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.
An interesting article, and somewhat conflicted.
The ability of radical movements to attract the young is not necessarily an indication of their worth. Consider the Red Guards in China in the 1960's or Hitler youth of the 1930's, of the Young Communists in Stalin's Russia in the 1930's. We can still use our judgement about the nature of the movement, notwithstanding the appeal of ISIS to some.
The problem is that ISIS is so tied up with the civil war in Syria and the sectarian violence in Iraq. And I guess if that was all there was to it, the West would not care that much. It is the risk of spillover to us that has got the West going. The recruiting from within the West, the various plots (alleged) against western nations, and the sheer brutality of ISIS, including the wholesale execution of defeated soldiers, the driving out, persecution and slaughter of minority groups.
ISIS could have hardly acted in a more contrary manner if they wanted to be left alone.
They have essentially done a Sebrinicia, and have gone beyond the pale. And also made sure it is on the worlds video. I recall that Sebrinicia was the tipping point for NATO in that war.
Dear Mr Trotter, to be formal and civilised (and this is not necessarily for publication), I can't leave without one last, and I hope non-sour note. I have some probably unwelcome, as it is somewhat arrogant, advice from an outsider:
Write more like this piece, much more and less of the political stuff on behalf of the left. They don't deserve you as they do not learn, currently. Their mess is not your problem and you lower yourself to mix it with their fights.
I think you are a fine, knowledgeable, well-read commentator, but let yourself down when you drift off to the tired old refrains of the failed left, for example with themes about 'neo-conservatism', irrelevant spies and tedious books on left-right blogging bash-ups. Stay clear and above that crappy, petty nonsense and turn your blog more to the intellectual sphere, as it already is some of the time. We lack such things in NZ.
I know we strongly disagree about Hager but surely you can see his great failing is his intense political bias, as that causes 75% of the population to dismiss him outright. You in your writings often manage to strike an independent stance which is where you do your best work in my opinion.
Anyway, all the best. I have enjoyed my first foray into blogs but will move on to other things as the petty political stuff from some of your regulars, disappoints & bores the hell out of me. And I do not want to be like them, which is a risk for sure, as you have seen. I want to be more ambitious.
Interesting..wasnt aware the Saudis had beheaded 57 people in the past year, disturbing. Dont doubt that the SAS nor a combat arm of the air force(if we still had one ) would be happy to engage as it is what they train for but when it comes to NZs response, both militarily and legislatively a couple of things spring to mind..even the UK with its large (comparatively) Muslim population have provided 800-2000 (various estimates) combatants to IS seem to understand that these are essentially disaffected young (mostly) men with often a background rooted in petty crime and exclusion...dont our societies have the institutions to address lawlessness already? disaffected and violent young men are hardly a new phenomenon. I recall a recent article I read where even in the land of the Great Satan you have more chance of being shot and killed by a law enforcement officer than being killed by a terrorist.
By all means allow our armed forces to assist in preventing appalling massacares if they believe they are capable of doing so, but think we need to use the overstatement of the threat to our security to further restrict the freedoms many of our forefathers fought and died for.
If there is one lesson the situation in Syria/Iraq (and many other areas of the world sadly) is what can happen when enough people feel they have no stake in society as it is and have nothing left to lose.
Here I stand, Charles, I can do no other. But, always remember, disputes would not last half so long if they did not have two sides.
You have my best wishes for a productive quest, and you are most welcome to return - just as soon as you are willing to accept in others the degree of certainty you allow yourself.
There are a number of elephants in this room. Which really should be discussed in some depth before we can come to any finite conclusions about Isis.
The running sore of Israel for instance, without which Islamists would have a lot less traction amongst ordinary people.
The invasion of Iraq, which may well have been well-meaning, and as an invasion succeeded brilliantly, but the aftermath was so full of mistakes and stupidities – allowing the army to be disbanded for instance and inviting corrupt, mainly Shiite governments.......
And of course our so-called allies or rather America's so-called allies the Saudis, who finance all this crap.
So we are left with the situation where anything other than a politically unacceptable overwhelming military response is just pissing against the wind. One is tempted to say just build a fence around the whole area and leave them to it – which probably would happen if they didn't have quite so much oil.
Be quite glad to see you back Charles if you ever conquer your arrogance and pomposity :-) – as expressed in your final post. I rather enjoyed sparring with you. Though it was rather like shooting fish in a barrel.
