It’s in that light that I attempt to interpret what Cameron said yesterday about the danger which ISIS represents, and the ‘solutions’ which he proposed.
He talked about the need to ‘enforce’ British values. I’m far from convinced that I know what these ‘British values’ are, let alone what makes them uniquely British. But insofar as I have any concept of what those values might be, I’m pretty sure that ‘enforcing’ a set of beliefs and values on others isn’t amongst them. Indeed, I would have thought that that was more the speciality of ISIS and similar groups.
He also justified his desire to bomb targets in Syria on the basis that ISIS don’t respect borders. But most borders are where they are – in often arbitrary places – as a result of past wars and/or settlements of past disputes. ISIS, in that sense are ‘merely’ tearing up past settlements and creating a new state by use of force. That’s exactly what other military campaigns have done over the centuries – and the UK traditionally has a lengthy, and not exactly honourable, record of doing just that.
Cameron continually talks about ‘the true meaning of Islam’, claiming that those who don’t share a more mainstream interpretation are somehow not true to the religion. This one simply doesn’t seem to stand up to any scrutiny. Within any religion, there are always different interpretations of the ‘true’ meaning, and the adherents of each will always believe that their interpretation is the only really ‘true’ one. And the problem with this sort of ‘truth’ is that it cannot be determined by majority vote. For those who hold a particular viewpoint, their ‘truth’ is absolute.
The ‘truth’ which drives ISIS and similar groups seems to me to be simply this – “we know what god’s laws are, it is god’s will that we all obey those laws, and we are imposing god’s will”. It’s so far away from modern Christian interpretations (although not so far away from those of the relatively recent past), let alone the secular viewpoint of an increasing number of us, as to be almost incomprehensible in a western context, but for those who hold that view it’s so obvious as to need no further explanation.
And that brings me to my biggest issue with what Cameron is saying and doing. However strange and alien some ideas may seem, bombs and bullets cannot change them, let alone kill them. They can kill some of the people who hold those ideas, certainly. But they are unlikely to kill them all, even if that were to be the aim. There is a real danger that they actually have the opposite effect, and simply encourage more people to hold those ideas. And one of the few certainties is that they will kill many innocents along the way.
I fully accept what Cameron and others are saying, in that armed groups of fundamentalists ranging across the world using extreme and often barbaric violence to impose their world view is a danger which needs to be countered somehow. And I won’t pretend for a moment that I know with any certainty how to counter that threat. But I just don’t believe that more bombing and destruction carried out in the name of all of us, simply because our leaders don’t know what else to do, is much of an answer to anything.