The ISIS attacks on Friday the 13th in Paris, in Beirut, and when the Russia plane was attacked, were an attack on all modern civilisation and society from Lebanon to France. The target on Friday was the values first articulated on Paris streets in the 18th century that led to a modern liberal revolution and eventually liberty in speech and assembly, fraternity expressed in tolerance and plurality, and equality between genders. 

Be clear about what motivates ISIS. It doesn’t massacre Yizadis to stop their drones and protest Yazidi imperialism. It kills them and enslaves their women because of their religion. Salmon Rushdie's Japanese translator was not murdered 25 years ago because of the invasion of Iraq. The mad ideology of ISIS began to be popularised through the insane ravings of Sayd Qutb in the 1950s and 60s. People who today argue this began in the last 12 years because of Bush are only dating the timetable of their own attention. 

The Paris attack was a premeditated, professional and highly organised assault on the Parisian way of life, just as the attack on Charlie Hebdo was a direct challenge to freedom of expression. People were enjoying an ordinary Friday night out; at a pop concert, eating in restaurants, watching a game of football. If you have ever done any of those things, then it was calculated to be an attack on you too. 

But while it is morally clear that we must stop ISIS, it is not obvious how. Here’s where we can start:

1. Step up air strikes against ISIS strongholds and increase no-fly zones so that moderate groups can better fight back themselves.

France has already stepped up its air campaign and bombed the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria. It’s not clear that boots on the ground would be lawful. However if more attacks are planned, international law says a country can act in self-defence where an ‘instant' and ‘overwhelming' risk exists which gives a country no ‘moment of deliberation.’

What’s certain, is that air strikes will continue. 

To anticipate those who say that would be a repeat of Iraq: all the outcomes are bad, but some are worse than others. Boots on the ground in Iraq was a disaster, so was the half-way house in Libya. The failure to intervene in Syria has been possibly the worst outcome of all. We must stop fighting the last war: The 2003 misjudgment over Iraq does not mean any intervention today against ISIS will also be a disaster.

2. Follow the money.  

ISIS is well-funded. Money trails must now be ruthlessly followed.  

The governments of Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have funded anti-Shia political and military movements in the Middle East without any real resistance from the international community.

Even when beheadings and slavery produced a queasy pause or reduction in official funding, wealthy individuals within those countries continued to fund ISIS while their governments turned a blind eye. 

If the technology exists to track everyone's emails and cellphone calls then it must also exist to track the bank accounts through which the funds are flowing.

Following the money isn’t easy, because ISIS areas are like states run by gangs. Oil money is smuggled in oil trucks and suitcases - you can get up to $1-2 million in a suitcase. Eight million people pay taxes, or fines for not going to prayers on Friday - mostly in cash. ISIS doesn’t depend on moving money across international borders, but gets revenue from local criminal and gangster activities. Ransoms from kidnappings and plundering antiquities excavated from ancient palaces and archaeological sites all help to generate about $6 million a day - again, most of it in cash. Oil sales provide around $2.5 million a day,

In May 2014, the Brookings Institution published a briefing urging that the filtering of aid to Syria be tightened as the lines between humanitarian campaigns and jihad funding were becoming increasingly blurred. Kuwait is the single largest donor of “uncommitted” aid to Syria.

3. Win the argument. 

Obliterating ISIS in Syria and Iraq won’t stop the violence for ever. We also have to win the arguments in the suburbs of Paris and Belgium, and we do that by strongly advocating for the women being enslaved by ISIS, the gays being thrown off buildings by ISIS, and the followers of other faiths being beheaded by ISIS. 

We must have uncomfortable conversations about virulent, violent forms of Islam, not leave the job to the far right. Marine le Pen will fan the hatred of immigrants and increase violence in the poorest suburbs of Paris if we are silent.

We have to be prepared to stand beside Muslims who are trying desperately to modernise, reform and de-literalise their faith. 

And we have to stand up loudly for our own traditions of free speech and critical thought. We don’t need greater limitations on speech in the name of reducing offence. We need to talk loudly so that a teenager in the Paris banlieue or in Brussels, who might otherwise be radicalised, hears from us the arguments against violent Islam and associated bigotry. A pre-radicalised Muslim teen needs to hear more from us about the evil of reactionary ISIS ideas than he hears us critique American foreign policy.

4. Don’t target refugees

Of the eight young men who attacked Paris on Friday, we know that most of them are French or Belgium-born and raised but all the fuss is being made about one who appears to have used a refugee process. 

There are millions of refugees from Syria and Iraq running away from ISIS. We cannot abandon them because ISIS continue to prey on them as they run towards Europe. Acknowledging that the vetting process is imperfect does not mean we should abandon refugees. 

