John Key hasn’t made the case for military intervention, which doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Making the case means understanding what drives people to join ISIS and resisting the temptation to retro-fit our own causes onto theirs. 

It means staring at the consequences of intervening  - and not intervening.

It requires communicating clearly to New Zealanders, the legal premise for intervention, and telling us what peace looks like.

There are a few myths to debunk first.

The fight against Islamic State is not the fight of the oppressor against the disposed and the poor. Its leaders and disciples are mostly educated and middle class, if not wealthy. It’s the victims in Iraq and Syria who are the poor.

The origins of modern day jihadism are not found in the working class suburbs of Paris or London, but in the wealthy medical schools and universities of 1940s Egypt, and later the decadent house of the Royal family of Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed Emwazi, better known as the British 'Jihadi John’  was a successful IT salesman before he joined ISIS and started beheading people. The three British teenage girls, Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana  who have run away to become ‘jihadi brides’ went to an inclusive school with mixed races and would not have felt particularly alienated by their Muslim identities.

Racism exists, but there are many other ethnic groups who experience racism without resorting to jihadism. Racism doesn’t explain ISIS.

Neither are the origins of ISIS anti-American. 

The disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the failure to win the peace certainly created fertile ground for the call to terrorism. But it didn’t create ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

The jihadists were anti the 1970s socialist and secular government of Nasser in Egypt, and the Russian invaders in Afghanistan before they were anti-American. They only transformed from an anti-Communist Islamic army into a terrorist organisation determined to attack America (to the surprise of some in Al Qaeda) in the early 1990s when Osama Bin laden needed a new enemy. 

ISIS is not a group of psychopaths. There aren’t enough psychopaths in the world to make an army of more than 30,000 and fill a caliphate the size of the United Kingdom.

Not intervening isn’t necessarily the more peaceful option. We didn’t intervene in Syria. The result was genocide. 220,000 dead and counting. We didn’t intervene in Rwanda and a million Tutsi were slaughtered. 

Those who didn’t want us to intervene in Syria, still don’t want us to intervene now. When will they face the fact that the opposite of intervention isn't peace?

What does unite Al-Qaeda and ISIS is a complete rejection of the modern progressive world. That’s not a rejection of reality TV, sex, drugs and rock and roll. 

Rather it's a rejection of the right to vote (god’s law is greater), the right of girls to be educated, and the right not to be executed or flogged for being gay or writing a critical blog.

It’s a vicious ideology that has its roots in religion. Denying that isn’t going to help us defeat jihadism. Most of its victims are moderate muslims or ‘takfir’ – muslims who don’t follow the Koran literally and can therefore be excommunicated and killed, according to ISIS. 

We can’t be afraid to talk about religion. We have to stand up for the muslim woman in combat gear fighting for her right not to wear a hijab, as much as the woman on the Sydney metro choosing to wear one.

Neither can we allow the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003 to stop us taking action now to prevent crimes against humanity. 

Military intervention worked in Timor, Uganda and and Sierra Leone. These interventions were legal (which doesn’t have to mean UN-led); and they were long term.

Those who call for New Zealand funding to go to good governance and long-term development are right that these are the elements of lasting peace. 

But they’re wrong to think you can stop violence with aid.

As the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said,  Iraq "should not be allowed to affect the principles of humanitarian intervention, other than to illustrate the risks of ignoring them".

“Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who mass murdered some 300,000 of his people; his regime should have been ousted when he began to use poison gas against the Kurds...”

The lesson of Iraq in 2003 is not that we should never intervene, but that we should have intervened earlier when we had a legal reason to. And once there, we should have stayed longer.

There is only one legal premise for intervening with force (apart from self defence) and that is our ‘Responsibility to Protect’ civilians from crimes against humanity. ‘R2P’ is not about being a member of a club. It’s not even about the grotesque beheadings of Western aid workers and journalists. 

It’s about preventing the genocide of whole communities – whether Yizadis, Kurds, Shiite, Sunni or Christians.

John Key’s promise of just a few Kiwi military trainers and out in two years is unrealistic and disingenuous. He should have the guts to make the case for military intervention and back it up with long-term support to help rebuild the region once the violence stops.

He needs to tell us what he thinks peace looks like so we can judge if military intervention is working.

Peace doesn’t mean protecting the borders of Iraq or Syria. The region may have to split into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish states. 

A conservative Salafist and literal version of Islam will probably have to be accommodated, but without the violence or the imposition of sharia law. There are already groups like this in Britain who offer a conservative alternative to those drawn to the ‘purity’ of jihadism.

