Scare of this season: Multinational Jihadist

IS/ISIS/ISIL/-IS-something has become a prime and kind of favourite bogeyman and scare since this June. And IS-something is apparently largely (maybe a third, maybe two thirds of fighters) a foreigners-run organisation.

The all-too reflexive, intuitive reaction in the Western countries to this was perfectly predictable in its primitiveness:

IS-something = evil !!!
Help others against IS-something !!!
Bomb IS-something !!!
Separate IS-something from its money and revenues !!!
Create a symbol, preferably somewhere where Western reporters can provide photos and videos without too much risk !!!
Keep people from joining them !!!
Fear those who returned after they (tried to) join them !!!

- - - - -

To restrict travel of Western citizens is usually frowned upon. Still, efforts to keep young men from travelling to Syria were tolerated all-too easily these days, and it shows yet again that the people who hold freedom up with words and the people who actually hold freedom up in face of at least a minor scare are two groups of very different sizes.
A loss of freedom is a downside of travel bans.

Supposedly, there are substantial upsides. Supposedly, these substantial upsides are self-evident. We would have had a public discussion on them if they weren't, right?

Now what are these upsides, these advantages of restricting the freedom of travel and of allocating resources at 'handling' returning once-"foreign fighters"?

I found no such list (conspicuous, isn't it?), so I made my own list of potential advantages:

(1) Returning foreign fighters/jihadists are dangerous
(2) To weaken IS to serve our interests
(3) To weaken IS to serve the interests of people in the region
(4) To save the young men from the horrors and risks of the civil war.
(5) To protect the own countries relationships with and reputation among other countries

About (1) "Returning foreign fighters/jihadists are dangerous"

By Chams Eddine Zaougui and Pieter van Ostaeyen, July 2014

Richard McNeil Willson, May 2014

The Economist, August 2014

This sounds to me as if this case is more complicated than intuition or primitive hostility reflexes can handle well.

About (2) "To weaken IS to serve our interests"

One needs to be delusional to believe that 'we' in the West have interests in that area itself. The "oil" argument is worn out. We don't need that oil, and if someone else needs it, this someone else would be concerned - not us. Military action has never been a cost-efficient means to lower oil prices anyway.
IS cannot strike at us from the distance, and won't be able to do so, period.

The only NATO member in the region is Turkey. Its opinion should have the greatest weight on the topic of Syria, though not a dominating one. NATO is (by its still effective founding document) a defensive alliance, after all.

About (3) "To weaken IS to serve the interests of people in the region"

Beheadings and similar actions are unpleasant even to distant observers, but I find it conspicuous how selective our outrage about beheadings is. Poor manners are very common amongst civil war participants, so most alleged and real atrocities don't really single out IS.
What's singling out IS in regard to atrocities is the media coverage about the same.

The still low intensity of the intervention is unlikely to really defeat IS. It appears more directed at containing it. Moreover, the hope that foreigners will deal decisively with the foreigners-run IS may keep the people in the region from standing up and kicking them out by themselves.

IS is rumoured to have 18,000-30,000 fighters, maybe 60,000 with a very wide definition. 
Syria has about 18 million inhabitants. Iraq has about 36 million inhabitants.

How delusional does one need to be to think that some intercontinental intervention is necessary to stop IS? Didn't we tell the Arabs for years that their problems are rooted in their own failures and that they need to stand up and do something about it themselves? An intervention gives them an excuse to not do precisely this.

About (4) "To save the young men from the horrors and risks of the civil war"

There is the institution of protective custody, so we are no foreigners to the idea of restricting freedom to take away the freedom to harm oneself.
I've never really seen concerns about the safety of 'our' jihadists brought forward as an (attempted) justification for anything, and it's striking that nobody felt alarmed enough to intervene when Westerners went to fight in more 'favoured' conflict parties.

About (5) "To protect the own countries relationships with and reputation among other countries"

 I've never seen this argument used either, and I flat-out reject it. Reputation is no good-enough reason to restrict freedom of travel of anyone. And if it was, Germany should first think about outlawing travels to Thailand and Mallorca before it even only considers Syria.

This wasn't comprehensive, but I think the message is clear:
The reaction to the IS/foreign jihadism phenomena is in my opinion a primitive reflex. Warmongers seized the opportunity to get people and stuff bombed yet again.


1 comment:

  1. In re returning fighters:

    1) Only a small fraction of the guys that went to war survived. The data I have for guys from Austria with Chechen background is, that 50% died, 25% are MIA and presumed dead. Only 25% were still alive after half a year.

    2) Some of the returning fighters are now disillusioned.

    Therefore, the real problem is very likely one order of magnitude lower than presented.