Da’esh, the Islamic terrorist group occupying parts of Syria and Iraq and aspiring to statehood, is taking revenge. It has claimed to downing a Russian passenger jet over Sinai, killing all those aboard, and to the killings in Paris, France on Friday, November 13th, 2015, besides, of course, claiming several bombings in the Middle East. These acts of retribution against countries which have countered Da’esh in Syria and Iraq, against the backdrop of talks in Vienna about the Syria peace process, have galvanized united action against the terrorist group by the United States, Russia and France: whether a country that is party to the Syria talks is for or against Bashar al-Assad, it is now against Da’esh.
The US strategy of surgical strikes against Da’esh to spare it during the past year to use it as a pawn to weaken Assad but preventing it from grabbing power in Syria has backfired against the US coalition after Russia intervened in Syria on the invitation of Assad against the terrorist elements in the Syrian civil war. Likewise, it was a miscalculation on the part of the US coalition to believe that Da’esh would limit its actions to MENA. Da’esh suffers from the delusion that it is the Mahdi whose mission it is to establish Islam around the world.
As the president of France, Francois Hollande, correctly said, the war against Da’esh and other Al Qaeda offshoots – in Syria, Iraq, other parts of Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and at home – is a war against jihadist Islam and not a clash of civilizations. It is a war between civilization and the barbarism of Da’esh. This is a war that must, therefore, include all the Middle East countries and groups that are part of the Syria talks in Vienna to eradicate MENA of the scourge of terrorism. It is, however, important to have a coherent strategy against groups such as Da’esh besides, of course, attacking the group directly in its strongholds. There should be an immediate ceasefire between the Free Syrian Army (and the various similar groups) and the Syrian Armed Forces to enable the political process of eventual transition of power away from Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Credible information warfare or psychological operations (‘psy ops’) to curtail recruitment by Da’esh of foreign fighters is critical. Da’esh is, and must be portrayed as, a diabolical, devilish group masquerading as an embodiment of faithful Islam. It is a war, therefore, between the forces of normalcy and moderation in the rest of the world and the bonafide evil that is Da’esh.
Disaffected Muslims, especially in the West, must be politically, economically and socially integrated into the society, away from their ghettos where they live apart from the mainstream. They must be educated in the ways of the western countries they are born into or live and be free to practice their religion within the bounds of the secular laws of western lands. Secularism is the peaceful co-existence of multiple faiths, not faithlessness, in a democratic nation typically without a state religion as in, for example, the United States and India. The practice of Sharia can be reasonably and moderately accommodated in the West without offending the sentiments of orthodox Muslims. Only then can the West legitimately seek pro-secular reforms in orthodox Muslim lands.
Da’esh is a hydra-headed scourge that can only be eradicated, intergenerationally, by direct war, credible psy ops, and integration.