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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.