Ever since it began to evolve out of the chaos in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has been a source of fear to the west. Bold ruthless men in black garb waging aggressive war purportedly on behalf of Islam but infact on behalf of none, completely unafraid to rape and pillage like in the Middle Ages strike fear into communities. Non Muslim communities or those deemed to be infidels suffer brutal reprisals. Media, looking for their daily dose of death and destruction, rush to present the image of an all conquering Islamic State fearing none, feared by all before it.
But what should the West do?
A civilisation that is built on being moral and tolerant is facing a crisis of confidence before Islamic State. Scared of angering the millions of Muslims who have made their home in western nations, and whom by and very large live in peace, western Governments tip toe around this issue as if trying to slip past sleeping lions. The crisis is as much cultural as it is about national security. It is about standing up for principles as much as it is about defeating a foe whose intolerance knows no limits.
Today Prime Minister John Key said that New Zealand is part of a coalition of western nations that is going to take on Islamic State.
We will be working with Australia supporting the training of local forces to take on the militants. Probably we will be under overall U.S. command. Possibly despite only being there in a training role we may have to handle captured militants – a delicate thing to be doing, because any temptation to treat the militants roughly will be quite rightly looked upon with absolute condemnation from organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Taking the moral high road means conducting oneself accordingly.
It is also a cultural and journalistic issue too. As the world tries to move on from the fact that there are gunmen out there who are prepared to kill cartoonists because they drew something the gunmen did not like, it must also address some very serious issues of about how to portray the whole war on terrorism, something that I think in some respects the media inadvertently worsen by giving too much coverage to “a chilling video has emerged….” or “a top _________ commander has been killed….”. Yet they have completely ignored some of the worst atrocities committed anywhere in the world in the last decade – the 250,000 or so who died in Darfur because no one would intervene to stop the cleansing; the thousands who have been killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Nigeria, where was their media coverage? Boko Haram might not be Islamic State, but the two probably quietly admire each other.
Many New Zealanders, myself included will be very wary about this. As a small island nation in the South Pacific, our backyard does not extend to the Middle East. It stops with South East Asia. The well being of South Pacific nations such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and so forth are much more important to us, not least because we have the largest Polynesian population in the world in Auckland, but also any failed state in the South Pacific would be a stepping stone for criminals doing business and other unwanted activity. This is why we intervened in the Solomon Islands in 2003.
Does the Islamic State even know where New Zealand is or any of these little nations? Maybe they do, but the less they find out about us and the South Pacific, the better. The less we give them cause TO find out more about us, the better.