How to Solve a Problem Like Islamic State

When something tragic like what unfolded in Paris happens, we all have an opinion on what needs to be done. Well here’s mine - I’m going to play armchair general and pretend I know what I’m talking about. It seems to me that the strategy for containing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, whatever you want to call them, isn’t working. Nobody in their right minds believes that IS is going to be defeated with a bombing campaign or drone strikes. In fact, many argue, including myself, that airstrikes are counter-productive. How many innocent civilians have been killed from collateral damage in the last 12 months? How many moderate muslims have been radicalised as a result?

So here’s my 5-point plan for tackling IS:

1. Send in ground troops and rebuild Syria

Nobody wants another Middle-East war. While the Afghanistan War was inevitable after 9/11, it’s pretty clear now that the Iraq War was a foreign policy disaster. You can argue about whether it was the war in general that was a mistake, or simply the post-invasion planning. Nevertheless, there is no hope of any diplomatic solution with IS. No one is going to invite IS leaders to the UN or any other forum to discuss peace terms. There is no negotiating with IS. The only option is to eliminate them, even if that means cooperating with Russia and leaving Assad in place temporarily. Dealing with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad will have to wait.

A sound military plan has to go hand in hand with a strategic recovery plan. We cannot have a repeat of the Iraq War. The US may take the lead with the military objectives but it would be wise if the US takes a backseat when it comes to rebuilding Syria. The UN, supported by other Middle East countries, must take the lead in bringing democracy to Syria. A new government in Syria will never be trusted if Syrians believe that it is a puppet of the US.

2. Ethical foreign policy

We need to stop supporting and selling arms to despotic regimes that support and fund terrorism - I’m looking at you Saudi Arabia. This goes to the wider policy of "anything goes as long as it means jobs and economic growth”. It seems madness that we count on Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other countries in the region as key allies in the war on terrorism while knowing that they play both sides. You hear the argument that if we don’t sell missiles to Saudi Arabia then Russia or China will. This is what I mean by ethical foreign policy - we should do things because they are right, even if BAE loses some arms contracts and jobs are lost.

A proxy war is playing out in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and it’s spreading. For years we thought the Shia Islamic militants backed by Iran were the biggest danger. It’s clear now that IS, backed by fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam, which has its roots in Saudi Arabia, is taking jihadism to a whole new level. With oil prices low and showing no signs of rising with the world moving to renewables, Saudi Arabia have already indicated that they need to start diversifying their economy. Therefore the Saudi royal family have a choice to make - do they risk foreign investment by failing to tackle fundamentalism, or do they bow to the clerics (who are the real power in Saudi Arabia) and continue turning a blind eye to IS.

3. Abandon the Schengen Agreement and overhaul the refugee programme.

Borderless travel around Europe is fantastic but one of the European Union’s greatest advantages is also one of its biggest vulnerabilities. The UK was right to opt-out. I have little time for the those in Australia, UK and the US who say close up shop and close the borders to refugees. Surely if you support your government taking military action in Syria then your country also has a moral obligation to take in refugees as a result of the military action. That being said, when the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands it’s inevitable that some terrorists are going to slip through. As a minimum Europe needs to adopt a strictly controlled refugee programme that isolates refugees to specific countries until they can be returned to their country of origin, or until their asylum application is approved.

The problem though is one of process. When you learn about the situation in the UN refugee camps and find out that it can take years for an application for asylum to be processed, you begin to understand why hundreds of thousands of refugees make the dangerous trip up through Turkey and into western Europe. Some of them are refugees who want to return to their country as soon as the war is over, and yes, others are economic migrants. We need to stop blaming the economic migrants for simply wanting to seek a better life, but at the same time accept that the levels of migration are fuelling nationalism and are having some genuine negative effects on communities. All countries need to ensure that the UNHCR is properly funded and resourced in order to cope with the refugee crisis and dramatically bring down processing times.

4. Tackle the Mosques, Islamic Community Centres, religious indoctrination of children and subjugation of Muslim women by Muslim men.

Overseas funding of mosques and Islamic community centres should be illegal. Yes, it would mean that the vast majority of legitimate non-radicalised mosques would lose funding because of the minority, but it needs to be done. This has already happened in Austria. I would also apply the same policy to all religious institutions so that the policy can’t be accused of unfairly targeting Islam. Religious indoctrination is despicable and must be stopped. At the same time moderate muslims need to do more to root out extremism. We see these Imams condemn violence and then immediately justify it by pointing to the root causes. It doesn’t matter if they have a point regarding the root causes, the message needs to be unequivocal that violence is not the answer.

We also need to do more to address the endemic misogyny in many Muslim communities and families. There needs to be the right balance between religious tolerance and ensuring Muslims living in Western countries accept western values. Most of our countries now have laws against forced marriage, female genital mutilation, etc, yet these things still go on, and many Muslim men still dictate the future of the women in their lives. Within Australia, Muslim women have the lowest workplace participation, the highest rate of welfare dependency, and the lowest tertiary education participation.

Finally, we should do more to stop the religious indoctrination of children. Learning about religious history and customs is one thing, forcing children to read the Bible or Quran as revealed truth is another thing entirely. It's crazy to me that this is still happening in 2015 in supposedly secular societies. We can't begin to tackle religious extremism without tackling religion. The politicians commonly trot out the same line that what we are seeing is a perversion of Islam, which is true to some extent, but we can't ignore the fact that jihad and martyrdom are concepts found in the Quran.

5. Address the root causes of muslim grievance

There is no justification for the actions of IS and Al Quaeda before them, but we can’t pretend that the rise in Islamic terrorism wasn’t borne from some genuine grievances and injustices.

Until the Israel-Palestine problem is resolved we are never going to have peace in the Middle East. After all that has happened, statehood for Palestine looks further away than ever. Benjamin Netanyahu has taken a hardline stance, stoking up electoral support based on fear. The only country that can do something about this is the US. The US needs to use its considerable influence to force Israel to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen any time soon with a Republic majority in the US Senate.

So there you have it, my 5-point plan. Of course, I’m only scratching the surface and I’m sure people wiser than I can easily point out the folly in my plan.

What not to do

Now to what should not be done. We should not give in to fear and allow governments to increase blanket surveillance and undermine encryption.

We’re already seeing the Paris Attacks being used as justification for increasing the powers of the intelligence agencies and passing laws that further increase blanket surveillance. France recently passed some of the toughest surveillance laws in the world. What good did it do? Blanket surveillance, as opposed to targeted surveillance, has very little impact on disrupting terrorism. Even Obama’s hand-picked advisory panel to look into the bulk metadata collection program concluded that the program “was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders”.

I have no problems with governments increasing the budgets of the intelligence agencies - just use the larger budgets to increase the monitoring of genuine suspects, rather than invading the privacy of the rest of us. It seems after every attack we later find out that one or more of the perpetrators were ‘known’ to police or intelligence agencies.

We must also never bow to the demands of David Cameron and others who want the intelligence agencies to have access to our encryption keys, or want back-doors to be placed in encryption mechanisms. This proposal is wrong, dangerous and technically infeasible - encryption has long been out of the hands of any one government, industry or company.