Facing Hydra

Wil McLaughlin, Contributing Columnist

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I guess everyone knows this now, but the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed 129 people in Paris. ISIS simultaneously hit targets in Baghdad, Beirut, and in Kenya, killing hundreds.

On Facebook, of course, people changed their profile pictures to support France. The French government embarked on a bombing campaign in the Middle East and the rest of the world reaffirmed their solidarity with France and their ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Probably within the year there will be a NATO or United Nations taskforce to fight Islamic State, along with forces from Russia and Eastern Europe.

I am young, caring, and stupid. I have no experience with war or even with the grown-up reality of most Americans, much less that of the French or with the Syrians, Kenyans, and Iraqis. I feel very uncomfortable writing about this topic that I know so little about and have experienced so little of. I can write about economics or disease simply because I feel more informed or knowledgeable about discussing it. I’m still more afraid of Mr. Slayton than the ebolavirus because he can easily walk down the hall and badger me, while Ebola is a fluid-traveling virus than only moves with people and improper sanitation.

Like all the students in Galileo, I grew up in a time when war in the Middle East was continuous, never ending, and unwinnable. I just got my driver’s license and signed up for the draft. I’m very conscious and uncomfortable with the fact that I could be called to go to war, just like that. Politicians keep trying to amplify or withdraw our armies in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the situation remains. It is a quagmire that fights back, especially against foreign invaders.

Given the long history of American intervention in the Middle East, one might think we would have learned something. Sure, we demonize the ‘terrorist bad guys,’ but that was not always the case. Heck, in Rambo III, our protagonist goes to Afghanistan and helps the Taliban fight the Soviets. Granted, that was a case of Cold War idealism, but it shows how quickly and decisively things can change.

The title of this article is named after the legendary Greek monster called ‘Hydra,’ a gigantic creature with a multitude of venomous snake heads writhing out of its body. Cut off one head, and two more take its place. To me, that’s what radical extremism in the Middle East is like. Every stray bullet, badly-placed bomb or rocket has the potential to kill or maim civilians and noncombatants (which frequently happens). This often creates new insurgents, jihadists, etc., continuing the seemingly endless cycle of war.

How many times do we have to see this happen? Before their expansion, few people had heard of ISIS. People were still concerned about Al Qaeda and the Taliban. ISIS grew, and after ISIS is defeated, there will be some other group that will take its place.

Outside of the radical terrorist groups and some people in Saudi Arabia (whom ISIS gets too much of their money from, and who the U.S. supports) ISIS has little to no support. Nobody likes these guys. I cannot see a future in which they exist with their bastardized state that they’ve created.

Long-term, the organization of ISIL or ISIS will be weakened and ground down. However, given recent events, I’m not sure that the cause of radical violent Islam is so imperiled. Poland, France, and at least five U.S states have closed their borders to immigrants from the Middle East (specifically Syria and Iraq). I fear that Congress will soon bar the refugees from entering this country entirely.

The very people fleeing the scourge of the ‘Caliphate’ (Muslims, Jews, Kurds, Christians, and so many more people first and foremost with joys, fears, flaws, love and hurts) are being denied assistance by the wealthiest nation on earth.

A plaque on our great Statue of Liberty, given to us by the French in 1886, reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”

ISIS did not win by killing the people of Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, or Kenya with bombs and machine guns. They won by turning humans against humans and neighbor against neighbor, something that we as a species are so experienced in doing. Every refugee we take in is a living, thinking being that ISIS cannot assimilate or kill.

I’ve just browsed through a few articles on what ISIS has been doing to prisoners and people they have under their domain, and it is truly horrendous. Using child soldiers as human shields and living blood bags is something out of a horror movie. Furthermore, if we treat these refugees as the ‘other’ or ‘the enemy,’ all we do is isolate and push these refugees towards ISIS.

Remember that at least two of the Paris terrorists were born in Europe. The U.S. has always been a place for immigrants to come, supposedly with no discrimination or suspicion. No reason to stop that now provided we have the proper checks and administration. If we shut our borders, we can cast our heritage and the motto ‘Home of the Brave’ by the wayside.

I am not a political strategist or military commander. I do not know how to attenuate the warring factions of Syria. I do know that essentially all sides involved (minus the Kurdish forces) have done some dirty deeds. The Syrian government, Saudi Arabia, Iran, rebel coalitions, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, are all engaged in a meat grinder with no end in sight. They all have done horrendous things, with each having their own objectives and hate.

France’s grossly human but understandable reaction of bombing ISIS solves nothing. Like Hydra, you kill one head and two more take its place. To achieve peace in the Middle East, we need a rebuilding and reconciliation campaign that hasn’t been seen since the end of the Second World War in Germany. It will take massive quantities of time, money, and international support.

I heard reports on NPR this morning of a cease-fire proposal between the Syrian Army and the rebels to unite and take on ISIS, but I cannot imagine it will hold for a long period of time. Furthermore, once they destroy this ‘Islamic State,’ the two factions will immediately go back to slaughtering each other.

Of course, I’ve been incorrect before. I hope the world proves me wrong.

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Facing Hydra