Three levels for a successful confrontation of ISIS

The original article in Arabic was published in Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.

There seems to be American and Western plans in the making to fight ISIS in Syria, although it is unlikely to exceed air strikes and perhaps some limited commando operations. The purpose of such strikes is probably to put the emerging terrorist entity under pressure, busy it with pulling itself together and prevent it from «expanding».

The Assadist regime, for its part, was quick to offer its services in the new Western battle. While the West continues to express its contempt for the Assad regime, it's possible that the Western governments would use it as an advanced military base against ISIS, which will eventually help the Syrian regime prolong its mandate of Syrians.

Fighting ISIS, however, cannot bear fruit through punitive strikes only, no matter how harmful to ISIS such strikes can be. It is impossible to exclude the military option in fighting a fascist power which uses terrorism as a tactic, psychological tool, and governing strategy. Facing the terrorist entity with violence is not only a just punishment for its atrocities, but also indispensable to get rid of such a colonial phenomenon. The problem of the potential Western intervention against ISIS goes, beyond relying solely on force to confront it, to being a limited confrontation; more like a crisis management approach rather than a radical political solution. Such a crisis management approach strips all aspects of justice and liberation from our conflicts, and perceives it as a conflict between equally naughty and irrational «children», and the only important thing is to calm us down and restore stability [to the region].

Nothing is worse, more selfish and irresponsible than this approach; it is one of the reasons behind the extensive destruction in Syria and the birth of appalling entities such as ISIS. The US may think that a monster like ISIS naturally grows out of the Middle Eastern «swamp». They are right. However, this swamp is more a byproduct of their «jihad», of the jihad of other Western powers for generations, and also of their perpetual and unconditional support for another settlement entity in the region, Israel; more than being a product of the Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese «children». What's more, prioritizing stability on the hands of terrorist regimes, such as Assad's, over justice and human dignity, also contributes to creating such swamp.

Therefore, even if the American and Western intervention against the beast ISIS were more than disciplinary, and even if they were to deploy boots on the ground and their objective were to ultimately destroy ISIS, such confrontation only constitutes one of three fundamental dimensions of an effectual confrontation.

The second dimension is fighting the original face of terrorism, the Assad regime, or helping the Syrians get rid of it. The Assad regime perpetrated crimes that are far worse than ISIS's. Therefore, by mobilizing against ISIS while exempting the Assad regime, which hasn't spared a single day to kill Syrians, gives the worst message to Syrians, and «Middle Easterners» in general. In fact, singling ISIS out for punishment would be a great service to its nihilistic ideologies. ISIS, alongside other Islamic groups, have invested in the lack of trust Syrians and many Arabs have towards the world and towards its justice. ISIS exploits this mistrust to completely destroy the world's image in our social and psychological atmospheres.

A Western attack on ISIS in Raqqa, a city that Assad bombed whilst avoiding hitting ISIS and now continues to bomb under the pretext of hitting ISIS, would bring the people of Raqqa closer to the terrorist organization, not the opposite. It’s either an attack against both criminals or not attacking one and leaving the other.

The beheading of James Foley, which is a heinous crime, cannot be put on a par with torturing 11,000 detainees to death (until August 2013), neither with the chemical massacre in Ghouta, nor with the massacres in Darayya, Jdeidat Artouz, Baniyas, Houla, Tremseh and other crimes committed by the Syrian regime. Crimes cannot be compared, but punishing a criminal while turning a blind eye to others would destroy the concept of crime per se, in addition to the concepts of justice and just punishment. The result of such irresponsible approach will leave the slightly-open door completely open to nihilism and terrorism, and we may as well witness the emergence of new entities that are more appalling than ISIS.

There is a third dimension to confront ISIS, in which the West cannot help at all, and it may be better the farther it stays from it. ISIS is not only a criminal power, nor is it only the result of local and international criminal policies; but it is a form of Islam too. Muslims and Islamists who claim that ISIS is a tool created by intelligence agencies and that Islam has nothing to do with it are deceiving themselves. ISIS is a new version of al-Qaeda evolved under known conditions in Syria and Iraq, as much as al-Qaeda has evolved in Egypt and Saudi Arabia (under Saudi Salafists and Egyptian Qutbists). No one can be serious about facing ISIS while neglecting the religious dimension in its composition—albeit undoubtedly a contemporary dimension. We created this monster; it's the outcome of our political, intellectual and moral decay.

In fact, this third dimension can only be undertaken by Muslims themselves, more precisely Sunnis. ISIS is an Islamic idea, and ideas are to be faced on the intellectual level. I wonder, though, where is the solid and invincible Islamic idea that can face ISIS. The Islamists criticism of ISIS gives the impression that the problem isn't in ISIS's project to impose Islamic rule by force, but rather in its crude style, rejection of gradual change or perhaps in the unsuitability of the current circumstances for Caliphate. This is not serious, as much as the US distinction between the regime's crimes and ISIS's is not serious. It's necessary, regardless of the current situation, to extensively restructure the Islamic belief by prioritizing faith and justice at the expense of authority and legislation. This is a long-term process, but it's also the first step to confront ISIS and its likes. Furthermore, we should develop secular and liberal systems of thinking and values, because one of the sources of Islamic fundamentalism today is the poor sense of liberation in our incompetent secular ideology.

In summary, ISIS is a security problem; and, more than that, a political problem; and even more than that: an intellectual problem. An effective confrontation with ISIS combines resisting it by force, progressing toward justice in Syria by getting rid of the Assad regime, and fostering Islamic intellectual work that removes Islam from the hands of ISIS and removes «ISISism» from Islam.