Responding to the Barbarity

Listening to the news last night and waking up to the morning newspapers, one gets a look at the increasing barbarity around us. Specifically I am referring to the horrific execution by burning of the Jordanian Air Force pilot executed by Isis.  The question that was raised several times during discussions in our home was “what on earth do they think they will gain by such barbarity”?

It’s a question worth considering.

For many months now, the western world has been exposed to a kind of violence that is alien to our way of life. There appears to be no end to the ongoing slaughter and massive displacement of populations throughout Syria and Iraq. Lebanon is already being drawn in to the carnage. Jordan may very well be next. Egypt is facing an ever-expanding jihadist conflict in its Sinai Peninsula. Hamas, within the Gaza Strip, appears to passively support the carnage.

To a Western observer, there appears to be no rational goal. I beg to differ. To make any sense of this barbarity one must, for the sake of argument, discard any western humanistic philosophies. These will only confuse and prevent any understanding of what the jihadists might hope to achieve.

I do not believe that using the word “ethnocentric” in this discussion will have any value. It may further confuse an already confusing situation. Given their stated goal of creating an Islamic caliphate, their barbarity may even be rational.

The West is appalled by the barbarity.  Well-meaning western citizens scream for their governments to “do something”. The pain and suffering they see in the media is too painful. They demand action. Politicians are generally responsive to the demands of their citizens.  Their difficulty is “what to do”.

Sometimes the action required is to do nothing.

Living in the Middle East, I am anything but an uninterested observer. The turmoil around me affects my family and my friends, potentially with lethal consequences. Instinctively, I look around me and attempt to find some structure in the surrounding chaos, which allows me to make sense of my environment. Such an analysis affords me the opportunity to find order where there appears to be none.

I believe the increasing barbarity is actually completely rational. The goal of the jihadists, of Isis in particular, is to eventually create an Islamic caliphate that will over time include much of, if not the entire of the world. They want to provoke the West take some action. The citizens of the West cry out for their elected leaders to take some kind of hopefully constructive action, demanding their somewhat impotent politicians do something. The easiest action for the politicians to utilize is military force.

While this may satisfy the immediate demands of the populace, it invariably will cause more suffering. Many jihadists will be maimed and killed; the collateral damage will kill or cause to be killed a significant number of noncombatants. Over the long term this collateral damage may very well generate more support for the jihadists. And in the long-term, that works well for the jihadists.

Citizens of the West demand action to satisfy their immediate sense of justice. We demand an end to ‘our’ current emotional suffering. Time is of the essence.

The barbaric jihadists have no ‘immediate’ concerns. Time works to their advantage. Their goal is the long-term; the creation of a worldwide Islamic caliphate is their goal. Time is their tool.

We must make time our tool. We must use time to formulate some kind of effective response. Our response may not end the suffering of the noncombatants and it may not end our suffering. But to take action which will both prolong suffering and most probably serve the needs and desires of the jihadists is more than foolish; it is stupid.

Waiting for the right time is difficult. But we can use time to formulate an effective response. Until then, sometimes the best response is no response. Sometimes, though incredibly painful, it is simply best to do nothing.

About the Author
Alan Salmanson is a businessman, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, and a parent.