It would have been easy to miss the hopeful symbolism of France playing a friendly game of football against its old enemy Germany at the Stade de France on Friday night. It’s a reminder that good always wins in the end.

But it is vital to defeat fascism militarily and intellectually first. 

Comments (26)

by Alan Johnstone on November 16, 2015
Alan Johnstone

It's hard to win the argument when ISIS is acting entirely in accordance with the teaching of their faith.

"Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

by Stewart Hawkins on November 16, 2015
Stewart Hawkins

You make some good points Josie but like the vast majority of Westerners still cannot cope with the very ugly truth that the problem is not "ISIS", "Radicals" or "Extremists". The problem is clearly identifiable as the religion of Islam. It is a perfectly conjoined political and religious movement based on hatred of everything that is not Islam and the instruction to destroy everything that is hated. In October 2015 alone the documents the following: 1564 murders, 1730 critically injured in 31 countries, in attacks all carried out in the name of Islam. "Je Suis Paris/Charlie" might be excellent soundbites for the MSM but this episode of the Long War with Islam has barely begun. The body count in Europe might well be in the millions before native Europeans finally realise, to their horror, that Islam/Muslims and the West simply cannot coexist. It took the Spanish over 600 years up to 1727 to extinguish Islam from their country through prolonged and very bloody war. The longer the current Western leaders deny the truth of Islam and even make excuses for its brutality, the greater will be this butcher's bill.

by Josie Pagani on November 16, 2015
Josie Pagani

You're right Alan - we shouldn't even try to convince those in ISIS that they are wrong. They'll never be convinced. But we should target the pre-radicalised youth, especially in the poorer Muslim dominated suburbs of cities like Paris where ISIS is actively proselytising.

by Josie Pagani on November 16, 2015
Josie Pagani

Stewart, it's true we can't afford the tyranny of silence. We have to be able to have uncomfortable conversations about Islam, as we do with other religions and ideas. Critical thought is at the heart of democratic societies. My view is that we have to support moderate Muslims who have been fighting for decades against a literal interpretation of the Koran and in favour of an interpretation that embraces modernity, gender equality and freedom of expression.

by Josie Pagani on November 16, 2015
Josie Pagani

BTW Stewart, don't agree that "Islam/Muslims and the West simply cannot coexist". Ever heard of Turkey? Indonesia? 

by Murray Grimwood on November 16, 2015
Murray Grimwood

"In 1920, France carved out a series of separate political units, the existence of which was designed to obstruct the progress of the Syrian national identity. They created the two separate states of Aleppo and Damascus, which included the districts of Homs and Hama, the two next-largest urban centers in the mandate. Both of these states were ruled by a local governor supported by a French adviser".

Sow. Reap.

All religion is dangerous, because you get believers/followers. The moment they are in the majority, or in power, society is in trouble. 


by Lee Churchman on November 16, 2015
Lee Churchman is not obvious how.

It's only not obvious if you are desperate to avoid paying the actual costs of winning, as we are. 

Boots on the ground in Iraq was a disaster,

Only because the US wasn't prepared to take the number of military casualties it would have cost to win properly. American fear of body bags meant that they'd lost before they even started. 

by onsos on November 17, 2015

The war against ISIS will not be won without 'boots on the ground'. No war has been won with air-power alone. When the Western allies have run effective aerial campaigns without sending forces of its own (as in Bosnia, and Libya), it has been successful because the air-power has supported effective forces on the ground.

The invasion of Iraq did not fail because of boots on the ground. It failed because, as opposed to the first Gulf War, there were not adequate boots on the ground to secure the peace after rapid victory, and the failure of neo-con understandings of how to re-build the regime.

There were close to a million coalition soldiers involved in the Gulf War, including a substantial amount of armour, and less than a third of that in the Iraq War, with much more limited armoured forces. The overkill on the ground in that first campaign ensured that the Coalition had the mand power and materiel to secure a peace. 

Glossing over that reality is not good enough. The question is where those boots come from. Without direct Western intervention, the only viable force which can suppress ISIS is Assad's regime (or Russia, which amounts to the same thing). That ugly reality needs to be addressed; otherwise, the sustained air strikes just become another campaign of terror, and strengthen ISIS in the long-term.

Western leaders need to quit their intensely short-term approach to the Middle East. This is not simply about stopping ISIS now. They need to address the reality that they are going to have sit down and talk with Assad and Putin to achieve an outcome which eliminates ISIS now, and achieves long-term goals.


by Rich on November 17, 2015

I don't see how your suggested solution of continued bombing will result in any improvement to the situation.

