Ronan L Tynan:
I got a very valuable tutorial recently at London’s Chatham House, (Monday, March 2, 2015) at a meeting about ‘Digital Jihad’, as to why the West seems to be fighting an uphill battle against ISIS or Islamic State, especially in failing to stem the number of young people who continue to seek to join in their brutal and gruesome campaign. However, it was not so much what was said that proved so insightful, although the presentations were excellent as you can see from my Twitter feed, but rather the ruling out of a question about what US Secretary of State John Kerry said about the importance we should attach to peace between Israel and the Palestinians in countering ISIS, that proved so telling, and to be honest bizarre?
I asked the offending question and chairperson BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner said “we are not going to go there”. However, Frank in refusing a question about the importance of the Israel Palestinian conflict in the radicalisation process exposed, I would argue, a dangerous self-imposed blind spot in the battle against ISIS. Indeed, John Kerry paid a price for trying to shine a light on that very point, in a speech at the State Department last October, being roundly attacked and misrepresented by pro Israeli groups in the United States.
What reminded me of Kerry’s words and provoked my question was an excellent presentation by Lord Carlile of King’s College, in which he spoke about the importance of confronting ISIS online, and presenting a strong counter narative in terms of our ideas and propaganda to defeat their ideas and propaganda. Indeed, while I did not get an answer from the podium to my question, in speaking with Lord Carlile afterwards he unwittingly almost propelled me to draft this blog post because he made what was for me the profound, if obvious, observation that the Israel Palestinian conflict is indeed very “symbolic.” Citing Northern Ireland he reminded me that some in the two communities there are very overtly engaged with the conflict, with Nationalists identifying with the Palestinians, and some Loyalists with the Israelis, and Palestinian and Israeli flags flying in their respective areas. However, if it is “symbolic” for Nationalists and Loyalists in Northern Ireland imagine what it must represent for many, especially say young Muslims not only in the UK, but across Europe and the Arab World?
Against that background it will be easy to appreciate why John Kerry’s words resonated with me which were based on his direct experience on a visit to the Middle East seeking support to defeat ISIS: “….there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to. And people need to understand the connection of that. And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity,..” Kerry was speaking at a reception in honour of Eid al-Adha at the State Department in Washington, which may help explain why he observed so many heads nodding as he uttered those words, in the sense that his audience might more acutely appreciate just how emotive that conflict is.
However, from the point of view of any discussion about radicalisation, and the reasons why ISIS are able to recruit young Muslims in the UK and elsewhere, surely to ignore the potential significance of the Israel Palestinian conflict, especially after the brutal attack on Gaza last summer that saw so many civilians killed, especially children in their own homes is not just bizarre, it is dangerous? Kerry in fairness put it well: we have to understand the “connection” which ISIS are exploiting, because it “has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity.”
In the battle of ideas against ISIS, the pursuit of a just peace, and the ending of Israel’s illegal occupation, and the well documented human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories surely has a role to play? I would obvously argue we should pursue that policy because it is the right thing to do. But in fairness, if one is to have a comprehesive discussions about the roots of radicalisation surely one cannot ignore the role of the Israel Palestinian conflict? Ronan L Tynan Twitter: @RonanLTynan Web: http://www.esperanza.ie