I'm writing this not long after the murder (not execution:that implies some form of judicial process, not arrant barbarity) of British aid worker David Haines at the hands of IS, and after an announcement of a coalition of nations to fight it. I can't help but feel that the members involved range from eager to barely lukewarm at best.
How do you stop such barbarity? Do you fight fire with fire? Do you, as Bishop Almaric allegedly said at the sack of Beziers, say 'Kill them all. God will know his own', as you destroy everything and all in your path, and leave nothing but cinders in your wake?
IS is a formidably well-armed, but also well-organised, system. Its brutality is not random and it has precedents in the past to which it supposedly looks with such warped reverence. Throughout history, people have been terrified of marauding armies and the atrocities they carry out, whether in truth or fiction. This current group just happen to be a lot more tech-savvy and know how to use social media to disseminate their message, and, to a certain demographic, make it look like some kind of Boys Own-type adventure.
I think that the 'Boys' bit of that sentence is one of the more crucial parts to understanding how IS behave - that is, their front line grunts are largely teenagers and young men. Pretty much, in fact, like any army anywhere in the world. All armed services work in a similar way when it comes to training up raw recruits - essentially, kids are broken down and built back up in the interests of the system that needs them: They are made to feel that they are part of something bigger, stronger and better: They are given a community, a fraternal system of support - very often a surrogate family. It's no wonder that military life often attracts recruits from the poorer fringes of society, as it provides stability, sustenance and strength, along with adventure and excitement, something always attractive to young men.
That, however, is where all semblance ends. These particular kids with guns, it seems to me, have one thing that is generally erased from a rank and file soldier because it's ultimately detrimental - namely, a grievance. And that grievance is fed and nurtured by a cult-like act of programming that goes far beyond what most militaries do.What is apparent from the videos released by IS, in particular the one by British IS members, is that these are people who feel that they have never been listened to, that they have been marginalised, ignored, despised. They seem like people who felt their lives were going nowhere until the opportunity of glory in war appeared. Someone gives them a gun and it feels as if they have been empowered and liberated - and woe betide anyone who speaks in opposition. They dream of something incorruptible and perfect, yet seek to build it on the tottering fetid corpseflesh of war.
In fact, we have seen this same image again and again over the past decade or so - young men on grainy videos, berating distant people and governments, waving an admonishing finger in the air and exulting in the fact that the are being heard, being feared, being, in a perverse way, respected.
Yes, respect: Isn't that what a lot of gang culture is? Respect, face, maintaining a kind of strength. And having weapons makes it all the easier, because for such people, creating fear through the use of force is mistaken for being strong, for being respected.
So, how do we stop the kids with guns? I don't have any answers really. Kill them? Get ready to kill the next generation to come along afterwards, then. Ban them from coming back into the country after their foreign sojourns? Maybe, but I'm not sure what this would actually achieve. Imprison them? How and where do you hold them? How do you deprogramme them from their beliefs?
The problem, however, is not about to go away.