There is something weird about the solemn declarations that we are at war against the Islamic State – all the world’s superpowers against a religious gang controlling a small patch of mostly desert land... This doesn’t mean that we should not focus on destroying Isis, unconditionally, with no “but...”. The only “but” is that we should REALLY focus on destroying it, and for this much more is needed than the pathetic declarations and appeals to solidarity of all “civilised” forces against the demonised fundamentalist enemy.
What one should not engage in is the usual left-liberal litany of “one cannot fight terror with terror, violence only breeds more violence”. The time is now to start to raise unpleasant questions: how is it possible for the Islamic State to survive? As we all know, in spite of formal condemnation and rejection from all sides, there are forces and states which silently not only tolerate it, but also help it. Recently as the fierce clashes between Russian army and Isis terrorists raging across the war-torn Syria, countless number of Isis injured fighters enter the Turkish territory and are being admitted in the military hospitals.
As David Graeber pointed out recently, had Turkey placed the same kind of absolute blockade on Isis territories as they did on Kurdish-held parts of Syria, let alone shown the same sort of “benign neglect” towards the PKK and YPG that they have been offering to Islamic State, Islamic State would long since have collapsed, and the Paris attacks would probably not have happened. Instead, Turkey was not only discreetly helping IS by treating its wounded soldiers, and facilitating the oil exports from the territories held by IS, but also by brutally attacking the Kurdish forces, the ONLY local forces engaged in a serious battle with IS. Plus Turkey even shot down a Russian fighter attacking Isis positions in Syria. Similar things are going on in Saudi Arabia, the key US ally in the region (which welcomes the IS war on Shiites), and even Israel is suspiciously silent in its condemnation of Isis out of opportunistic calculation (Isis is fighting the pro-Iranian Shia forces which Israel considers its main enemy).
The deal between the EU and Turkey anounced at the end of November (under which Turkey will curb the flow of refugees into Europe in exchange for a generous financial help, initially €3bn) is a shamelessly disgusting act, a proper ethico-political catastrophe. Is this how the “war on terror” is to be conducted, by way of succumbing to the Turkish blackmail and rewarding one of the main culprits of the rise of Isis in Syria? The opportunistic-pragmatic justification of this deal is clear (is bribing Turkey not the most obvious way to limit the flow of refugees?), but the long-term consequences will be catastrophic.
This obscure background makes it clear that the “total war” against Isis should not be taken seriously – they don’t really mean it. We are definitely dealing not with the clash of civilisations (the Christian west versus radicalised Islam), but with a clash within each civilisation: in the Christian space it is the US and western Europe against Russia, in the Muslim space it is Sunnis against Shias. The monstrosity of the Islamic State serves as a fetish covering all these struggles in which every side pretends to fight Isis in order to hit its true enemy.
(New Stateman's Editor's note, 9 December: This article originally included a statement that was falsely attributed to the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization. This has now been removed.)