By: Luke Gould
Following the brutal beheading of American photojournalist, James Foley, at the hands of Islamic State militants this week, western officials have stepped up their rhetoric and emphasized the danger of the organization. Amid this rhetoric there is fear the west could step up and redouble its efforts in the Middle East.
“The entire world is appalled,” President Obama said in response to the murder during a news conference Aug. 20. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday or every single day.”
In a press briefing on Aug. 21, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Islamic State “clearly poses a long term threat.” At the same press briefing, Gen. Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, described IS as “an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.”
On Aug. 19 IS released a video to YouTube of the beheading of James Foley, who had been held captive since 2012. In the video titled, “A message to America,” a black clad militant says that the execution is in retaliation for recent American airstrikes in Iraq.
Foley himself in the video blames the American government for his death. “I call on my friends, family, and loved ones to rise up against my real killers: the US government. For what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency and criminality,” said Foley prior to execution. Obviously there is no way of telling if these were his genuine feelings or if he was simply forced to read a prepared script.
The video ends with the militant standing over captured American journalist Steven Sotloff, warning that he will be killed next.
The execution of Foley has not only created a tense situation in the US but in the UK as well. The black clad militant in the video speaks in what is obviously a British accent. British intelligence suspects the militant to be Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a 23 year old London Rapper who left the UK a year ago to fight in the Syrian Civil War. This highlights a very real trend and a potential danger for British citizens.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, many young Muslim Europeans, appalled by the brutal tactics of the Assad regime, have joined the ranks of the rebels. The fear has been that those joining Syrian rebels could become radicalized and return to Europe to engage in terrorist activity. Radical organizations operating in Syria are often better trained, equipped, organized and funded than their moderate counterparts. It would appear that these groups have successfully been recruiting foreign nationals to their ranks.
UK officials estimate around 400 to 500 British nationals have gone to fight in Syria. Intelligence is Iraq is much less complete, and there is no telling what percentages of those fighting have been wooed over to radical Islam.
“We’re absolutely aware that there are significant numbers of British nationals involved in terrible crimes, probably in the commission of atrocities, making jihad with ISIL [now known as IS] and other extremist organisations,” UK Foreign Secretary , Philip Hammond said in a BBC interview.
Hammond went on to say that the involvement of UK citizens with extremist organizations is why IS “represents such a direct threat” to UK security.
Despite hardened tones and justifiable claims of murder and terrorism, US and UK officials have promised that combat operations on the ground in Iraq will not begin again. Officials say that instead the Islamic State will be combated through assistance to the Iraqi and semi-autonomous Kurdish governments.
The nature of these events is a vicious cycle in which the cruel and immoral actions of one side seem to justify the cruel and immoral actions of the other. Foley blamed the US for his death in his execution video. Even if Foley was forced into these statements there is a degree of truth in them, in that the United States and the United Kingdom created IS through the decade long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which destabilized the entire region. Whole countries were torn asunder, innocents were killed and tortured and societies were forced to move away from traditional values towards western capitalism. The ground work was laid for entire states to fail and when they did IS emerged. Through its paternalistic tactics and foreign occupation, the US coalition essentially removed the moral boxing gloves in its effort to bring the region under its influence. The series of events has been punctuated by indiscriminate bombings, drone use, high collateral casualties, torture and mistreatment of prisoners. The response, not surprisingly, has been the emergence of groups like IS that utilize increasingly ruthless tactics.
This in no way justifies the heinous murder of Foley, however by the same token, acts of terrorism against the west in no way justify the heavy handed strategy and aggressive foreign policy used by the US.
To end this cycle of violence, the west must take the moral high ground. The US and UK must end interventions and meddling in the Middle East and around the world. The foreign policy paradigm must shift away from bombings, invasions, covert operations and what is essentially empire building towards a more humanitarian framework.
Policies that focus on protecting human rights through peaceful means must be explored. Food aid, humanitarian corridors, evacuation of refugees, and international coordination must all become cornerstone elements. Military intervention must only occur when deemed an absolute and viable necessity and as part of a coordinated international effort led by international institutions. This framework would cause Islamic fundamentalism to lose its appeal, and organizations like IS would soon lose a large part of their base. A humanitarian approach would create a more stable world in which fundamentalist organizations are less likely to manifest in the first place.
Ultimately, one can only hope that Foley’s death was not in vain. The US must end its bombing policies and refocus its foreign policy. If not, not only will more journalists be beheaded but the rise of IS will continue and hundreds more innocents will die.
PHOTO CREDIT – NICOLE TUNG/ASSOCIATED PRESS