I Never Saw No Military Solution: Can the Self-Styled Islamic State Be Defeated By #Education?

As at least some Western countries seriously contemplate full-scale military action against the Islamic State (‘IS’, ‘ISIS’, ‘ISIL’) – an internationally unrecognised entity which presently controls significant chunks of Iraq and Syria – it is worth recalling that an uncritical belief in the efficacy of armed intervention has probably run its course, and that other types of solution are worth considering. A perceptive recent article by the prolific Ceylan Özbudak (An antidote for ISIS’s poisonous narrative, Al Arabiya News, 13th September 2014) serves as a timely reminder of this perspective.

Özbudak persuasively posits that ISIL have not arisen out of nowhere; in fact, it can be stated with some confidence that prior to the Second Gulf War (2003-2011), the IS barely even constituted an idea. (ISIL was only declared a state by its own founders on 3rd January 2014.) While many elements have come together to engender this group, one of them is indubitably the ideology – a form of extreme Salafism – which motivates them and explains their actions; in order to effectively counter ISIS, educational measures which can counter this ideology are essential.

At a time when much of the developed world is beyond insolvent, another US$3trn error – Columbia professor Joseph E. Stiglitz’s conservative estimate of the tab for the Iraq War – is not an appetising prospect; a largely non-military solution with education at its heart is a compelling alternative vision. However, in order for this to be effective, it should take into account the following factors:

  1. Budget. The IS can call upon significant financial resources, both from sponsors in the Gulf and its own oil wells. Education is much cheaper than war – but the initial capital injection still needs to be there.
  2. Electronic Media. The statistically insignificant proportion of people who have been attracted to ISIL’s nihilistic ideology do not seem to be getting most of their information from books: the Internet is where counter-ideological efforts could have the most impact.
  3. Consistency. Several countries – particularly, though certainly not exclusively, some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – would do well to reconsider their own educational syllabuses, which at times replicate an ISIL-lite worldview.

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Filed under Education, Political Science

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