“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
Nov 15, 2015 (San Diego) What happened in Paris, Beirut, and over the Sinai is an outrage. None should question that. Over the course of a couple of weeks close to 400 people were killed. These are innocent women and children who have not one thing to do with the war in the Middle East, beyond well, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
These attacks by people who believe in a nihilist view of the world, will demand that we do not respond in kind, less we add fuel to the fire. It is tempting to do otherwise but it can be done. To some of these nihilist this was also revenge for the death of friends and family members. (Not that we are trying to justify a thing, but some of this has a direct cause and effect to Drone strikes and other actions by Western Powers.)
This is the same quite fluid group of people who has beheaded countless numbers of Christians because they are Christians. They are the same group that took many Yazidi girls and women and forced them into prostitution and killed babies, beheaded them, becuase in the lottery of life they were born to the wrong religion. So a lot of this is part and parcel of the ethnic tensions that have existed in the region for hundreds of years.
These people are not just appalled by Christians in their midst, but other muslims, Shia mostly, who they see are apostates and not real muslims.
It would be easy to just see them as monsters and ourselves become monsters. While terrorism has existed as a tactic for at least 300 years, this form is starting to horrify the world. So what is needed is to slow down and find out why this is happening.
In the West many Muslim young men (and it is mostly young men) have become radicalized since Europe has not been very good at absorbing them into Western societies. The United States does a far better job, but we also have issues. So we also need some self reflection.
In many European nations, chiefly Belgium and France, They have become an underclass, a permanent underclass. They are a minor part of ISIS though. The true mystery to me, are not the young men who feel alienated from their home culture, in fact rejected. The true mystery are middle class young women, who have been recruited to go to Syria… truly strikes me as a salesman selling ice to an eskimo. What level of personal crisis leads a young woman to join a group that sees women as inferior is a true mystery to me.
But we also must look at the bigger picture. Why is a group like ISIS even in existence? There are some obvious reasons and they lie in things like power vacuums and chaos created by wars we willingly went into. Laying blame on the Bush administration and the Iraq war is not an exaggeration. They are directly responsible and as such they should pay a price, but at this point ISIS still needs to be fought. This is not a fight the world can walk away from.
There are other elements as well, One of them is climate change. In 2015 the Department of Defense (DOD) released this report where among other things they stated:
The report finds that climate change is a security risk, Pentagon officials said, because it degrades living conditions, human security and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations. Communities and states that already are fragile and have limited resources are significantly more vulnerable to disruption and far less likely to respond effectively and be resilient to new challenges, they added.
“The Department of Defense’s primary responsibility is to protect national security interests around the world,” officials said in a news release announcing the report’s submission. “This involves considering all aspects of the global security environment and planning appropriately for potential contingencies and the possibility of unexpected developments both in the near and the longer terms.
“It is in this context,” they continued, “that the department must consider the effects of climate change — such as sea level rise, shifting climate zones and more frequent and intense severe weather events — and how these effects could impact national security.
They might have been describing Iraq and Syria for all we care. The latter has been undergoing a major drought since 2006. The recipes for disruption and unrest has been in place for some time. We in the West helped to create some of the conditions that allowed for this disruption. Some were pretty local Bashir al Asad responded in a lousy way to his drought, and farmers were forced off the land. When people are starving they tend to travel to urban areas, where jobs are scarse and people can starve. This leads for a search for blame.
Nor is DoD the only one pointing to this issue. There are others, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the Central Intelligence Agency who have done the same. Thought the CIA has apparently shuttered this program down in the recent past.
The civilian uprising in Syria in 2011 asked for not just regime change, but a response to this climate change derived crisis. If the government responded in a different way, we might not be where we are. Instead, millions of Syrians have fled the country, and they are in the midst of a civil war, where ISIS is but one of the combatants.
Desperate people will see their enemies in other ethnic groups that they have hated for centuries and will gladly go to war. This is partly what is happening on the ground. Ethnic tensions are back. They are leading to genocide.
The potential for these so-called water wars are just increasing. The Yale Climate Connections is clear in some of the present and future dangers.
The video ends with Lonnie Thompson pointing to Tibet’s numerous glaciers and the Indus River flowing through China, Pakistan, and India. All, he says, are “nuclear-powered countries,” each of them dependent on the Indus for water supplies . . . “all geopolitical hot-spots in the future” with a big stake on the glaciers increasingly under stress in a warming climate.
So if you think ISIS is a problem, here is a nightmare scenario. A water war between two nuclear powers, that would be China and India.
But what about home? The American Southwest is already living though these conditions. You might believe it is not because of El Nino that will see storms all winter, but unless we have significant snow, the drought will continue.
So yes, we need to try to understand where, even the most nihilist among the human community, are coming from. We will need to fight them. We may need to degrade and defeat them, but we must be careful not to become monsters in the process.
Oh and there is one more thing. There is a history of colonial occupation and border setting that goes back to the treaty of Versailles and 1919. Many of the current borders in the Middle East, if not all, were drawn by Western powers, and they did not take into account local divisions, These borders divided ancestral lands, for example the Kurds, who occupy land in Iraq, Turkey and Syria. But it has also enhanced the current ethnic crisis.
So nations that have been around for about 100 years might go away in our lifetimes. This process will not be pleasant, we suspect.
What about the rational response? The first step is to slow down and understand the dynamics. Until we do that, we will continue to go headlong into these crisis.