Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Marshall Plan-size campaign of information and education to confront ISIS

So Stephen Harper says he is the only political leader in Canada who will attack ISIS. Beating the drum of war, along with the U.S., U.K. France, and to a lesser extent Germany and more recently Turkey, Iran along with what’s left of Iraq, against this most virulent and scurrilous band of thugs, in the hope that by bombing the hell out of them, they will somehow disappear, has considerable cost.

Of course, the western allies are keeping their losses to a minimum by refusing to “put boots on the ground”...the “only” way ISIS will ever be eradicated according to the military Mensa group..

Nevertheless in the midst of a Canadian national election which is basically a referendum on the decade of Harper rule, the Prime Minister is using his “military bravado” as another weapon against his two main opponents, Trudeau and Mulcair. And while that poses a threat to their potential for replacing Harper, in either a majority or minority government, there is certainly a case to be made for alternatives for the campaign against ISIS, outside of bombing them.

Clearly, the bombs that drop on ISIS locations prompt the vigorous recruiting of more radicals from around the world. Also, the capacity to erupt without warning in any town or city in any country, gives the radical Islamic terrorists a kind of unpredictability and massive media coverage for a minimum attack (not minimum for the victims, but compared with the more virulent and massive attacks on ‘infidels’ in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan). This capacity does not abate with the continuing bombardment by high-powered jets. Also, given the “pseudo-religious’ fervor of the Islamic radicals and their avowed dedication to suicide bombing for Allah, there is no time frame, in their mind, for the termination of their cancerous effort to establish an Islamic caliphate. On the other hand, there is no way the western bombers can or will sustain an interminable bombing offensive, whether the cessation comes as a result of empty coffers or public counter-terror-fatigue.The likelihood of a ‘peace treaty’ with this bunch of troglodytes is so remote as to be ethereal. Further, the flood of refugees pouring out of countries like Syria and Iraq is putting such serious strain on the capacity of adjacent countries like Jordan and now even reaching into Europe and Great Britain, without any prospect of stemming the tide. And the longer the bombs keep falling, the more refugees will seek asylum elsewhere. They really have nothing to lose in their pitiful pilgrimage to whatever looks like peace and security to them.

And while there is really no precedent, and no library of research among the armed combatants pointing to a potential resolution/termination of this plague, this ‘enemy’ of civilization is like no other. Furthermore, they are, by all accounts, highly adept at drawing their desired opponents into a pitched battle, thereby reinforcing their commitment and determination to continue their various methods of circumventing legitimate state governance using even stolen and “found” weapons abandoned by U.S. forces following the two Iraq wars. They have weapons, and they have oil which they sell on the black market. And, although we “know” most of their activities, we continue to rely on bombs and missiles as if we are bankrupt of creativity, ingenuity and the courage to experiment with potentially more radical, if potentially less physically lethal approaches.

Even “The Donald” has leapt into the vacuum with a suggestion that their access to oil reserves somehow be cut off. He does not say how, at least not yet. Yet the public discourse around the danger and the ways to eliminate ISIS continues to focus on bombs and missiles. Public security, the core of vulnerability among the nations and people in the crosshairs of the ISIS forces, is much more complicated an issue that needs more than bombs and body-scanners and ‘watch lists’ to combat. It needs the kind of Marshall Plan-size financed massive educational campaign, using all the various social media, formal curricular institutions, marketing creativity and public dollars. This idea is to saturate the environment of these Islamic infidels (assuming that they are indeed outside the mainstream of Islam) with information of an historic, religious, philosophic , gender-equality-infused, from all points of view of the world’s faith communities. Central figures in the campaign would have to be respected imams who are prepared to risk the wrath of these punks, in the short run, in order to reclaim the international respect for their faith community in the long run. There is so much to commend the moderate, tolerate, rights-respecting multiple political and faith expressions that have painted themselves into the landscape of the human population and culture, including those who prefer agnosticism and/or atheism. Individual freedom of choice, including individual freedom to worship or not, including individual freedom to speak whatever language(s) one prefers, and to seek to make a living in any of the legitimate, lawful and proven paths, following a full formal education that exposes the learner to the widest possible range of human experience, and academic pursuits (something Islam has historically been highly reputed to value)....

These are just some of the  themes of such an educational campaign, delivered through the most interactive and creative platforms available, without any attempt to prosletyze for a specific religion, in fact, at the outset, an agreement would have to be tendered for all participants that conversion from or to a specific religion is outside the scope of the project. And there would also have to be included in the initial agreement prior to funding commitments, a pledge to avoid prosletyzing for a specific political ideology.

In fact, these two caveats could well pave the way for a larger agreement on the reduction or elimination of poverty, disease, and the provision of clean water, air and food for all humans, linked to a joint commitment to work toward full employment in all countries. Imagine the potential from such a campaign, where the “participant teachers” become the participant learners and demonstrate their awakening through decades of collaboration to eliminate ebola, and other pandemics as they appear, and to reduce carbon emissions everywhere.

There is truly a hollow sound and impact to the dropping of bombs and missiles: of course, select targeted individuals are eliminated, and there is the instant gratification of a short-term win; yet there is also the spectre shared by even those engaged in the military mission, that there is no end game, no long-term conclusion to this war and no prospect that minds and hearts and bodies will be changed, resulting in the self-immolation of this incendiary movement. The bombs and missiles remind this writer of the taunts, insults and headline-grabbing of “The Donald” who has so perverted the Republican campaign for the White House into a narcissistic egomaniacal television drama. There are no characters, (and no character demonstrated by the protagonist) no plot and no resolution of the many besetting issues facing the United States, and the international community. Sucking all the oxygen from the rooms where rallies are being held, parallel to the bomb sucking all the oxygen from the newsrooms covering the military campaign, is no recipe for governance, nor for thoughtful confrontation of this many-faced demon of radical Islamic terrorism. “Sound and fury signifying nothing” is what the world is left contemplating.

Let’s get real and roll up our sleeves, together, in an international effort to put the best brains together to design and then to “sell” a different modus operandi than simple reversion, regression even, to the military stand-by. Cut off the access to oil, cut off the access to the social media on which ISIS depends, cut off all access to disparate armaments, cut off the flow of recruits, open up the channels for the abundant flow of mercy ships, medical transports, compassionate volunteer agencies with food medicine and shelter for refugees, open the borders of all countries to take in as many displaced refugees as feasible, train as many as possible who are willing to contribute expertise, knowledge, methodology and marketing, generate a tidal wave of human energy to palpable and so self-sustaining that its sheer strength and longevity outlasts the terror movements. Leadership can and must include the United Nations, the Security Council, and the multiple trade agreements that are being signed and threatened by the continuing menace of ISIS and all other faces of this monster.

If the campaign to eliminate radical Islam is contemplated as a long-term effort, then let it be an effort that leaves us all feeling blessed for the opportunity participation in such a campaign would offer. Perhaps, the soon-to-be-retired President of the United States, Barack Obama, could and would serve as the working chair of such a campaign? And his two immediate predecessors (George W. Bush and Bill Clinton)  as well as former UK  Prime Minister, Tony Blair would agree to serve as part of an oversight board.

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