The war against Isis
“AN EYE for an eye will only make the whole world blind,” Mahatma Gandhi once admonished the world. But the world has refused to heed his wisdom.
Former US president George W. Bush is accused of giving birth to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis)—unintentionally, that is, after the invasion of Iraq destroyed its civilian and military bureaucracy. After 9/11, Bush, with the aid of his ally Tony Blair, acted unilaterally in ordering the invasion of the Arab state on the basis of fabricated intelligence, with very deadly consequences.
Since latent US geopolitical interests necessitated maintaining its status as the world’s remaining superpower, the 9/11-induced paranoia of the Bush administration started a war that sent the Arab world into greater turmoil. That war has reached European shores. When Saddam Hussein was neutralized, the nation-state of Iraq was also dismantled. And then came Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has devastated Syria with the aid of Western arms, forcing the Syrian people to leave in droves. Syria is also long gone.
Given this power vacuum in the Arab world, the whole of human civilization has become a witness to the rise of terror cells like Isis.
When Osama bin Laden was killed by US commandos in 2011, terrorism did not die with him. The United States might have defeated the Taliban, but not its ideology of terror and violence. With this failure of the world’s most powerful military, Donald Rumsfeld is now in the dustbin of history. But this is not a question of military tactic. It is a question of hegemonic geopolitical interests because the plot becomes clearer the moment we add to this ongoing narrative the recent entry of Russia in the Syrian civil war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin laments that his country is perceived wrongly by the world. He blames US propaganda. He points out that it was not Russia but the United States that started this global turmoil when it armed mercenary groups in Syria. He mentions one important thing: the money trail from the massive wealth in Iraqi and Syrian oil fields bought by the West and wrongly put in the hands of terrorist groups. But Russia, he says, has no intent of cooperating with the free world, not unless it is to Russia’s national interests. Putin’s rhetoric is delivered pointblank: It is Russia’s interests and not humanity’s interests that he is so concerned about.
Today, the truth is that Syria has become the tragic epicenter of a proxy war between two ideologies, two geopolitical interests—the United States and its allies on one hand, and Russian interests on the other. One is a direct contravention of the other. This is not just a war on terror, but a continuing war of ideologies, by way of propaganda, but one that has become quite deadly, and at a cost of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent lives.
Critics like Noam Chomsky point out that the only interest that the West intends to protect in the present Arab conflict is its economic interest. And the only way to maintain that is by means of military power. The annual budget of the Pentagon is more than half a trillion
dollars, five times more than the money needed to fully eradicate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. But freeing a people from the bondage of disease, hunger and violence is not in the economic interest of the United States nor of Russia’s because it does not make so much military sense to eliminate global poverty.
Beyond politics and into our moral universe, we must condemn terrorism everywhere in the world. Terrorism is not just a crime against the people of France or Iraq or Syria. It is, more fundamentally, a crime against humanity. Terrorists strike at civilian targets, for obvious reasons. Terror groups cannot win in any conventional war. But what terror organizations really want is something that the West has so successfully employed in order to dominate the world—propaganda. By striking Paris, Isis has since succeeded in fueling the kind of tit-for-tat that it so covets. And France, by sending its warplanes to drop bombs into Syria, is only adding more numbers to the civilian casualties.
This war is not only a war on terror. It is also a war on the prejudice against Muslims that has bred the kind of hatred and violence that terrorists want to sow upon the earth. There is no justification for the use of violence against innocent lives. Terrorism is wrong. The idea that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is wrong because it confuses ends and means. Terrorism is a means, a very evil means. Freedom is an end. But you cannot justify terrorism even if it is claimed that its intent is the liberation of a people from some form of hegemonic geopolitical relations. Terrorists do not serve people; they destroy people. You cannot defeat global imperialism by means of terror, and terror groups have no intent of doing so. They only have a single goal: killing innocent people.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University and the author of “Ethics and Human Dignity.” He holds a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.
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