First rule of war: Know thy enemy

(An update to this article was added on 18 November.) 

Following the attacks in Paris on the weekend, there is little doubt that we – along with most of the rest of the Western world – are at war with ISIL. And at the risk of stating the obvious, the key to winning any war is knowing who the enemy is and correspondingly, who our allies are.

But understanding who’s an enemy and who’s an ally in this conflict seems to be something that many are struggling with. This is understandable – to some extent at least – as many still think of war as something that is fought between nations. But as I wrote last weekend, this is not a war which is defined by physical boundaries. You can’t point at a specific nationality – or even a specific religion – and say everyone of that nationality or religion is the enemy.

Jumping on the enemy bandwagon…

Unfortunately that hasn’t stopped some from using the tragedy of war to try and garner support for their own particular message of hatred and/or bigotry. Here’s some homegrown examples:

  • Tony Abbott – has been out and about, using this tragedy to push his stop-the-boats mantra, warning that terrorists are hiding in the ‘flood of refugees‘; and
  • Pauline Hanson – who has also grasped the opportunity to push her own particularly brand of bigotry, calling for a “Royal Commission into Islam” and demanding that Australia immediately cease all migration from “Muslim” countries.

The sad and tragic irony of this is that the likes of Abbott and Hanson have – albeit unwittingly – become voices for ISIL, pushing the very message that ISIL want them to push.

Pushing hatred and bigotry is exactly what ISIS want

Commentator Waleed Aly’s message on The Project yesterday evening made this very clear:

In Aly’s words:

“ISIL’s leaders would be ecstatic to hear that since the atrocity in Paris, Muslims have reportedly been threatened and attacked in America, England and here in Australia. Because this evil organisation has it in their heads that if they can make Muslims the enemy of the West, then Muslims…will have nowhere to turn but to ISIL…

We all need to come together, because it’s exactly what ISIL doesn’t want.”

But instead of coming together, many are being taken in by fear mongering – and as a result confusion reigns about who’s an enemy and who’s an ally.

Being French doesn’t make you a terrorist. Nor does being a refugee.

Just look at the response to the fact that a Syrian refugee passport was found next to one of the terrorists last weekend.  Suddenly more than a dozen US states have said they will bar Syrian refugees and many countries in Europe are talking about putting up fences and barbed wire to protect their borders – as though this will somehow keep them safe.

The fact that at least five of the terrorists were French nationals and their leader was Belgian is just completely ignored in discussions around how to prevent terrorism – instead the focus is on refugees. Nobody is suggesting that we close our borders to all French and Belgian citizens – even though they were the bulk of last weekend’s terrorist cell – because we recognise that this would be absurd. Being Belgian or French doesn’t make you a terrorist. Nor does being a Syrian refugee.

Fighting the real enemy

The bottom line is that the very best way to fight ISIL at home is to fight racism, to fight bigotry, to welcome refugees, to support Muslims in their fight against extremism  – because this is the exact opposite of what our enemy wants us to do.

If we don’t do this – if we allow the likes of Abbott and Hanson to divert our attention to their petty biases and bigotries – then instead of fighting the real enemy, we will be fighting our allies and doing ISIL’s work for them. And the outcome of this could be catastrophic.

In the words of Sun Tzu:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will lose every battle.” (The Art of War)

UPDATE on 18 November 2016

Since I first wrote this, authorities have confirmed that the Syrian passport found near the body of one of the terrorists was a fake, and the terrorist attack was ‘homegrown’ . It had absolutely nothing to do with any refugee from Syria or elsewhere. This suggests what many have suspected – that the terrorist may have been carrying a Syrian passport for the purpose of turning Westerners against refugees.

Unfortunately, the terrorists’ ploy appears to be working, as state after state in the US – undeterred by facts – confirms that it will no longer take refugees from Syria. Since I wrote this article yesterday, the number has more than doubled to 26 states. Further, conservative Republican candidates like Donald Trump are falling over themselves to support ISIS through their fear-based rhetoric – with Trump calling for the US to shut mosques and using the Paris Tragedy as an argument to support US gun laws.

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