Come to the Dark Side

August 21, 2014

Category: Non Fiction

I haven't blogged on this site for a while, partly because I was so busy -- covering the Arab Spring, having a kid and then moving to Brazil, after a brief stint in Miami -- but now I am returning to it. I had hoped, standing on Tahrir Square and then covering the frontline battles with Libya's rebels, or talking to Syrians standing up to their terrifying government, that the Arab Spring might make the themes of Spiders of Allah redundant. On the contrary, they have become much, much worse, and the Arab Spring, for various complex reasons, is now a kind of nuclear winter for the Middle East. Grey skies, nothing growing but death, hatred and fear.

Yesterday, the American photojournalist James Foley was brutally murdered by the Islamist extremists who have set up a "Caliphate" in the ruins of Syria and Iraq. My first gut reaction was rage: these psychopaths certainly deserve to get their comeuppance, and deserve no mercy. But the rage sweeping the Western world, and America in particular, is exactly was ISIS wants. They feed off anger and despair. People are saying Obama should "grow a pair" or "drop the bomb" -- but that is what ISIS wants. Nothing would act as a better recruiting tool to them than saying the infidel Zionist-Crusaders are trying to crush the true descendants of the Prophet, to rally every depressed wannabe jihadist to their cause. A show of force would almost certainly kill civilians too, providing propaganda value to the extremists and radicalising whatever relatives survived the raid.

James Foley's death is tragic and shocking, all the more so to me because I covered many of the same conflicts, we are almost the same age (and same name too) and because he was kidnapped at exactly the same time my daughter was born, in November 2012. I think of all the joy she has brought me in her brief lifetime, and compare that with what James was going through at the same time -- the terror, the dark basements in bombed-out cities, the armed men in masks and the knowledge of what your disappearance is doing to your loved ones back home.

But ISIS is like the evil Emperor in Return of the Jedi: they want to fight America, the Great Satan, and James Foley was the red rag to the bull. As the Emperor said to Luke Skywalker, "Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!" The West certainly needs to act, but intelligently, and using its local allies such as the Kurdish forces - getting sucked back by rage into the quagmire that grew out of an original misguided, fear-driven mission will only lead to even more death and misery