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Chris Ford: New Zealand and ISIS: We get our own invitation to World War Three

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

On Friday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Dr Ibrahim al-Ja'afari came bearing a letter asking, in his own words, for New Zealand to join the Middle Eastern regional equivalent of the World War Three against Islamic State.

This is not the sort of invite many New Zealanders say they want or the Government to accept. Nonetheless, the National Government are bound to accept it anyway as part of the price of being, as British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said last week, in 'the club' of powerful Western nations.

Have no doubt that I and many billions of others around the world find Islamic State a repugnant, vile movement whose penchant for human rights abuses and (even worse) then broadcasting them to the world is just evil. Some of you might well counter-argue that is right and just that we confront an evil organisation such as Islamic State before it goes onto threaten the rest of the Arabian Peninsula and gains the upper hand (through its allies) in other parts of the Middle East.

Well, if we were fighting a conventional enemy which was an identifiable nation state and which (at least) respected the traditional rules of war, there might be some justification for that view. After all, comparisons have been cast about IS being akin to the Nazis and, in many respects, they are. However, unlike the German National Socialists, their driving force is religion and they are a religiously-based sectarian movement more than anything else whereas the Nazis were purely an ethnically-driven movement. Also Germany was a nation-state with recognised armed forces and whose power could be, therefore, combatted against through the use of traditional military tactics and strategies.

Not so IS. They are stealthy guerilla fighters whom have established a nebulous entity in the form of Islamic State whose boundaries keep shifting. Within the context of the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts, they are just one of many Islamist fighting groups but with better weapons and a propaganda strategy that's winning over converts around the world. Besides, they have reportedly received funding from the Saudis and many donors in the Gulf States who have been concerned with maintaining a Sunni balance of power against Shia dominated Iran.

Furthermore, IS adhere to the Sunni Islamist movement of Wahhabism, which is also aligned to the Saudi state.  Wahhabism has been responsible for influencing both the Saudi regime and the IS regime, particularly in terms of the punishments used for capital offences (such as beheadings and crucifixions) and the ways both regimes treat women (through, for example, forbidding them from driving.) Admittedly, the Saudi regime is less extreme in its application of Wahhabist ideology than IS is but still the US and the West (including New Zealand) have been less outraged by ongoing Saudi human rights abuses than by those staged by IS forces.

Another point is that we're simply going to get entwined in a sectarian religious war between Sunni and Shia. After all, as many commentators have pointed out, the civil wars in Iraq and Syria have taken on a more sectarian hue in recent years as the ancient emnity between Sunni and Shia has reared its head once again. This is akin to the endless religious wars between Protestant and Catholic Europe which waged many centuries ago. I also say this because Iran is involved and while they hate IS and the Saudis and their Sunni allies in equal measure, the Iranian regime has been responsible for carrying out many human rights abuses as well.

So, if we are going to war simply on the basis that we have to defeat a ghastly movement, then we will have to accept that we are fighting only one set of human right abusers. Indeed, the Middle East is full of nasty, human rights abusing regimes to one degree or another and simply fighting one toxic movement is not going to resolve what is a region-wide issue.

That's why we should stay out of this conflict and only offer humanitarian aid to the victims of Islamic State. We should support any international initiatives which create humanitarian safe havens in neighbouring countries where refugees from IS can flee to quickly. I say the one of the few ways in which  IS can be defeated is to ensure that subject peoples have the ability to leave and thereby, in so doing, drain the swamp from which they claim their support. And if any fighting is to be done, then let it be done by forces from Arab nations such as the Kurdish Peshmerga who triumphed in the Syrian border town of Kobane. This is not a war which the West should involve itself in at all - after all Western intervention in the Middle East has only fuelled conflicts, not resolved them as the situation in post-Saddam Iraq attests to.

That's why National should say no to Aotearoa sending no more than humanitarian aid to assist the victims of IS. If we send military advisers, we will only make ourselves a target in a many-sided war that has made the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia look like a picnic by comparison.

 

 

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