Bombing Syria and Iraq may be counter productive in some ways, but what are we going to do?
These murderous barbarians oppose everything we stand for in the liberal west, they oppose most starkly the careful and thought-out society we on the Left strive for and believe in.
They are thumbing their fucking nose at us and tearing up Islamic teachers just to 'prove' to the bigots that they are everything they say their are.
These people are evil, if you want Hitlerian enslavement and mass murder look no fucking further.
I pray to God that this won't be an example of the degenerated, flabby west turning the other cheek and letting these people visit their Khmer Rouge interpretation of Islam on the people of Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan.
Bombing them may be a highly flawed solution but it is better than indifference.
" 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."
Turkey is a Sunni Muslim country, much less secular than it once was. It supports IS; this is evidenced by its inaction over Kobani. IS is a Sunni group, engaged in a sectarian war, aimed at rooting out Christianity and Shia Islam from the Middle East. Besides Iraq, Syria and Iran are in its sights - which suits Turkey very well. The fall of Kobani will help to crush the Kurds' independence aspirations; which also suits Turkey very well.
"... 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."
This is a romanticised view of how male Muslims perceive women. Women are anything but safe from sexual exploitation in Muslim societies; and a fortiori in fundamentalist groups such as IS - as no doubt those unfortunate young Austrian women have found out!
@manfred: "Bombing Syria and Iraq may be counter productive in some ways, but what are we going to do?"
It would be useless at best, counterproductive (as you say) at worst. IS rejects Western notions of the liberal democracy, hence its aim to create the Caliphate. We may deplore it, but there's absolutely nothing we can do to stop it that won't make things worse. If Muslims themselves reject the idea of the Caliphate (and if Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states could be persuaded to stop funding IS), it will not come into existence.
I heard Loretta Napoleoni on radio recently; it's difficult to disagree with her. The sectarian conflict in the Middle East has a deep history; failure on the part of the West to understand its dynamics has, by way of many blunders and missteps over the centuries, led to the rise of IS. No matter how awful the violence we see from IS, is it any worse than drone strikes on innocents in the border territories of Pakistan, or in Yemen or wherever? People are just as dead; that's what happens in warfare.
Your are quite correct, Peggy.
My comment re: the IS view of women is intended to project the idealised view of the "Caliphate" that many young Muslim men (and a few young Muslim women) hold of the religious/political project currently underway in Syria and Iraq.
My own view is that the issue of whether or not the Caliphate survives will be settled by the armies of Turkey and Iran - with the US, NATO (and NZ) getting the hell out of Dodge.
As usual Surgeon you've dribbled a bib full again! Wise words.
Yes, Israel is the primary issue there. Referred to at the 'Last Great Oklahoma Land Grab', where the original people were driven off the land at the muzzle of a gun and then the army saying that the land was abandoned.
Another point worth mentioning is that to call Palestinians "Arab" is wrong. They are not, they are Arama, a different group of people.
The Yank Admin. has never been 'Intelligent' in their operations overseas and they were and are completely ignorant in this case. They should never have invaded Iraq (which was done because the US Oil companies had been cut out of the oilfields there). And as Surgeon says, disbanding the Iraqi Army and turning thousands of men loose, armed to the teeth and un-employed, is a recipe for disaster.
ISIS is the clear result of all that stupidity.
I'm quite disillusioned with the Left's constant kneejerk anti-Americanism.
In times like these, we need someone like a Max Shachtman.
I'm quite disillusioned that the constant right wing knee-jerk references to knee-jerk anti-Americanism. I can provide you with quite reasonable reasons for being against American foreign policy in the Middle East. This is not a knee-jerk reaction. The constant uncritical acceptance of whatever Israel does in the Middle East has created a running sore. The Americans are the only ones with the ability to rein in Israel's constant land grabs, but they don't. They could have settled this years ago by refusing to guarantee Israel's loans.
And as I said, the invasion of Iraq may (at some stretch I might say) have been well-intentioned, but its aftermath was a complete fuck-up. Which is directly led to the rise of Isis. So don't call it knee-jerk unless you have evidence that my knees are jerking.
Your response is totally knee jerk. You just recited the anti American canon of the western left.
And I myself am a radical leftist, a possibility you overlooked in your kneejerk response to my post.
So kneejerk and ill considered that even my previous post and its leftist content passed you by.
