Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. Those looking for a hidden scandal will be disappointed (Independent)

The lessons to be learned from the Iraq war have nothing to do with simplistic assertions that Tony Blair is a liar and a war criminal, argues Steve Richards.

2. Britain can relax on its bed of nitroglycerine (Times)

Anatole Kaletsky says the threat to the economy from state borrowing is not remotely as serious as Pimco and other bond investors suggest. Government debt remains moderate by both historic and international standards.

3. How the charity of a peer's wife will propel Cameron to power (Daily Telegraph)

Benedict Brogan on the £20,000 donation from Lord Ashcroft's wife to David Cameron that paved the way for a remarkable political alliance between the Tory leader and the billionaire.

4. We Googlistas want a global debate on information freedom. Why are others so coy? (Guardian)

Timothy Garton Ash questions why authoritarian rulers are so reluctant to have an open debate over internet censorship. If they think their system is better, why not make the case for it?

5. Throw open our doors to Haitians (Independent)

Ian Birrell argues that offering a one-off "disaster asylum" would do far more to help Haiti than pouring in aid.

6. Only pressure to withdraw can stop this blood price (Guardian)

Seumas Milne says that few now buy the fiction that the Afghan war is preventing, rather than fuelling, terror attacks elsewhere. But greater pressure is needed to end the occupation.

7. China will not be the world's deputy sheriff (Financial Times)

David Pilling says that Beijing still prefers to keep a low profile and get on with the hard slog of building an industrial economy.

8. We need a dugout canoe to navigate the net (Times)

Ben Macintyre says that the abundance of information on the internet is forcing us to change the way we think.

9. Labour's greatest legacy? We're all Conservatives now (Guardian)

Zoe Williams says that too many accepted Labour's fabled meritocratic society at the expense of equality.

10. To win the war, empower the Afghan economy (Financial Times)

Zalmay Khalilzad warns that a detailed strategy for the "civilian surge" in Afghanistan has yet to emerge. Encouraging Afghan businesses is the key to success.


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Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.