Up until the late 90s, radical Islam was kept in check in much of the region by a bunch of fairly nasty but quasi-secular dictators: the Assad family, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi. In the countries they ruled, political and religious opponents came to a sticky end, but those who kept out of politics could in general lead a normal life, women could work and be educated, etc.

The only option that would work to defeat radical Islam on a sustained basis in Syria would be a return to such a dictatorship, either under Assad or a new figurehead. The best option to deliver this is probably to keep clear and allow Russia to bolster the Assad regime - that way the Russians cop the blame.

The other option that would work would be to systematically exterminate the entire population of the area and grant the land to settlers from outside the region - rather as happened in 19th century North America and Australia. This would probably not be acceptable to modern Western opinion.

by onsos on November 17, 2015

By the way, the Islamophobia in this op-ed and the comments is ugly and ill-judged. If anyone was to say that the explanation for Israel's war-crimes and crimes against humanity was the fact it was Jewish, we would be right to attack them, and the same applies here. While you are chasing that wrong explanation, you will find the wrong solutions.

If you want the support of moderate Islam, then you have to get realistic about why things are happening. ISIS uses terrorism, rape, slavery and genocide as sources of power. Religion is the excuse. This has been done again and again, by Christian forces, and through the ideology of 'secular' revolutions as well.

by Fentex on November 17, 2015

[snip a lot of raving about how come people didn't feel so upset about violent crimes by the west against the east, but realised there's no point in talking about what's invisible, and calming down somewhat]

Juan Cole ruminates that Daesh may be best thought of as a pirate state raiding out of strongholds.

Whether he's right or not defeating them remains a matter of reducing their strongholds and blocking their funding.

by Josie Pagani on November 17, 2015
Josie Pagani

Onsos - If you choose not to understand what motivates ISIS then we will never defeat them or their violent ideology. Therefore we have to talk about religion - that is neither 'Islamophobia' nor is it 'ugly and ill-judged'. It IS about standing alongside moderate Muslims who have been fighting for decades against those who justify violence with a literal interpretation of the Koran.

Here's what we know about what motivates ISIS: "We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world." 

by onsos on November 17, 2015

If you want moderate Islam on your side, don't start by saying this is about Islam. That should be obvious.

Secular and religious regimes of all kinds have used their religion/ideology to justify all kinds of atrocity for centuries. You cited the French Revolution; this was used by atheist and secular leaders to justify wars, arbitrary executions and much more besides. The revolutions in China, Cambodia and Russia were used to justify slavery, genocide and mass execution. These are exercises in power.

When faced with real political opportunities, 'extremist' Islamic states have moved away from 'jihadi' justifications for atrocity, and doctrines which mandate atrocity. While Iran has a generally brutal regime, it is far more moderate than when it was being squeezed by foreign powers.

Religion, particularly extremism/radicalism,  is a tool of these regimes. It is used to enforce extreme obedience, and also to justify barbarity. 

There is no reason to suppose that ISIS is different to other revolutionary states, at this level. Everything they are doing are long-standing tactics in war. For instance, they were perpetrated by the Catholic Hutu against the Tutsi.



by Charlie on November 17, 2015

Good post Josie. Thanks.

There is one more set of things we can do: Read the instruction manual written by General Templer during the Malayan Emergency and use the techniques used by the British Special Branch and SAS in Northern Ireland.

It gets the job done.




by Rich on November 17, 2015

Funny, I seem to remember the Northern Irish conflict continued for 30 years, increased in intensity whenever the British attempted to "crack down" (such as through detention without trial, withdrawal of political status) and only ended when the sides agreed to give the insurgent groups amnesty and a share in government.

You do know who the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland is and was?

by Stewart Hawkins on November 17, 2015
Stewart Hawkins

In reply to Josie - please review the relevant Wiki page to see the ongoing persecution of non-muslims in Indonesia:

in regards to Turkey I guess "Armenian genocide" is unknown to you? Turkey continues on a secular knife-edge and will surely tumble into Muslim theocracy the moment the military let slip their attention. Another commentator makes similar points regarding the choice of brutal dictatorship versus brutal theocracy in the Muslim world. Consider this... in a few decades many Western countries will inevitably become Muslim-majority. At that time Muslim rules will be government dictated. The veil, the burka, the loss of freedom of religion/speech/women's rights and so forth. These may well be some people's acceptable "moderate" Islam but in the words of a Muslim colleague "There is only one Islam - you can call it moderate or radical but there is only one and it will conquer the world". You may try to label me and those who express distaste for this future "Islamophobic" but if that means I don't like people having their heads cut off then, yes, I'll take that moniker with pride.

by barry on November 17, 2015

Strangely enough this is not about Daesh (ISIS).  They are the current manifestation of the problem, but stepping up efforts to eradicate Al Qaeda (and the Taleban) after 2001 didn't solve the problem.  Daesh were not behind the 7/7 bombings, or any number of similar attacks over the last 2 decades.