New Zealand was on the Security Council in 1994. We were a lone voice calling for intervention. We were on the right side of history then. We supported the introduction of R2P after the Rwandan genocide so that the international community would never again walk away from its responsibility to protect innocent people.

Today, John Key should have the courage to make the case for military intervention, but also for peace. That means listening to those calling for long-term support to rebuild, and taking them with him when he joins the fight on behalf of all New Zealanders.

Comments (7)

by Alex Coleman on March 02, 2015
Alex Coleman

So if the redrawing of the borders, or actual R2P (which would include protecting Sunni from Baghdad), or any of the rest of what you describe isn't on the table; or is rejected when we put it on the table, what then?

The actual plan that exists, yea or nay?

 

 

by David Crosswell on March 02, 2015
David Crosswell

A slick, glib, and totally unrepresentative presentation of reality.

by onsos on March 03, 2015
onsos

What nonsense. Start to finish, there is a strong disconnect from reality in your description of what is happening. This undermines the credibility of a case for action rather than reinforcing it. 

At the core is your allegation that Jihadism is a natural product of Islam. Blaming Islam for ISIL is dangerous bunk, and has strongly racist implications. It would be like blaming Judaism for the various atrocities committed by the Israeli state. It operates as a form of racism. It is nasty and divisive. And it ignores the history of violence and intervention that has taken place in the middle east.

ISIL exists becauase of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the failure to secure the country. If that had not happened, there would have been no place for ISIL to form. It would not have had access to oil. There would not be a dispossessed Sunni population flooding into the ISIL zone, because there would have been no dispossessed Sunni population, and no ISIL zone. There would have been no civil war in Syria, and no western aid would have gone to the opponents of the Assad regime. 

It is ridiculous to suggest that the jihadists are not anti-American. (Although, of course, they are not exclusively anti-American; they hate Israel more, and Russia and Britain are also reviled.)

The US has been intervening in the middle east since the formation of Israel in 1948, and America's support for Israel and various corrupt regimes (including Saudi Arabia) has made them a constant enemy for religious leaders and populations. They supported the Syrian coup of 1949, and the overthrow of the democratic government of Iran for the Shah in 1953. It goes on, through Afghanistan, support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, etc.

Osama Bin Laden may have 'needed a new  enemy', but he could not produce one; he could only play on popular opposition to an existing enemy, his mythology of the great Shaitan already existed. 

There is a strong justification for intervention, but only where that intervention would actually improve things. The case has not been made that supporting a corrupt and brutal Iraqi military in a US-led operation without a plan for the 'peace' that might follow and without UN support. 

by Fentex on March 03, 2015
Fentex
The opposite of intervention isn’t peace

That headline begs the question - is peace the inevitable consequence of intervention?

I am getting sick of people trying to cast this issue in deeply moralising but wholly incomplete tones. Where is the call for us to go fight Boko Harma in Nigeria? The Junta of Myanamar? The warlords of Yemen, the atrocious government of Sudan?

We are on our way to fight in Once-Was-Iraq because the U.S asked us to come with and it's a decision based on our national interest and not our moral standards.

We're going along with those who destroyed Iraq's national identity and civil society to ally with thugs who've terrorized the Sunni that Daesh now recruit from so as to put a group of thugs we don't dislike quite so much back in power over people they hate.

We're sending troops who don't speak the language among people they can't tell friend from foe with no way of judging allegiances of shifting local priorities with an ambition to assert our preferences over local affairs with no plan for how it should all finish.

We will inevitably become enmeshed in the issue of Syria for defeating Daesh means attacking the Syrian rebellion (they are intertwined). So, do we prefer Assad? Is that our policy? It isn't Turkeys, a nation already horribly betrayed by the U.S destruction of Iraq and increasingly eastward looking in it's own interests.

This has nothing to do with morality. Our government thinks it'll pay off in our national interest to be seen joining in beating up on some evil shits and they're obviously betting all the downsides for everyone over there don't matter because frankly we don't care, we aren't taking a moral position.

by Angus Robertson on March 03, 2015
Angus Robertson

onsos,

The article doesn't make any assertion that:

<I>"At the core is your allegation that Jihadism is a natural product of Islam. Blaming Islam for ISIL is dangerous bunk, and has strongly racist implications."</I>

Instead the article says it derives from:

<I>"...the wealthy medical schools and universities of 1940s Egypt, and later the decadent house of the Royal family of Saudi Arabia."</I>

Just another bunch of elitists exploiting some religion to justify themselves. 

