Resolving the ISIS crisis from a Turkish viewpoint
Taking out the individuals who get involved with violence cannot stamp out radicalism
ISIS is not only a Middle Eastern menace as radicalism is not based on geography. Just like everything in life, it stems from an ideology, a way of looking at history through a certain lens and a certain narrative. That narrative needs to be our target, not the individuals who are indoctrinated by it.
Taking out the individuals who get involved with violence cannot stamp out radicalism. This action only feeds the narrative of the radicals who seek new recruits and strengthens their hand. Most wars are not fought over shortages of resources but over ideology. Bombing the radical fighters cannot put an end to those organizations. While in 2010, the Obama administration estimated there were “several hundred” al-Qaeda operatives in the Arabian Peninsula, by July 2012, that number had increased to several thousands. By 2014, we know that the number of fighters has increased by tens of thousands. Moreover, during Iraq’s occupation until 2011, al-Qaeda was hit hard by the U.S. but this didn’t prevent ISIS from rising out of the same ideology.
Difference of guerrilla warfare
It has long been a problem for regular armies to annihilate guerrilla armies since the guerrilla groups rarely respond to bombs falling from the sky. Che Guevara (who was praised by Osama bin Laden) explains this clearly: “The hierarchy of the deposed regime pompously spoke of its campaigns of encirclement and annihilation. However, a guerrilla band that knows the country and that is united ideologically and emotionally … this is not a particularly serious problem.[i]” According to this explanation, we can clearly see the importance of ideology as a binding force of the group.
Taking out the individuals who get involved with violence cannot stamp out radicalismCeylan Ozbudak
The threat of death means nothing to the guerrilla fighters like ISIS, who came together with the initial acceptance of risking their lives. As long as the ideology of the group lives on, the group will live on. It can morph into different structures and migrate to different geographical locations but the threat will remain. One other quote I often use from the guerrilla warfare expert General Vo Nguyen Giap is: “If you cannot secure material and moral from the people in the region where you are fighting, you can only wage guerrilla warfare for six months at most. It is moral defeat, not hunger, that kills guerrilla warfare.” These groups rely heavily on new recruits from all over the world through their promises and ideological narratives.
Muslims in the West are not seeking more democracy: they seek acceptance
There is nothing wrong with the democracy of the West. The majority of the Muslims are not complaining about the lack of possibilities to be elected to political office. These people are seeking acceptance and a cause. They want to be loved by their neighbors, feel they belong and not be mocked at work for not going to the pub on a Friday night.
ISIS calls these Muslims – it is active on social media and has an online magazine; they even let the readers post comments on the page. The group posts cat pictures, they talk about how they liked the movie “Jumanji” and share videos of members giving emotional hugs to each other. They have a plan, an ideology – no matter how twisted – they are motivated. Just like children come alive at night with bed-time stories, the narrative and the promises of these radical groups offer an alternative reality; imaginary experiences to many young and eager minds. In the end, a well-thought-out story doesn’t always need to resemble real life.
The solution shouldn’t be reduced to bombing or not bombing
We cannot get rid of this problem simply by bombing the region. We need to be more sophisticated in our thinking. Even if we assume all of the ISIS fighters disappeared today, a new and maybe more violent group could emerge from the ashes of its ideology as long as the narrative stays alive. The west cannot secure itself simply by closing the borders or deporting the suspects. Ideologies have no borders. New followers of the same creed can eventually emerge with no outside influence and grow like a snowball to an avalanche. Contrary to common belief, the biggest number of foreigners joining ISIS is not from Muslim countries, but from the West. According to research released by The Economist, at least 1,740 joined ISIS from the European countries: While 700 individuals joined ISIS from France, approximately 500 people joined from the UK and Germany, exported 350 fighters to ISIS – on the other hand, the largest Muslim populations, Indonesia and India, only gave 30 and 18 people to ISIS. ISIS can be a threat in Iraq and Syria today but it is only a matter of time before that threat arrives in the West.
Turkey and ISIS
Speaking about the countries in the region, Turkey is being thrown under the bus when looking for a scapegoat for the advance of ISIS. I can’t remember the number of op-eds claiming Turkey gives a free pass to ISIS, whereas Turkey designated ISIS as a terrorist organization in October 2013, six months before the UK did. Another factor being overlooked is that Turkey deports people suspected of being terrorists; so far 2,000 people were deported and 6,000 people were given an exclusion order for the same reasons. Rather than pointing the finger of blame at Turkey, the EU and the U.S. needs to work with Turkey, a Muslim country, to counter the narrative of these fighters.
If we are seeking a sustainable victory, we need to stop fighting the pawns and start fighting the mind running the chess table. A long-term struggle against the ideas that create radicalism is the only viable solution. Will we start this struggle in earnest across the globe?
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak
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