Why a 'neo war' on ISIS will be inconclusive

The 'invisible hand' of capitalism both nourishes and destroys the enemy.

 |  5-minute read |   13-12-2015
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There's a connection between the dastardly attacks in Paris last month, killing at least 130 people, and this month's shocking incident in California where a Pakistani woman and her radicalised American husband opened fire with assault-style rifles, killing 14 people.

And it's not just about the Islamic State, which obviously inspired the two incidents, but the fact that the enemy in the two cases is no longer the "other". He is no outsider, but an inherent insider, a Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde-like character adept in playing by the rules in the day and breaking the same set of laws in the night.

The presence of the barbarians inside the gate makes the "war on terror" difficult to fight. For, unlike in the past, when the assault was a frontal one with set territories involved, the ongoing war is a fluid one. The enemy is as much outside as he is inside. Also, the identity of the enemy, which was more or less certain in the past, is far more convoluted today.

Also read: Attacking Lokmat for 'insulting' Islam will not rescue Muslims from ISIS

Take for instance the perpetrators of the Paris attacks. Not only were most of them French nationals, they also behaved like normal, fun-loving Parisians. The 20-year-old "baby-faced" jihadi Bilal Hadfi, who detonated his suicide vest at the Stade de France where football fans had gathered for a friendly match, was himself a soccer maniac. Likewise, the 26-year-old Hasna Aiboulahcen, who blew herself up when she was cornered by the police soon after the Paris attacks, was a "drinker" and liked to be called "the cowgirl".

"Neo war", as Italian writer Umberto Eco likes to call the modern-day warfare, cannot have a front because of the very nature of capitalism and globalisation.

In this scenario, everyone - even enemies -is interconnected. It's no coincidence that Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the arch-enemy of the West, was actually armed by Western industry; two decades later, Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses the West of arming the Islamic State - the very terror outfit it is fighting as well. The "invisible hand" of capitalism both nourishes and destroys the enemy.

This is where Samuel Huntington goes wrong. For, the war which has every ingredient to be dubbed as a civilisational one - the Clash of Civilisations as Huntington would pompously call it - couldn't be fought within this parameter. For, the modern, globalised world cannot be segregated into stringent religious lines. Europe may be primarily Christian, but there is a sizeable population of Muslims as well, so much so that the fear of "Eurabia" haunts the continent.

Also read: How Obama allowed ISIS to grow into the monster it has become

This also explains why it's so imperative for world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, to insist after every major terror strike that the violent acts of radical Islamists have nothing to do with their religion, even if the jihadis emphasise on literally following the holy book!

To add to it is the fact that the very nature of warfare has changed, especially since the 1991 Gulf War. Writes Eco in Turning Back the Clock, a book on wars and media populism, "The Gulf War established two principles: One, none of our men should die. And two, as few enemies as possible should be killed." He also points at a strange phenomenon wherein we have come "to lionise, on television, those captured soldiers who, in order to save their lives, acted as mouthpieces for enemy propaganda". Such men in the past would have been publicly ridiculed.

This shift in the nature of warfare, along with the complexities introduced by the advanced stage of globalisation, has ensured that most of the military campaigns are inconclusive today. For, how can one fight decisively against an enemy who is hidden, and against whom the response would at best be restrained, short-termed and apologetic.

This explains why Afghanistan and Iraq remain volatile and terror-infested even after a decade of anti-terrorism operations. Historically, this was not the way battles had been won in the past. Those were fought with no strings attached - brutal, all-out and conclusive.

Also read: There's no kicking Putin out

If historians are to be believed, Germany reacted in a diametrically opposite manner after the two World Wars - the first saw the rise of the Nazis and the second a flourishing democracy - because in the first case Berlin was let off too easily, with no collateral damage suffered by the erring Germans, while in the second the retribution was overwhelming enough to utterly shock the entire system. Japan, its ally in World War II, too took the same disastrous path of self-rectification.

What makes the matter worse is the presence of the mass media which, notwithstanding its strengths and usefulness, easily gets subverted by the forces inherently antithesis to it. It's the media, after all, which has created the larger-than-life images of Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by providing them platform to reach out to the larger global audience. It not just magnifies the acts of terror, thus giving their supporters a rallying point, but also ensures that the response against them are reasonably muted, showcasing as it disproportionately does the loss of human lives and properties suffered in the course of the so-called war against terrorism. In the process, the war goes on without ever reaching its logical conclusion.

So, as the war against the ISIS gets going with a renewed vigour, it should not make the supporters of Huntington happy. For, the American academician has got some things right but many things wrong. The war, even if it may appear "civilisational", can't be fought like one, given the complex interplay of globalisation. And even when the war somehow begins, it may not be decisive.


Utpal Kumar Utpal Kumar @utpal_kumar1

The writer is Associate Editor, Mail Today.

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