It’s an easy response. We approach terror as we would approach a wasp infestation. Find their nest, and kill each and every one of them. It seems a completely legitimate answer.
However, we need to understand why terror groups exist. Resistance to oppression is a common motor of history; it inspired Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Ho Chi Minh to rise up. However, it also gave rise to the likes of Hitler and Lenin – and Islamic State (IS).
Radicalism and extremism always have, and unfortunately always will, exist. However, when a deadly cocktail of radicalisation, social media, existing unrest and foreign invasion come together, a plague such as IS can arise. Like it or not, their supporters are real people with real stories. There is a generation growing up in Syria and Iraq witnessing nothing but endless death and destruction at the hands of western powers and their own governments. Their parents fought or died in wars against the West.
I therefore find it slightly unnerving that the Government continues to fight fire with fire. Bombing provides a perfect justification for these twisted minds: the East is at war with the West. The West is at war with Islam. When Trump stood and proposed a “ban on Muslims”, the IS propaganda machine must have thought it Christmas. When people stand with ‘Rapefugees unwelcome” signs, all IS has to do is turn around and say, “Look! The West hates us. Join us and fight against them.” We’re making it too easy.
The harrowing images of Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh provided a horrific reminder of the sheer scale of the human catastrophe engulfing the region. Here we saw a child, embodying the epitome of innocence, suffer horribly due to a war we are supporting. If that had been our child, brother or cousin we’d be furious too. When a radical group arrive with a book they claim justifies violence, propaganda exploiting anti-western prejudices that already exist and an AK-47, what do we expect to happen?
There is no simple solution to the problem of the Middle East. Airstrikes have been effective in removing leaders and weakening the grip of IS on the region. In the long term, however, bombing a location wherever a group arises is not and cannot be a sustainable solution. The Government must focus on making sure another generation doesn’t grow up in Syria or Iraq fearing for their lives on the way to school.
When extremist states re-stabilise, support for violent extreme views almost always falls through the floor. The UK needs to ensure that it works with the governments of every nation in the region to counter radicalisation. However, take away the ammunition that is waking up in the morning with an American (or, indeed, Syrian) bomb in your kitchen, and see how the region re-stabilises.
More bombs may help defeat IS. But the ‘war on terror’ is not simply the war against IS; it’s much bigger than that. Bombs will not stop another terror group rising up very soon after.
When hardship eases, when children stop dying and when governments provide for their people, that’s when radicals don’t have a leg to stand on.