Saturday, June 6, 2015
The conundrum of dealing with radical Islam
I've written about the military side of dealing with fundamentalist Islamic terrorism in these pages from time to time. The trouble is, a military solution isn't a solution, because it can't target the mindset that produces legions of suicidal fanatics. The Russians developed a very direct, pragmatic and utterly ruthless approach to Iranian-sponsored terrorism during the 1980's. It worked, because those 'at the top' who were controlling the terrorists could be threatened into compliance. That doesn't seem to be the case with an organization like ISIL in Syria and Iraq. When you believe - truly believe, with all your heart and soul - that death in battle, or by assassination, earns you a martyr's reward in Paradise, death isn't a threat. It's a promise of greatness that you embrace eagerly. The same applies to Hamas and its extreme attitudes towards Israel. How can you reason with a movement that celebrates death in combat, that indoctrinates its youngest children with lessons about the praiseworthiness of martyrdom and hatred for Israel? There are many other fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups who've adopted similar outlooks on life.
So, how do we deal with them? It's easy to say "Kill them all" - but it's also completely impractical. Despite losing thousands of its fighters in combat, ISIL appears to have a limitless supply of replacements. Young women in Europe and America even travel to areas it controls out of a desire to become brides of 'jihadists'. Fanaticism is an inbred streak in the human race - not confined to Islam by any means - and as long as there are fanatics, there'll be those driven to join fanatical movements. We can't kill them all without killing the entire human race. Speaking as a member of that race, I have a profound objection to being included in that process! There is no way to completely destroy fanaticism.
The mistake politicians make is to assume that they're dealing with rational human beings. Rationality is relative. ISIL's leaders and its wannabe martyrs are entirely rational, according to their system of thought and belief. To change their behavior, we have to change that system. To do that, we have to radically reform the society and culture that have produced it. Attacking and militarily overrunning that society won't inculcate contrary values - we've proved that time and time again, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. The solution has to include methods of changing the situation on the ground. However, that requires a long-term commitment and huge amounts of money, neither of which are available right now.
The only answer our politicians and leaders appear to have is to keep killing as many Islamist fanatics as possible in order to 'control the infection' in their society and culture, even though they must know that doing so will produce still more fanatics. Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". That perfectly describes how we've tried to control radical Islam for the past few decades. When will we learn from our failures and try to find a better solution? Is there, in fact, a better solution? In my darker moments, I fear there may not be one at all. History suggests that may be the case, and that the struggle against fanaticism in all its forms may be a Sisyphean endeavor.
Your guess is as good as mine . . .