I suspect you didn't look up Max Shachtman either, a one time associate of Leon Trotsky in the Fourth International.
I don't think you can get more kneejerk than your post.
Don't waste your time Manfred.
GS is not only a kneejerk, he's one syllable less than that.
Even the meanest intelligence can see the civil war just getting going within Islam has little to do with the West, even Israel. It has been coming for a 1000 years and all we can hope is it will end with a reformation and enlightenment for this backward, bigoted, sexist and homophobic creed.
Just as happened similarly with Christianity and today at last even the Catholic are pretty benign.
Interesting Manfred, I give you a considered reply you give me a knee-jerk response. You assume that I did not look up Max S. Why on earth would I not do that? Google only takes about 2 minutes. I must confess I didn't know the name. I fail to see his relevance to your point actually, in fact I think he is more relevant to mine in that he advocated stopping unconditional support for the USSR. Though personally I can't see how someone who gives evidence of why we should not unconditionally support American foreign policy should be considered knee-jerk. I did say that they may well have been well-meaning in their invasion of Iraq for instance. But really you're the one making the claims, you should be giving me evidence of why we should have supported the invasion and what good it's done. You should also perhaps provide us with evidence of the good that's been done by America's unconditional support of Israel. Easy enough to throw around names. Not so easy to make a logical argument.
So I'm a jerk anonymous? Or simply a knee? More to the point, you cannot ignore the destabilising effects of American foreign policy and the existence of Israel, whether this civil war between the Sunni and the Shia was coming or not. It's probably arrived sooner. Might be a good thing, might not but I suspect relatives of those who are killed by this religious war will think it's not so good. Glad you're so sanguine about it though. Let's hope those wily oriental gentleman become more civilised as a result eh?
Now that I have a little more time, I just like to suggest that some of you guys that have been accusing me of ad hominem attacks have a look at anonymous 16:32. Now THAT is ad hominem. In fact a reasonable definition is just a couple of keystrokes away via Google. Or – I could give you a link to a rather lengthy article about this by a philosopher. Just let's know :-). And of course I expect you all to leap to my defence now. Though in my experience, that's honoured more in the breach than the observance by the right.:-)
Iraq. Israel. The Great Satan of course.
Yet nowhere in these comments is any mention made of the fact that ISIS was birthed in Syria, an Arabic country supposedly made stable through decades of rule by a ruthless tribe (the Alawites) who produced two ruthless dictators - and all of it backed militarily, politically, diplomatically, and economically by the USSR and its successor state, Russia.
A perfect doppleganger for any US support of similar Arabic nations and dictators - yet not a whisper, not been a hint, let alone an argument that these things might be not only a reason for the problem but the reason.
@ Tom Hunter: "...ISIS was birthed in Syria, an Arabic country supposedly made stable through decades of rule by a ruthless tribe (the Alawites) who produced two ruthless dictators - and all of it backed militarily, politically, diplomatically, and economically by the USSR and its successor state, Russia."
ISIS in fact began as al Qaeda in Iraq, then morphed into the Islamic Sate in Iraq and, as it expanded its operations into Syria, began to call itself Islamic Sate of Iraq and Al-Sham. Its current iteration is simply IS.
Syria under the Alawites is a secular state, in which women can drive cars and go about with their hair uncovered. Other religious minorities aren't - or weren't, until IS and the other jihadists came along - persecuted, but allowed to practise their faith.
Contrast this with the US client state Saudi Arabia, where women must be completely covered when out of their homes, lest they be accused of being prostitutes, and are forbidden from driving. Religious minorities are relentlessly persecuted. Beheading is the favoured form of punishment. Note also that Saudi Arabia supports and funds IS.
It's worth noting that the US lines up behind the forces of atavism and medieval fanaticism, while Russia lines up behind secularism and modernism.
Don't believe anything much that the US claims about Syria.
@ Chris Trotter:
"My own view is that the issue of whether or not the Caliphate survives will be settled by the armies of Turkey and Iran - with the US, NATO (and NZ) getting the hell out of Dodge."
I agree: the West should, as you say, get the hell out of Dodge. In my view, however, it's unlikely that Turkey - a Sunni country - would fight against IS; Turkey supports the IS campaign to oust the Assad regime. As far as Erdogan is concerned, if IS takes the Kurds out as well, so much the better.
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