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Op-Ed: Fighting terrorism with terrorism won’t work

The Collins English Dictionary defines terrorism as 1) the systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve some goal, 2) the act of terrorizing, 3) the state of being terrorized.

Of course, we immediately recognize that explanation when applied to terrorist attacks by ISIS in Europe and the US, but doesn’t this definition equally apply to what Western and Russian air forces are also doing in Syria and Iraq right now? Isn’t the bombing nothing less than “the systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve a goal”? Of course, it is. It’s just that the West and Russia are using methods of “military terrorism,” rather than the amateurish, ISIS approach.

The fact is, you can’t have war without terror. War must cause dread, fear and horror. War is terrorism. And it’s a simple fact that you can’t rain terror down upon an enemy without causing terror for the people in the areas it occupies.

The Syrian regime  Russia and Western allied forces are carrying out airstrikes over Syria

The Syrian regime, Russia and Western allied forces are carrying out airstrikes over Syria
Sameer al-Doumy, AFP/File

In fact, what exactly is the difference between beheading someone with a sword or blowing their head off with a bomb? What’s so different about setting someone on fire or incinerating them in a drone strike? And what is the difference between stoning someone to death or crushing them under a collapsed building? Perhaps the only difference is that the West and Russia are doing it on a larger scale.

But, the use of shiny steel and high technology, somehow makes it seem like a “clean” type of terrorism, rather than the “messy” methods of suicide bombs and Kalashnikovs. The disconnected fighter pilot, 30,000 ft in the air and the unmanned drone gives our own terrorism a clinical, sanitized image. Death becomes de-personalized.
Our blinkered thinking is carefully nurtured by government propaganda about the pinpoint accuracy of modern, military technology, which is supposedly able to single out only ISIS forces or facilities with minimum or no collateral damage. The US Central Command actually expects us to believe that there have only been two civilian deaths in Syria and four in Iraq, following 8,000 coalition air strikes, which have dropped nearly 30,000 bombs!

Medical personnel look for survivors following a reported 2014 airstrike on the northern Syrian city...

Medical personnel look for survivors following a reported 2014 airstrike on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
Mohammed al-Khatieb, AFP/File

However, this year classified US government documents were leaked to the Intercept. It revealed that up to 90 percent of the people killed in drone strikes were unintended. According to the report about 6,000 innocent people have died in missions against ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Middle East. The statistics for Russia are even worse. Independent watch dogs estimate that 400 civilians were killed in the two months following the start of the Russian bombing in Syria.

Accurate attacks by manned aircraft flying tens of thousands of feet above their targets is impossible without trackers on the ground sending back exact coordinates to pilots. This makes it virtually impossible to avoid killing innocents, made worse by the fact that ISIS is routinely using civilians as human shields.

A man inspects the destruction following an air strike in Idlib province  northwestern Syria  on Dec...

A man inspects the destruction following an air strike in Idlib province, northwestern Syria, on December 21, 2015
Omar Haj Kadour, AFP/File

Of course, there is no doubt that most people in the Middle East don’t want to live under the Dark Age regime of ISIS, and would be glad to see its military targets destroyed. But that doesn’t mean they will support a Western bombing campaign, causing thousands of innocent casualties.

Can’t we realize that the majority of people will come to see the consequences of the West’s actions as no less brutal and indiscriminate than the jihadists? Isn’t it obvious that the longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes for the majority of Arab civilians to differentiate between the barbarism of ISIS and that of the Western powers?

The entire military strategy is flawed. Regardless of any temporary successes, ISIS won’t be wiped out. Even the top military strategists acknowledge that a bombing campaign won’t work.

But, we carry on blindly, choosing to ignore the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where exactly the same tactic has failed repeatedly. Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” — it’s a terrifying, mad, bad war.

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