Under Fire: The fate of the Syrian border-town of Kobane has assumed an international significance. Its capture by the forces of the Islamic State would be a serious blow to the West's collective resolve to degrade and ultimately destroy this new and extremely dangerous radical Islamist project.
IF KOBANE FALLS – or should that be when Kobane falls – a number of terrible things will happen. Any Kurdish soldiers found alive in the Syrian border town will be killed. For propaganda purposes some will be beheaded, their deaths recorded, and the video clips uploaded to the Internet. Young Shi’ite women will be rounded up and sent deeper into the Islamic State (IS) where many will find themselves being offered to IS soldiers as “brides”. Any professional women (doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers) found in Kobane will face instant execution by the Islamic State pour encourager les autres. All facilities for the secular education of women will be closed.
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – the strategic and geographical coherence of the Islamic State will be greatly enhanced and their victorious forces re-deployed to apply what is likely to prove decisive additional psychological and military pressure on Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State’s advance into Anbar province.
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – the resolve of those Western nations pledged to degrade and destroy its aggressive military potential will be further weakened. Turkey, a NATO ally of the US and UK forces already engaged in Iraq and Syria, will face furious international condemnation for refusing to deploy the overwhelming strength of its armed forces in defence of Kobane’s Kurdish defenders.
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – many people in the West will observe that if the Syrian people’s nearest neighbour is prepared to sit on its hands and watch while thousands of soldiers and civilians are slaughtered or sent into sexual slavery, then why should nations thousands of kilometres from the fighting be expected to expend blood and treasure on their rescue?
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, and his Cabinet will be faced with some extremely difficult decisions. They must weigh very carefully the costs and benefits of committing elements of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to the international coalition currently battling the Islamic State. If they decide upon a military commitment (most probably in the form of personnel belonging to the NZDF’s elite Special Air Service) then how long should it be for, and under what circumstances might it be curtailed? Should New Zealand remain engaged if the seemingly unstoppable advance of the Islamic State prompts the armies of Turkey and Iran to intervene? With the boundaries of the entire Middle East being re-drawn, what business would New Zealand soldiers’ boots have on any part of its disputed ground?
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – what are young Sunni Muslim men and women living in New Zealand and other Western countries likely to make of yet another Islamic State victory? Will they (as we hope) recoil in horror at the brutal battlefield behaviour of their co-religionists? Or will at least some of them attempt the ethical calculus required to determine whether the beheading of a Western aid worker is more or less reprehensible than the “collateral damage” inflicted by an American Predator drone unleashing its Hellfire missiles on a Yemeni or Waziri village? And will those same young Muslims not wonder why Saudi Arabia, in which 57 people have been beheaded in the last year alone, has not merited the same expressions of international outrage as the Islamic State?
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – wouldn’t it be a good time to ponder the reasonably obvious fact that in the eyes of many young Sunni Muslims the Islamic State is not the dwelling place of monsters, but the one location in the Muslim world where corruption is ruthlessly rooted-out; where the administration of the law is given over to ordinary people pledged to uphold and enforce the traditions of their faith; where the State is not the enemy of ordinary people but their friend, extending to them not the iron fist of tyranny but the solicitous hand recommended by the Prophet; and where, to be a woman is not to be paraded as a lump of sexual meat, but as a precious vessel to be cherished and protected. Isn’t it time we in the West asked ourselves: just how likely is it that young Muslim men and women are leaving their families and their friends, travelling thousands of miles and hazarding their freedom, their lives, their very souls – for monsters? Internationally acclaimed expert on the funding of terrorism, Loretta Napoleoni, has already asked herself this question. Her conclusion: “It’s not.”
The question New Zealanders should now be asking themselves is whether the fight against the Islamic State is their fight? Ethically, militarily, diplomatically and politically – what should we do if Kobane falls?
Or should that be when Kobane falls?
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 14 October 2014.