Political rhetoric and the jihadists

Every terrorist attack on a Western target presents the self-styled saints in Washington and other western capitals with an opportunity to engage in perfectly staged grandiose rhetoric. Employing borrowed words, identical sound bites, and first-cousin cliches designed to curate their images, conceal their ignorance and ignore realities on the ground, world leaders’ pontificate about destroying ISIS.

But there is precious little explanation of what defeating ISIS really means or how it will be accomplished.

Our leaders’ mandarin rhetoric is reminiscent of Queen Gertrude’s admonition to Polonius in Hamlet: “More matter with less art.” In contemporary parlance, this is translated as more substance with less style. More content without the rhetorical ornamentation and digressions. The political classes in God’s menagerie talk until their mouths bleed and reassure the public that they will defeat the terrorists without a hitch like an Ocean’s Eleven heist.

Best to recall the truth of George Orwell’s comment that “…if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought” blurring the boundaries between the fake and the real. It is a reminder that the moment to be wariest of political rhetoric is precisely when elite opinion is lined up on one side of the boat.

Those politicians talk about destroying ISIS, but what about other radical Islamic terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Jabhat al-Nustra, and Boko Haram, that have proliferated all over the globe partially facilitated by the information revolution?

Does victory over ISIS mean taking the fight to their doorstep in Iraq and Syria? If it means beating them militarily, that is a silly question. If the American public has the stomach to support boots on the ground with the collateral damage to civilians, the world’s mightiest military could go through ISIS in Syria and Iraq to take a phrase from General Patton, “like excrement through a goose.” But the American people will not touch this approach with a barge pole.

The U.S. military did not start bombing ISIS’ oil infrastructure and their fleet of tanker trucks because the Obama administration was worried about civilian casualties and environmental damage. You have to wonder whether the allies would have won World War II if they had to submit their bombing targets to the White House for approval.

Is defeating ISIS militarily, stopping its propaganda machine, blocking its revenue sources sufficient to eliminate radical Islamic terrorism? ISIS and other jihadists ‘ initial goal is to create a caliphate in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Libya and the Palestinian territories. After that, they want to recreate the caliphate of old and then spread Islam over the entire planet. A global caliphate achieved through a global war. Other than that, they have modest ambitions.

Does it mean making their ideas go away? Does a grand strategy have to deal with the challenge of overthrowing a religion, a belief system? Even if we defeat the extremist militarily, we are still going to be dealing with the sons and daughters of jihadists 20 years from now. The fight against terrorism could become like the endless war on crime, or poverty or cancer.

To reduce and manage the terrorist threat, mainstream Muslims themselves must come out forcefully against the jihadis who are trying to hijack their religion. Political rhetoric comes with the speed of light, while developing and executing a successful strategy to deal with the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism comes with that of sound.

originally published: January 2, 2016

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