Recently, a friend pointed out that the left has been strangely silent on the subject of IS and its atrocities. He posited that this argued an unreasonable degree of Islamophobia-phobia: i.e., an unwillingness to criticise Islam in any way for fear of being branded an Islamophobe, presumably by hipsters who believe that vegan females should free range or something. I thought about this for while and decided that, whilst correct, this is completely beside the point.
I’d like to illustrate the idea using a thought experiment of sorts. Imagine I have created a meme. Imagine that it’s like the unimpressed African child who points out the stupidity of first world problems and behaviour, only specifically appropriate to Iraq. Which is why I have called him ‘Headless Baby’. Which is also why you need to imagine it. I’m not trawling Google for images of a headless baby – I’m on enough watchlists already (probably).
So, we have the Headless Baby meme. What would it say? I don’t believe it would say anything. I reckon any meme that represented the Iraqi people under IS would scream. It would scream things like:
Headless Baby does not give a fuck about your ignorant, retardedly simplistic opinions of Islam.
Headless Baby does not give a fuck about your internal politics.
Headless Baby does not give a fuck about your paranoid fantasies about immigrants.
Headless Baby would like IS to stop murdering his remaining family, defiling his country and pissing all over the spirit and laws of his religion.
And you know what? I’m pretty sure that we can agree that point number four is the one that’s really of the essence. We can deal with the other stuff when it’s time to be mean and xenophobic to the displaced Iraqis and Kurds that we’ll get a tiny trickle of in the near future.
What we need to do now is to wrap our heads around how we can get this done. We need to stop shouting in the language of outrage and begin performing the calculus of force/resistance, victory/defeat. Because, for better or worse, we live in democratic countries where our governments require broad-based public support to make any policy decision viable in the longer term. This represents an opportunity to show the rest of the world that we deserve the power that we hold, by discovering the best solution and backing it. So what might that be?
If we are to believe what we hear, boots on the ground is out. Apart from military advisors, it seems unlikely that this will change unless and until Irbil and/or Baghdad is threatened. Or maybe not even then. So, having knowledge from recent history that airstrikes alone do not a total victory make, what are we left with? Proxies.
I hear a lot of talk about the Peshmerga. With generous and entirely proper feelings, people declare that we should arm the Peshmerga and give the Kurds their own state already. Five seconds of thinking will make people realise that doing this will cut the territory of three major Middle Eastern powers and cause geopolitical chaos. And I think we can all agree that now is probably not the best time to be causing additional ructions in the region. As for arming them, that’s been done (repeatedly in secret, before any of this mess ever started and once now in public). There are a couple of problems, however, with the Peshmerga as a solution, however brave and committed they might be.
Firstly, they’re small. Too small to counter the IS threat by themselves, much less eliminate it.
Secondly, their focus is split. They are currently fighting three insurgencies in various nations – they had their hands full before these murderous bastards ever came knocking.
Thirdly, for very excellent reasons, they view the West with profound distrust. They are much more comfortable acting as proxies for Iran, which they have been doing for quite some time. In fact, it is believed that Iran is ramping up support for the Peshmerga, deploying Al Quds unit(s?) to fight alongside Peshmerga forces in Mosul.
Which leads us to Iran as ‘surprise helper’ in the Middle East. In the case of IS, the interests of Iran and the West co-incide. Iran is not an Arab nation and is also predominantly Shia and, crazy mullahs aside, generally practises religious tolerance. Which means that they are as afraid of and disgusted by groups like IS as we are. Co-operation against radical Islamists also has an historical basis – Iran were key allies in the invasion of Afghanistan. They helped locate and target Taliban, as well as capturing and holding approximately 2000 Al Qaeda fighters on our (the coalition’s) behalf. Granted, they let them go again, but only after Dubya publicly spat in their faces by calling them a part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ for no reason at all that I can conceive of other than the currying of domestic favour. Remember that, as we go on.
They’re ready to help us again. They have boots on the ground – eager, formidable boots. The Quds force is known throughout the region and is believed to have conducted audacious and successful operations all over the world, including on US and Israeli soil. Usually to our horror and chagrin, but not always.They’re not supermen by any means, and, by some Western standards, they’re not even proper soldiers, but what they are is willing, battle-hardened, committed and – above all – free. Free in the most important sense being that their deployment should not cost us a single drop of blood.
And there we sort of run to the end of the list of immediately viable options. The Iraqi armed forces are disheartened and overwhelmingly absent, riven by sectarian-driven mistreatment and antagonism, they simply cannot represent a coherent or responsive force for some time to come. The Peshmerga are an excellent piece, but they are by no means even close to constituting man materiel sufficient for an entire campaign. Turkey’s not talking to us because we armed them, and also because they have problems of their own. Syria, to whom we would have turned in the past, is… well… Syria. Our biggest ally within a thousand miles is unable to move outside its contested borders without the entire damn world screaming and is, in any event, locked in its own murderous and toxic struggle.
We’re down to Iranian help. Again. They have the militia, they have the will and they have a history of (secret) co-operation with the US. They have a long history of supporting beleagured religious minorities throughout the region, and not always for hard-nosed political reasons. A longer history than ours, probably because they know the names of these minorities and how to spell them. This could work – Iranian boots, NATO planes… But it must be remembered that if and when Iraq is resolved, there’s Syria to go. And on Syria, Iran and the West fundamentally disagree. Iran wants Assad, or at least a Shia-like bloc, to stay in power. This presents a future problem, against which I think we would be advised to store up some good will.
So, can we please stop shouting about Moslems for a bit and get this problem sorted? Because Iran does, in fact, give a fuck about our opinion of the Islamic world in general and of Iran in particular. They’re famous for it. So if we want to help, we can start by not poisoning any chance of co-operation with the big players in the region. We do this by shutting our stupid mouths about Islam. Not Islamism or Islamists – criticising those things is the right and duty of every right-thinking individual. Islam itself though? Just leave it alone. Especially if all you know about the difference is based on spelling.