Eradicating Daesh will not get rid of Boko Haram or offshoots in Libia, Mali, ...  Eradicating Daesh will not suddenly make Iraq and Syria peaceful.  It will not stop the abuses in Yemen.

In France it is mostly about the fact that their prisons are recruiting grounds for radical islamism the same as ours recruit for the Mongrel Mob.  It is also about the aggressive secularisation that comes across as being anti-Muslim.

Other countries have their own drivers.

The victims are mostly innocent which is pretty much the point. 

It is not about soft/hard targets.  It turns out that a football match was a hard target for terrorists whereas anything is a soft target when you have drones and jets.

So yes go after Daesh in Syria, but don't expect it to make any difference.  It might make Hollande look strong, but if he was really strong it wouldn't have happened.

So your first 2 actions are pointless.  Actions 3 and 4 are good but hard.  Politicians and others are looking for someone to point the blame to.  As always it will be the weakest that get blamed and punished.  This is of course the whole point of terrorism. 

There are hundreds of millions of muslims in the world.  We have to learn to live with them and give the moderates reason to shun the violent ones.  We can't do that with the language of war and hate.

by Serum on November 17, 2015

Critical thought is at the heart of democratic societies.

Islamic doctrinal thought and action is based not on critical thinking but on following the Quran to the letter so that in doing so those followers believe they are fulfilling their belief that they are being good Muslims and will eventually reach paradise.

Their sole desire is to be judged not by our earthly laws and concepts of justice but by their God.

This concept of God and the Quran is why we are faced with the evil that is the Islamic State and the adoption of Sharia Law in a growing number of Islamic countries and communities.  For the traditionalist the killings of all non-Muslims, gays, Jews, Christians adulterers and apostates is the ‘Will of Allah’ working through the killer.  Conscience, reason and cause and effect is irrelevant in this mind-set.  By applying this “logic”, the Muslim jihadist can justify these abhorrent acts of violence and evil throughout the world by reference to what is said in the Quran. 

The Quran commands them to “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture, [9:29]: and “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip. [8:12];”  “Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. [2:216]

Air bombardment, boots on the ground and all that goes with these resistance measures will not defeat this on going terrorism , the likes of which have been going on now for fourteen hundred years , but only perhaps keeping a lid on it until there is an Islamic reformation adopting a state of non-violence and critical thinking. 

An Op-ed in the official Palestinian Authority's daily Al-Havat al-Jadida exemplifies the lack of critical thinking claiming that Israelwas responsible  for the Parisattack -

by Murray Grimwood on November 18, 2015
Murray Grimwood

Worth reading - and what's coming up in Paris?

Yeah right.

The problem is that commentators - left and right and centre - don't want to know the reality of what supports their level of consumption. Which leaves them receptive.....

by Alan Johnstone on November 19, 2015
Alan Johnstone

"If you want moderate Islam on your side, don't start by saying this is about Islam. That should be obvious."

Nor should we lie, this is about Islam, these people appear to be acting exactly in accordance with the literal interpretation of their faith.

That most Muslims don't do it is good, but it's fundamentally a problem with Islam and we shouldn't kid ourselves on that front.

by Peggy Klimenko on November 20, 2015
Peggy Klimenko

I've been away, and have come late to this post.

Josie: "The mad ideology of ISIS began to be popularised through the insane ravings of Sayd Qutb in the 1950s and 60s. People who today argue this began in the last 12 years because of Bush are only dating the timetable of their own attention."

It has been pointed out more than once already that you're wrong about this; repetition doesn't make it true, and it doesn't help your argument to do so. Sayd Qutb's writings are mostly peevish complaints about the short skirts on women in modern times. The name you are looking for is Abdul Wahab: Saudi born, Saudi raised, Saudi nourished and shared by all of the Syrian rebels. If any of these people have even heard of Qutb, it'd be amazing. They get their money from Qatar, their theology from Saudi and their guns from Washington.

"Step up air strikes against ISIS strongholds..." That strategy has been spectacularly unsuccessful thus far; how will more of it be more effective?

