• Another journalist is beheaded in a gruesome video, by a man in black;
• Yazidi women are being captured, forced to convert to Islam and marry their fighters;
• Shia Muslims are being lined up and executed en masse, simply because they are the wrong branch of Islam;
• Minorities like the Christians are not faring much better: they have fled by the 10's of 1000's from Mosul & elsewhere. Or they are asked to pay the poll tax called jizya.
• They are imposing such a puritanical form of Islam that they make even the Taliban and al Qaeda look like moderates.
No one needs to guess who ‘they’ are. They are the men in black. They wave a black flag. The have blasted into prominence on the world stage in a very short amount of time. They are the men of the Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS. The men in black have a track record that would be the envy of any terrorist group. After meticulous planning, discipline in operation, and battlefield experience with Hizbollah in Syria, they have become more formidable than any other jihadist group. They control large swathes of territory from eastern Syria to northern and western Iraq. Through ransoms, controlling resources, expropriating cash from banks, having wealthy Arab donors from the Gulf region, possibly even drug sales, money has been no problem. In addition, they seized US military equipment from the hapless Iraqi army.
The western world unanimously agrees that the men in black are a threat to their collective security, especially in that they can radicalize Muslim fighters from western countries and send them back to do terrorist acts in their home countries. What can be done?
First, recognize that there is a flip side to the gaining of power: it is called vulnerability and weakness. It is as common as it is paradoxical. The more powerful you become, the more exposed and weaker you can be. Remember Queen Esther in the Bible book that bears her name? Her husband, King Ahasuereus, was the most powerful man in the world of his day. Yet, a failed assassination attempt is recorded in the Book of Esther; eventually, another attempt on the king’s life succeeded.
The dangers facing the men in black are several fold:
1. More Exposure: Because they control territory, they are more exposed to the coalition forces - now have a local address;
2. Credibility: Despite their notoriety and success, their declaration of a Islamic caliphate has been rejected by many corners of the Muslim world. Nor do they have diplomatic recognition with any nation;
3. Overreach: Success can be intoxicating and the temptation to overreach is enlarged. When you are over-stretched, it is much easier for their enemies to blindside them;
4. Newton’s Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Their lightning fast invasions, their excesses and legalism, their wantonness and brutality, some of it brazenly available on video, have made for them some powerful enemies. This includes much of the Muslim world and the entire western world. Apparently, even Iran and American, who have been estranged since 1979, are quietly cooperating together.
5. Bad publicity: Yes, those wanton videos of the beheading of James Foley and Steven Sotloff may have increased their following among young disaffected Muslims but they have also caused the world to recoil in horror, thus creating a NATO-back coalition.
6. Unity: IS has been able to take territory because of the the chaos in Syria and the disunity in the Iraq. If and when these situations are reversed and remedied, then the defeat of IS is more likely.
What can the United States and her allies, including Australia, do:
1. Leading role: America can assemble a coalition of powerful and willing nations. It can instigate air campaigns against IS recruitment headquarters, staging grounds, supply lines and front lines.
2. Supporting role: The US and her western allies can supply weapons to the opponents of IS, including the Iraqi army, the Kurdish peshmerga, and the Free Syrian Army. Though there need not be western foot soldiers troops (the overuse phrase ‘no boots on the ground’), western military advisors, trainers, and special operations forces will need to be deployed. They can train the local militaries. It was such forces that helped bring down the Taliban in 2001 and sent al Qaeda packing out of Afghanistan.
3. Prayer: For people of faith, this can do miracles (James 5:16).
Let us not forget that this issue is bigger than the men in black: from Pakistan in the east to Nigeria in the west, there is a jihadist global war going on.
Always remember: in order to solve any problem, look for the bigger picture. To have understanding of a situation means you are halfway towards a solution.