Dangerous Baggage

Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri

Nicolas Henin: Are Strikes on ISIL Really a Trap?

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In this video Nicolas Henin voices some coherent, interesting and most of all important insights. One would be wise to listen.


Nicolas points out that ISIL are slightly delusional, but also self-coherent. They watch the news constantly and take everything they see as confirmation of their righteousness. He then goes on to talk about how the international community did nothing when the Syrian people were being attacked by the Assad regime.

Nicolas argues that the Western governments did not intervene when the Syrian regime was using barrel bombs and chemical weapons against its people. In his opening statement he also says that Mohammed Emwazi will have have killed many more Syrians than Western aid workers and journalists – but who showed compassion for them?

I absolutely agree with him up to this point. That it took a successful attack on a European city for us to intervene is something to admit with shame. Nicolas goes on to identify 3 ways to tackle the problem in Syria. The first seems perfectly logical, the acceptance of refugees in Europe was a major blow to ISIL, this is a very good point and one that can’t be stressed enough. They want us to close our borders. They want to show the fleeing Syrians that the narrative of Europe attacking Muslims is true. We have shown thus far that we will not let this happen. We believe in humanity, we believe in human rights and we will not turn away those fleeing from brutality. And the Syrian people know now that these are not mere words.

The second action he suggests taking is also an excellent idea, and one that members of the public in the UK can assist with from their own homes. The cities in Iraq and Syria have normal civilians living there. They have mobile phones and internet access. Some of these people do not want to live under the rule of ISIL and many don’t want the Syrian regime back either. The public from around the world, without leaving their sofa, can reach out to these people with a simple offer of solidarity. Listen to the stories they are telling, let them know that the West does not hate Muslims and is not attacking Islam. Let them know how you feel and listen to what they have to say. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently is one such group. Don’t get all of your information from the media news channels, find civilian led groups on the ground, listen to them and let them know you’re listening.

It is Nicolas’ final suggestion that I just can’t accept without critique. He suggests implementing no fly zones over the ISIL occupied areas of Syria, to restrict the coalition, the Syrian regime and Russia from entering that air space. Nicolas argues that once this no fly zone has been applied ISIL will lose ground ‘very quickly’ and they will essentially collapse.

Let us set aside the rather practical fact that we would have to seriously consider whether we want to shoot Russian planes out of the sky should the contravene this restriction. This is a scary prospect and I’m not sure it is one we should follow through on, nevertheless this is a practicality and it is the principle of Nicolas’ proposition that I wish to address.

I wish he’d been able to expand on this argument a little more, I have so much I’d like to ask him about how this strategy would work. ISIL have money, infrastructure and are trying to build a caliphate in which Muslims can live, Nicolas seems to be saying that we should just leave them to it. But it is very feasible that ISIL could simply operate their caliphate successfully without our intervention. They could pump whatever propaganda they wished onto the news channels, restrict travel into and out of the area and implement an education system that indoctrinates and recruits young children to their ideology. Could this be an all too foreseeable outcome of Nicolas’ suggestion? Would this serve to strengthen their hold on the territory they already occupy?

There would of course be lots of ground fighting between the Syrian regime and ISIL, as well as other rebels, even if the air support was withdrawn. How would this play out if our air strikes were not supporting any particular side? What about the Kurdish fighters? Would they thank us for such a move? Would they lose ground? Would they lose soldiers?

Nicolas also fails to mention the fact that many nations have been bombing ISIL in Iraq and Syria for 16 months now and they have gained very little ground in that time. He has some great ideas and is correct when he identifies this as a war of ideas that will not be won with sophisticated weaponry. However, ISIL are most definitely attacking with military force and they are trying hard to gain more land for their caliphate through military means. It is imperative that we contain the geographical spread of ISIL, a large expansion in their territory would provide them with enormous power to recruit new members, they would be able to tell people that they are winning. Nicolas simply does not address this.

In short, Nicolas has said that when we didn’t intervene it provided ISIL with a narrative that we didn’t care. When we directly intervene they have the narrative that Europe is attacking Syria and Islam. In fact he readily admits that ISIL will scour the internet for news stories and will be able to use most of what they find for their own PR. He then suggests that we withdraw military intervention so they can’t use that as PR – this just does not follow a coherent argument.

Nicolas presents a very eloquent, impassioned speech; that this man was imprisoned by ISIL for 10 months makes it well worth listening to, but does not mean it should be accepted uncritically.


Written by matthaughton

December 7, 2015 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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