It’s hard to think of a more challenging conundrum than the one posed by the Islamic State.Labour leader Andrew Little was right last week to describe Isis as evil. It’s a word seldom heard these days because it implies a moral judgment, and moral judgments are unfashionable. But “evil” is the only way to describe men who coldly behead their captives, then amp up the shock factor by burning one alive.
There is an element of gleeful sadism in their barbarism. Last week they pushed a gay man from the top of a tall building – reportedly the fourth such execution for homosexuality.As with their other atrocities, they posted pictures and video online, a gesture that was part boast, part taunt. In doing so, they were saying to the world: “Look what we’re capable of. There is no limit to what we will do.
“Norms of civilised behaviour don’t apply to us. In fact we hold the civilised world in contempt. You know, and we know, that you are too weak and divided to stop us.”
And these are merely the more flamboyant examples of the Islamic State’s depravity – the ones calculated to get our attention and fill us with fear, horror and anger. Almost unnoticed in the background, Isis is proceeding with its grand plan to establish an Islamic caliphate, which means systematically slaughtering or enslaving anyone who stands in its way.
I wish there was a pat answer, but the Islamic State presents a unique challenge because it stands apart from all norms of combat or diplomacy.
Yet doing nothing is not an option. Either we believe civilised values are worth defending and that vulnerable people deserve protection from mass murderers, or we don’t. And if we do, we can’t just whistle nonchalantly while looking the other way and pretending it isn’t happening.
A similar situation arose in the Balkans War, where a puny and impotent UN peacekeeping force did nothing as thousands of Muslims were massacred.
In effect, the Islamic State is testing the moral resolve of the civilised world. I just hope we won’t fail the test as we did in in Rwanda and Srebrenica.
That doesn’t make it easy to defeat, but neither is it an excuse to do nothing.
It’s interesting that where the Islamic State is concerned, the Left sharply deviates from its honourable tradition of siding with the weak and vulnerable. The Islamic State, it insists, is not our problem, no matter how many innocents die.
Yes, it’s ironic that the American invasion of Iraq helped create the circumstances that enabled the Islamic State to flourish. George W Bush barged in like a Hollywood sheriff come to clean up Deadwood.
Most reprehensible of all is the craven argument that we should avoid antagonising the Islamic State for fear that some deranged jihadist will strike at us. That’s moral cowardice of the lowest order.
Karl du Fresne blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz. This article was first published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard.