the world into what some could argue to be the first global conflict. The destruction of a corrupt regime had left a power vacuum that the people were ill-equipped to deal with and so a strong man stepped in to fill it.

Now look at the middle east. The same forces at work in Europe during that time are working through the middle east now. Corrupt Authoritarian regimes taking over for a population that has never had to deal with a democracy. You know how you fight with your neighbor about politics all the time? Well now imagine that you overthrow a dictator and you have to forge a government with that guy. It is an immensely difficult process that is full of pitfalls, the two biggest ones being extremists taking advantage of the situation and another strongman coming along and taking over. With the exception of Tunisia, every government brought down by the Arab Spring has either fallen into civil war, or returned to a different brand of dictatorship.

In Europe during this time, the great power struggle was between France and Great Britain. These two powers had been slugging it out for centuries to see who would be the dominant force in Europe. This power struggling poured gas onto the French Revolution turning it from a struggle internal to France, to something that would change the fate of Europe. In the middle east you have a similar power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These two states hate each others guts and one of their biggest policies is to screw the other whenever possible. Both see themselves as the rightful ruler of the middle east and both see the other as their mortal enemy.

So what does this have to do with Daish? Well let us say France pulls the rest of NATO into an all out invasion of Syria, in an attempt to wipe them out. Assuming such an invasion is successful what happens then? The west has shown itself totally unwilling to commit to long term occupations of middle east territory, so after a decade they will withdraw, and a strongman will take over who will raise the hatreds of the people and another awful group will emerge to fight it, and round and round the crazy train goes. The issue isn’t Daish but what gave rise to it. Anything, and I mean ANYTHING the west does to contain them will change very little in the middle east. This only changes if the middle east itself changes, and adopts a more pluralistic and open society.

In 2001 Osama Bin Laden launched the deadliest terrorist attack in human history. His hope was to unite the Islamic world against the west by provoking the west into invading. He thought that a common enemy would unite the Islamic world. What he failed to take into account was the limited ambitions of the west (stop any safe haven’s for terrorism from being created) and that ultimately the middle east’s biggest problem isn’t the evil western imperialists, but of a culture that has never had the chance to solve its own problems. Freedom isn’t a cure all, its a responsibility, so when these nations get it, not only do they have to worry about just building a working system, but also a population with unrealistic exceptions and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Daish, and secular strongman promising to fix everything.

Another war on terror won’t fix this, destroying Daish, Assad, Saddam, Bin Laden, or whoever else is the next monster to emerge is like treating the symptoms of cancer with painkillers. It makes you feel better, but doesn’t actually make anything better. This isn’t a problem any American, European, or Russian can fix. Only when the people of Middle East, with Arab led forces, and congresses, and democracies can we see an end to this nightmare.

It took Europe hundreds of years to realize this and they produced the horrors of world war two a full 112 years after the death of Napoleon. The middle east is in a war for its very soul and it is getting exported the rest of the world. So yes, talk about destroying Daish, or removing Assad, and bringing peace to Syria and Iraq all you want, but until those talks are led by the people of the Middle East, you are just delaying the inevitable. We are watching a war for the very soul of the Middle East. Unless the international community suddenly develops the ability to build working democracies, this won’t end until the Middle East itself ends it.

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10 thoughts on “The most frightening thing about ISIS isn’t even being talked about.”

  1. Absolutely correct. You can’t fix the house from the outside. Only the Arabs can stabilize the Middle East but I don’t think the Saudis and Iranians want it that way.

  2. Ha! “Build a working democracy…,” because that’s been a successful endeavor that the West has sought after for six or so decades. Nevermind my sarcasm, I definitely agree that a practical and sound foreign policy is one that acknowledges the root problems, and deeply entrenched problems that the Middle East faces right now. While I certainly understand the fear concerning the spreading of violence, I think it’s fair to say that our tactics have been fruitless in the grand scheme of things.

    I think you could probably make a whole series of posts concerning the conundrums facing the Middle East, and how Western approaches should have been emphasized, avoided, or ceased altogether. The issues facing the Middle Eastern people are issues that the Middle Eastern people have to face themselves. Anyway, thanks for the perspective.

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