As MPs debated whether the UK should start bombing IS targets in Syria, I wrote about why this was a bad idea.
Now the debate and subsequent vote are over, it looks like no one in the House of Commons reads UNILAD – shame on them – and we are now engaged in yet another war in the Middle East. The RAF wasted no time in kicking their campaign off, sending a number of tornado jets to Syria hours after the vote was passed.
Bombing ISIS-controlled oil fields will help reduce their cash flow, and if all airstrikes were to hit oil fields – and other IS-only targets – no one would be able to argue they were a bad idea. But unfortunately war is never this clean, and innocent civilians have already begun having their lives devastated by the bombings.
Besides the civilian death toll, bombing Daesh, as we have now been told to call them, isn’t as effective as David Cameron would have you believe – because you can’t bomb an idea, as Benedict Cumberbatch rightly asserted. ISIS’s ideology has spread way beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria, thanks to their savvy social media campaign they’ve managed to export their vicious brand of Islamic extremism globally, as we saw with the Paris attacks.
The atrocities in the French capital were masterminded by a Belgian national and perpetrated mostly by French and Belgian citizens.
But where does ISIS’s ideology come from, and how could we help stop it?
Undoubtedly an evil group like IS needs to be stopped, that’s something everyone can agree on. The most effective way to do this, however, would force our politicians to face some extremely uncomfortable home truths – this is perhaps why they are so keen to bomb them into submission instead, no matter how counter-intuitive that may seem.
IS’s extreme interpretation of Islam stems from Wahhabism, an ultraconservative branch of Sunni Islam practised by our ‘good friend’ and ally Saudi Arabia. According to the New Statesman, back in 2013 the European Parliament “identified Wahhabism as the main source of global terrorism”, and although the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has condemned ISIS, other members of the country’s ruling class look more favourably on its opposition to Shiaism and strict adherence to Islam’s original practices.
The form of Islam practised by our friend Saudi Arabia and enemy ISIS are remarkably similar, as this handy infographic on crime and punishment by Middle East Eye shows:
Yet we remain incredibly close to the Saudis while simultaneously decrying IS for their savagery. We provide our allies in the repressive Gulf state with arms, a lot of arms – research by the Campaign Against Arms Trade says the UK has sold £4 billion worth of weapons to the Saudis since the Conservative government was elected in 2010.
— Peter Brookes (@BrookesTimes) November 28, 2015
Former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove revealed the close link between Saudi Arabia and ISIS last year, telling the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based security think-tank that the Saudis treat any anti-Shia militancy very favourably.
How much Saudi and Qatari money – now I’m not suggesting direct government funding, but I am suggesting maybe a blind eye being turned – is being channeled towards ISIS, and reaching it?” Dearlove said, adding: “For ISIS to be able to surge into the Sunni areas of Iraq in the way that it has done recently has to be the consequence of substantial and sustained funding. Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.
Both the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown have raised questions about Saudi Arabia’s alleged support for IS – a theory shared by many Middle East analysts – and who’s really funding and arming the terrorist group, with Ashdown saying:
The failure to put pressure on the Gulf states – and especially Saudi and Qatar – first of all to stop funding the Salafists and the Wahhabists, secondly to play a large part in this campaign, and other actions where the Government has refused to have a proper inquiry into the funding of jihadism in Britain, leads me to worry about the closeness between the Conservative Party and rich Arab Gulf individuals.
The UK’s failure to place sanctions, or even criticise a state so close to the ISIS – whether officially or not – is inadvertently helping the terrorist group flourish.
And then there’s Turkey, another ‘friend’ and fellow member of NATO. When they’re not busy bringing us terrifyingly close to World War Three with their penchant for shooting down Russian jets, they’re turning a blind eye to the sale of Islamic State’s lucrative oil – the profits of which are thought to bring the terrorist group $500 million a year, and is crucial for its ability to attract and pay new members.
Most of it finds its way onto the black market in Turkey, who have been reluctant to crack down on it as they benefit from the cheap oil prices. The Guardian reported one senior western official as saying the evidence found in the compound of a slain ISIS commander revealed direct dealings between Turkish officials and leading IS members, adding the link was ‘undeniable’.
Turkey has also been the main entry point for fresh recruits joining the jihadi cause in Syria, as well as arms, and the country even provided medical care for wounded IS fighters in its hospitals. One ISIS commander told the Washington Post: “Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies.”
While the Turkish government have stepped up their fight against ISIS recently, the main focus of their attacks are still Kurdish forces operating in Iraq and Syria – the only people involved in an effective ground war against Islamic State. Kurdish YPG and PKK fighters are considered terrorist groups by Turkey, and have been prevented from making considerable gains in the fight against IS by the Turkish military’s continued attacks.
If you need any more proof, The Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University have put together a very comprehensive list of the ways Turkey has supported the Islamic State.
As we continue our bombing campaign in Syria, we should really consider what our ‘allies’ are doing to fund and support IS. By limiting their oil revenue and other funding, stopping the war against the only people effectively fighting IS on the ground in Syria, and completely cutting off their supply routes for arms and fighters, we could considerably weaken IS’s operations, making life in the self-declared caliphate more difficult and less attractive for new recruits.
There are other options. Not wanting to bomb innocent people shouldn’t be a question of left or right, it’s just basic human compassion – which is something that terrifies IS more than bombs.