I can however understand your confusion with the rest of the article, which is a plea to ally ourselves with Saudi Arabia and defend its way of life.  Seems contradictory. 

by onsos on March 03, 2015
onsos

Pagani has her cake and eats it. She says this:

It’s a vicious ideology that has its roots in religion. Denying that isn’t going to help us defeat jihadism. 

And situates Jihadism as growing out of anti-secularism:

The jihadists were anti the 1970s socialist and secular government of Nasser in Egypt, and the Russian invaders in Afghanistan before they were anti-American. 

That misses a large part of the origin of Jihadism, which was opposition to Israel (and therefore, necessarily, the US), and opposition to US involvement in Syria and Iran, and opposition to the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US. The US engagement itself is often constructed as an extension of British engagement in the middle east, going back to the Great Game in the nineteenth century. 

Whatever the deeper history, the US involvement in the middle east is a critical factor. 

She is closer to the mark with this claim:

What does unite Al-Qaeda and ISIS is a complete rejection of the modern progressive world. 

Radical Islam is plainly opposed to progressive values. But it is fatuous to assert that it is opposed to the modern world--it is a product of the modern world, very clearly, and is quite happy to utilise modern ideas (like fundamentalism) and technologies (social media, military technology, etc.).

by Peggy Klimenko on March 06, 2015
Peggy Klimenko

@Josie Pagani: "The origins of modern day jihadism are not found in the working class suburbs of Paris or London, but in the wealthy medical schools and universities of 1940s Egypt and later the decadent house of the Royal family of Saudi Arabia."

This isn't correct (apart from the reference to Saudi Arabia), as was pointed out to you in January in the comments thread on your Charlie Hebdo post. It's not a good idea to repeat canards of this sort. If you haven't yet done so, I suggest that you read the Koran. Also this:

http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wan...

"The disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the failure to win the peace certainly created fertile ground for the call to terrorism. But it didn’t create ISIS...."

The rise of ISIS is a direct consequence of the disastrous adventure in Iraq. Absent that, there'd have been no "space" for ISIS to evolve. There's no knowing what the consequences would be of a further military intervention; that just of itself is reason to stay out.

"ISIS is not a group of psychopaths." No they're not; but I can't recall anyone on this blogsite claiming otherwise. Even were it true, that still wouldn't constitute a valid argument in support of intervention.

"Those who didn’t want us to intervene in Syria, still don’t want us to intervene now. When will they face the fact that the opposite of intervention isn't peace?"

I don't believe that anybody is seriously suggesting that. We can all see what's happening in Syria; what we can't know is the counterfactual: what would've happened, had the West sent in troops? The experience of Iraq and Afghanistan shows us that we'd likely be wishing we'd stayed out.

"Military intervention worked in Timor, Uganda and and Sierra Leone. These interventions were legal (which doesn’t have to mean UN-led); and they were long term."

Best not to adduce these as examples: they aren't analogous. In any event, you do know what Milton Obote got up to after the Tanzanian war and Amin's overthrow, don't you? He was every bit as bloodthirsty, but he lacked Amin's flamboyance, so it largely went unnoticed.

"John Key’s promise of just a few Kiwi military trainers and out in two years is unrealistic and disingenuous."

Indeed it is; but there are both intrinsic and instrumental reasons for that. Firstly, anyone following the news is aware of the atrocities committed by ISIS, and of their medieval views about women and non-Muslims. But, given that it was Western intervention which brought about the current situation, in virtue of what should we suppose that another Western intervention would bring about different results?

Secondly, it isn't just ISIS espousing such views - or indeed committing egregious atrocities - in Iraq. The Iraqi army - to which our government has committed training resources - is also responsible for equally appalling atrocities. And now this country is providing support to one violent group, which is backed by a weak and corrupt government, as opposed to the other, which provides its own government.

And here are a couple of instrumental reasons: we in this country don't have the resources to make a blind bit of difference. We don't have the forces, nor the weaponry. In addition,our army - like those of other Western nations - is integrated. So: we're sending women into that environment? It'll take only one to be kidnapped, and public opinion will turn firmly against this entire loony caper.

Note that in the news today, there are reports that the Iranian defence forces are taking the fight to ISIS. This is the best hope for local populations, that other Muslim polities will join forces to deprive ISIS of its pretensions to having a state. The only hope, even. Much as we in the West might wish to do it, we can't. We aren't welcome there; our presence will almost certainly make matters worse.

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