"The 2003 misjudgment over Iraq does not mean any intervention today against ISIS will also be a disaster." I suspect that it does; that's what the evidence suggests thus far. That disastrous intervention has left behind a mess that looks to have no solution. Boots on the ground, you suggest: whose boots? Just the French army, or (heaven help us) a coalition of the willing? Whose offspring should be sent to fight an unwinnable war? Not mine, thanks.

"We have to be prepared to stand beside Muslims who are trying desperately to modernise, reform and de-literalise their faith." In response to this, Alan Johnstone posted a quote directly from the Koran. This is what you're up against. We do not hear from the Muslims to which you refer; do such people actually exist?

" Ever heard of Turkey? Indonesia?" Stewart has indicated what's happening to Christians in Indonesia. With regard to Turkey, there's this:

And this:

It's very important to be clear-eyed about what's happening right now in Turkey, and the Middle East generally. Critique of Islam must not be silenced by accusations of Islamophobia. That's an epithet designed to suppress debate: the last thing we need right now.

Murray Grimwood: thanks for the cluborlov piece; interesting indeed. Apropos Russia, there's a sort of propaganda inertia that persists in the West, such that everything Russian is at least suspicious, if not downright bad. Thus the innocents who died over Sinai aren't as innocent as the innocents who died in Paris, or in the Ukraine, and therefore aren't worthy of our grief.

by Peggy Klimenko on November 20, 2015
Peggy Klimenko

Alan Johnstone: "Nor should we lie, this is about Islam, these people appear to be acting exactly in accordance with the literal interpretation of their faith.

That most Muslims don't do it is good, but it's fundamentally a problem with Islam and we shouldn't kid ourselves on that front."

Thanks; a succinct summary of the problem we face.

by Peggy Klimenko on November 20, 2015
Peggy Klimenko

Charlie: "There is one more set of things we can do: Read the instruction manual written by General Templer during the Malayan Emergency and use the techniques used by the British Special Branch and SAS in Northern Ireland.

It gets the job done."

It was the tactics used by the British during the Malayan Emergency that the Americans copied during the Vietnam War. And we all know how well that turned out for them.

Agent Orange was first used in Malaya by the British, along with forced relocation of a significant proportion of the population, collective punishment, burning villages and restricting food supplies. There was also the notorious Batang Kali Massacre.

As to Northern Ireland, the IRA wasn't beaten; that conflict stuttered along to an eventual stalemate and a political settlement, the Good Friday Accords, in 1998. There is still sporadic violence in that part of the world, though it generally isn't reported here.

I doubt that either of those conflicts offers a model for how to bring about the defeat of ISIS.

by Charlie on November 22, 2015

Peggy: Nice try but you're way off the mark.

The US military right up to and including the Iraq war was configured solely for a full scale conflict against the USSR and/or China. Neither did it have doctrine to manage an irregular war. This much was acknowledged in the 1990's and they've tried to adapt since, with variable results. As Churchill said: "Americans always do the right thing...having tried all the alternatives"

A key factor in the success in Northern Ireland was that the IRA didn't appear to lose face going into the settlement process. Sometimes it's best to play down a victory. By the time the IRA entered negotiations, it had been starved of material support by the Thatcher government and many of its key members had been quietly 'removed' by covert operations.  Some shocking errors had been made in previous decades by previous UK governments but it was Thatcher's people who eventually got it right.

Fighting an irregular war is not for the faint of heart. It's a messy business, but when faced with a foe that will go to any lengths to attack your freedom and democracy you have to fight back and the only way is with the similar tactics.


by Peggy Klimenko on November 22, 2015
Peggy Klimenko

Charlie: The IRA won, as they did in 1920. Rich pointed this out in an earlier comment. It was a stalemate because the British had been unable to prevail. But, as in 1920. the defeated British state was allowed a face-saving exit, then, in the form of the free state, now, nominal British sovereignty over Northern Ireland, but only on Sinn Fein's terms, with the option of terminating that sovereignty by referendum.

Are the defeated allowed into the Parliament and the Government? Do the defeated get to dictate when the victor may display his flag? Do the defeated get to force the dissolution of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in return for no more than an impossible-to-verify assurance that their arms have been put beyond use? Do the defeated get their imprisoned comrades freed to join them?

Another very important difference between ISIS and the IRA is that the former is an apocalyptic death cult, while the latter was a liberation movement.The struggle in the Six Counties was never about religion per se; it was just a marker - more or less - of who was on which side.

On the other hand, ISIS is purely about religion. Different strategies are needed in this instance; the current tactics have been spectacularly unsuccessful.


by Peggy Klimenko on November 23, 2015
Peggy Klimenko

I would add that both the IRA and the desire for unification are extant. But when it comes, unification will be by the ballot rather than the bullet.

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