By Tim Marshall.
From the hysterical reaction to the British parliament voting to extend air strikes against ISIS, from Iraq into Syria, you’d think the vote was a momentous occasion as opposed to the adjustment of an existing state of military affairs. Some protesters and columnists were outraged that the UK was now ‘bombing Syria’, there were emotional outbursts about ‘bloodthirsty MPs’ and ‘warmongers’. But the UK is not bombing Syria, it is bombing the 0.1% of it in which it can find ISIS fighters.
This is not to belittle the seriousness of the vote, but a little perspective would have helped the protesters staging their ‘die ins’ outside Parliament. Too many are being taught to think that whatever a Western country does in the developing world is automatically not just wrong, but coming from evil intent.
But why not bomb Isis? Why not stand up against this peculiar 21stC version of fascism? Why not assist the Kurds, the Iraqis, and others dozens of other countries who oppose IS? They may not be natural allies of a Western democracy, but nor was the USSR in 1941.
After they beheaded British citizens, slaughtered them on a beach in Tunisia, and then took their brand of fascism to the streets of Paris, what is the rationale for not fighting IS in Syria as well as Iraq?
The self-hating Westerner turns each conflict inside out until she or he arrives at a position where they can be against their own country. So the Russian bombing of the FSA can be justified, but the British bombing of IS is a deplorable act of aggression. A blind eye is turned to the wholesale slaughter of the Chechens by the Russians, but the possibility of civilian casualties due to British action paralyses some people’s ability to apply balance and consider options.
And so the cry goes up – ‘Don’t bomb Syria’. Not, you note, a cry of anger about the manner in which IS treats anyone who it regards as ‘the other’ – which is to say almost everyone in the world.
It is not difficult to make a long list of Western hypocrisy, double standards, terrible decision making, and examples of malpractice in the military and political sphere , but that is all the self-haters do, they never list the other side’s failings nor come up with solutions about what should be done.
The European enlightenment seems to have hit a hiatus – the Nazis and Communists proved that, and Nietzsche and Marx were both products of rationalism. Now we have an age in which people who do believe in democracy, simultaneously believe in stifling free debate. The idea that people should be able to assemble, worship, and speak freely wherever they are has hit the cultural roadblock of a refusal to accept that it might just be possible that those ideas, not always achieved in the West, could be among the better principles for trying to organize society. This is not to argue for imposing democracy, even if it is the least bad form of societal organization we have so far come up with. It is though, to say that sometimes the western peoples act out of an acceptance, arrived at through centuries of strife, that something must be done to help others. Not to ‘bomb them into dust’, not to interfere out of a sense of neo colonialism, but because they instinctively feel that at some point, in some place, barbarism must be confronted.
Bad decisions of the past have made people understandably wary about military action, but it has also led to people defending the indefensible and refusing to countenance that action may be required. Air strikes are already having an effect on ISIS. We all know that air power alone will not defeat them, but they can help reduce their capacity to inflict evil.
There are many reasons why the UK, the French, the Americans, and most of the Arab nations are fighting ISIS, but among them is that these are the people throwing homosexuals off tall buildings, enslaving minorities, and engaging in mass rape, torture, and murder.
Yes, there is an element of self interest in the newly found European effort to end the Syrian War. It lies in combating terror and halting the refugee flow. But the Western states also act out of a reflex action, tempered by practicability, that at a certain point ‘this shall not stand’.
If a nation, indeed a civilization, faced by the growing fascism, which has now reached the shores of the Mediterranean, retreats from its core principles it is on the path to decay. The battle to defeat fascism does not lie in cultural and moral relativism, nor in pulling up the drawbridge and hoping the barbarians advance no further. To do so is to abandon the very things which have made what is behind the drawbridge so attractive to so many people around the world, and it is to betray them.
ISIS has an ideology – it can be countered, partially by gunfire, partially by the principles of the Enlightenment, but first we need to remind another generation of what those values are, and remind ourselves of the idea of defending people’s right to say things with which we disagree.
There are now two generations of self-haters from the extreme left which are poisoning the minds of often well-meaning younger people who see the desolation of parts of the world and seek answers as to why this is, and what can be done. There are the older ones, unable to admit that the USSR was a despotic system which was hated by its inhabitants. For them to see this, to talk openly to those who lived under the totalitarianism, would be to accept that their life long beliefs were worse than wrong. Thus, locked in their past, they support Putin’s Russia. This is partially because they cannot escape the prism, and prison, of the ‘glory ‘days of Communism, and partially because if Russia is against America, then they must be for Russia. The younger extreme left buy into these ideas, copy the hard left’s tradition of closing down debate, and have added to it the concepts of ‘safe spaces’ where their delicate minds must not be subjected to differing views – and if anyone tries – they must be shouted down and hounded out.
No matter that Putin is creating a quasi-dictatorship brimming with xenophobia, homophobia, and rampant nationalism. No matter that the extreme right wing parties, which the extreme left say they despise, also support Putin’s Russia. Thus the extreme left become fellow travelers with the French National Front and Hungarian Jobbik – both of which are rooted in the fascism of the 1930s.
This is because the extreme left has never really been that far from the extreme right – they do almost meet, especially on economic policies. They do not however meet in the middle, they meet below – below the space the Enlightenment created for ideas, open debate, and freedom. That is a dark place.