Over the past few days I’ve had to endure numerous tweeters and bloggers pondering whether the west should intervene in Northern Iraq, predicated upon concerns over cost, imperialism, what we might hope to achieve, how long it might take, the lives of our soldiers – almost everything in fact other than what ought to be worrying us; the lives of those poor Iraqis who are being starved, shot, beheaded, crucified, buried alive, raped and so on by the tens of thousands. Of course, it goes without saying that if a group like ISIS took control of northern Europe for example, everyone in the developed world would know why America, let’s say, should intervene militarily, as indeed they did in June 1944.
But I think what has made this latest catastrophe in Iraq particularly unpalatable to me is that public opinion only seemed to turn in favour of air strikes against ISIS when it became apparent that Christians were being threatened in large numbers. I thought perhaps I ought to check a calendar in case I’d entered a parallel universe where the year was 1400. Having the love of Jesus in your heart sure seems to harden it in ways unfamiliar to myself at least.
So why wouldn’t the West help people in need if they have the resources to do so, regardless of the skin colour, nationality or religious belief of those who are in danger? Why do we seem to have more concern for people who were born within the same lines drawn by other people (not God) on a piece of paper, or for people who worship the same God? Why do we proudly boast about this? For me, these questions run to the heart of the problems the world is currently facing, whether the subject is the economy, poverty, climate change or terrorism. For sure we cannot hope to prevent scenarios such as that in Iraq re-occurring unless we begin to come up with the right answers to these questions – or in other words, until we begin to acknowledge what our responsibilities really are.
The status quo is nothing new. Flagrantly misguided and irresponsible (to say nothing of outright mean and selfish) attitudes toward the wellbeing of other people have been writ large in recent years. There is almost unanimous agreement that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq was a terrible mistake, and that now we have cleared Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps, we should leave and allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, as they surely will. In Iraq, we are currently witnessing what happens if a tyrannical regime is ousted, advanced weaponry is stock piled, and then the liberators leave before properly securing it – i.e. before ensuring that a nation has its infrastructure fully rebuilt, its army well trained and its governance stabilised.
The truth is that the events that have led to the ISIS incursion are almost comical. All that was needed to avoid it was a change of emphasis. We should have prioritised actually doing a good job for the people of Iraq. One can only wonder what conversations take place amongst ordinary Iraqis with regards to the Allied effort over the past 25 years. For sure it’s too awful to even try to estimate how many lives might have been saved, including those of Allied soldiers, had we finished the job the first time around in 1991.
So firstly, I want to reiterate unapologetically that I think it is a good thing that we (finally) freed the Iraqi people from the tyranny of the Baathist regime, which essentially held Iraqis hostage to the will of the Hussein crime family for the worst part of 30 years, while continuously threatening the borders of neighbouring countries. The oil money went straight into the pockets of Baath party thugs or was paid out as rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers – clear evidence of sponsorship of international terrorism by the way.
Though millions in Iraq lived in squalor due to 12 years’ worth of crippling sanctions imposed by the West in order to curtail Saddam’s military ambitions, he built countless palaces and mosques of ever increasing grandeur. Freedom of speech was non-existent, thousands were being murdered regularly at Saddam’s behest to crush any hint of rebellion, and WMD’s were being vigorously sort after from North Korea and other pariah states. Having gassed 250,000 people with chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan, no one should be under any illusions as to whether Saddam would have used such weapons again had he managed to get hold of them – the only debate should be where – or where first?
As for those types predisposed toward spouting inane drivel about the so called stability in Iraq under Saddam, maybe they might pause to ask themselves whether the families of the million and a half or so who died in the wars he started with Iran & Kuwait miss ‘that’ stability. What a shame it is that we didn’t have the nerve or the will to win the peace after winning the war.
Perhaps even more astounding is the insistence that Allied forces leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, regardless of the situation and in spite of the fact that the current Afghan government has nowhere close to the means required to defend itself against a resurgent Taliban. Why would anyone believe it to be a good thing for Afghans to again be exposed to such feudal brutality?
Mullah Omar’s men ruthlessly enforce Shari’a. If a woman is raped in Afghanistan, they are immediately in even more danger the moment their ordeal of sexual assault is over because they are very often brutally punished for the perceived dishonour they have brought upon their menfolk by having sex out of wedlock – and sometimes they are stoned to death for it. All women are forced to live their whole adult lives in a cloth bag with only a thin slit to look out through and they are forbidden from gaining an education or having a professional career. Those who are caught attempting to defy these suffocating restrictions are most commonly attacked by having acid thrown in their faces, causing hideous disfigurements and occasionally death. As if having their public lives mandated isn’t bad enough, Afghan women also have their home lives decided by other people. Their husband is chosen for them (and the husband-to-be’s family pay a dowry, which equates to them paying for their son to rape an often pre-pubescent girl) and women must be a virgin on their wedding night or face violent reprisals from their communities, essentially meaning that they can never experience a loving relationship or have sex with someone of their own choosing.
I cannot think of any endeavour that should be more pressing upon our consciences than to try to protect the women of Afghanistan from having to live this reality, yet it seems to be almost an article of faith that we should leave them to the mercy of pious men as soon as possible. Why aren’t feminists angry? If nothing else, in an environment such as this, what does anyone imagine might be the mind-set of the next generation of men who are raised to subjugate women and only read one book? Doesn’t anyone think that this might become a problem for us again one day?
We really do have to stop being so tribal. We really must stop thinking of ourselves as British or American, as Christian or Islamic or whatever. It’s meaningless. Every life must be considered equally important for its own sake. That might shake some people’s sense of identity but just think; instead we could identify ourselves with something far grander – the whole of planet earth.
There was a time when villages battled against each other, before realising it was counterproductive. Later, whole regions, such as counties in England (Yorkshire against Lancashire for example) used to fight. Then people turned their suspicions on neighbouring countries until, at least in the developed world, it became obvious that millions of people were dying for nothing, exemplified never more so than by the pointless bloodbath of The First World War. Finally now, we have entered a new era – often controversially termed the clash of civilisations. But with thousands of nuclear warheads in existence, most with a destructive force 30 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (just imagine the catastrophe), we really cannot afford to continue to be so childish or short sighted any longer. We must start to think of ourselves primarily as members of the human race, with mutually shared goals to survive, flourish and minimise suffering.
Of course I’m not suggesting that we should intervene immediately everywhere that tyranny exists. In many circumstances, thankfully, diplomacy is the best option. However, we must get to grips with the fact that sometimes such a human emergency can unfold that immediate, decisive action is the only correct and effective course of action. Turning a blind eye is not a moral choice. Doing nothing does not mean that nothing happens, it just means that something else happens.
How long will it be before a crude nuclear device reaches our shores? Many experts put the timeline for such an eventuality at less than ten years. We are in much more danger than a lot of people seem prepared to acknowledge and isolationism is not the answer. Contrary to popular belief, it is not western intervention that offends the likes of ISIS & Al-Qaeda, it is the uncovered face of a woman, homosexuals, the continued existence of Israel, and non-Muslims. The extremists have been murdering dissenters for over a thousand years. As Sam Harris pointedly asked: “What sanctions did we have in place in the year 900 AD?”
Check out the recent Vice News videos regarding ISIS on YouTube. These people are truly terrifying and they mean business. Here is their latest report:
Our goal must be to encourage the formation of more stable, democratic governments and thus allow educated, secular communities to flourish. This will undoubtedly take a very long time. But we have no choice other than to commit to this path because the alternative is to un-movingly watch mass graves being dug from afar and await the next assault on our homelands?