Extremists have no intention of changing their opinion of us

Those who have chosen to side with IS will smear opponents whatever we do.

Those who have chosen to side with IS will smear opponents whatever we do

As MPs returned to Parliament last week to overwhelmingly approve escalating British involvement in the US-led campaign against Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria, a predictable backlash has emerged. Blaming the West for the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, this narrative urges against intervention, maintaining it will exacerbate violence and alienate the UK’s Muslim population – furthering fears of a Western ‘War on Islam’.

The Stop the War Coalition has led this charge with claims that “western military action of any kind only serves to kill innocents, destroy infrastructure and inflame violence”.

It has been joined by those on the more extreme end of the spectrum who declare the West’s actions are responsible for blood spilled on our streets by terrorists, and issue what amount to veiled threats that any intervention will lead to further attacks.

Putting aside the victim-blaming inherent in these excuses – which echo the domestic abusers’ protestations that his partner ‘asked for it – it is surely comforting to imagine that by standing aside the UK can ensure its actions do not fuel resentment, and that this will see a decline in the threat it faces.

The problem is though that the appeasement of Islamist violence inherent to this position fails to appreciate that these extremists have no intention of changing their opinion of us, and will seek to frame any action by the West as evidence of its hatred for Muslims.

This duplicity can be seen in the charges which have already emerged from the West’s inaction in Syria, which include wild conspiracies alleging that IS is a creation of the CIA designed to undermine Islam, and the arguments that the West has always opposed the Syrian revolution – and is now colluding with the Assad regime to crush the rebels for their dedication to Islam.

The desire to undermine the West has also already been demonstrated following the first US-led strikes inside Syria. An influential Facebook page called ‘Live Updates from Syria’ – run by British extremists based near Aleppo – has shared a picture of two dead children with the message claiming they had been killed by the “US and Arab coalition”.

The usual outrage ensued. Shared over 200 times on Facebook, the pictures drew comments from users chastising the pilots and their controllers as “murdering scum” who were “worse than animal[s]” and “equal as Bashar”.

There was one catch. The picture did not show children killed by the US or its Arab allies at all but instead was the heart-breaking aftermath of a barrel bomb attack by Syrian forces in March. Reminiscent of reports in July which found images of dead and wounded children from Syria being shared on Twitter using the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack, this highlights how extremists manipulate the truth in order to incite hatred and resentment against the West.

Meanwhile, as this material is being shared online, evidence that British nationals fighting in Syria have been killed in new strikes, as well as existing threats to target the UK, emphasise the extent to which this country’s radicals are already present in Syria.

When combined with figures suggesting up to 3,000 European foreign fighters have travelled to the country this highlights the sheer numbers that have been radicalised as much by the West’s inaction as by its potential military operations.

To suggest that Western air attacks will not kill civilians would be foolish, and it is clear that should the RAF begin targeting IS there will be attempts to whip up anger amongst British Muslims.

However, the evidence of the past few years, as well as the past few days, shows that those who have already chosen a side in this fight will smear opponents as ‘crusaders’ targeting Islam regardless of their actions – and we should therefore keep this in mind before allowing the feelings of extremists to dictate our policies.

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