It is a time of ruthless beheadings – and ill-conceived responses. Many Western commentators seem confident that the atrocious behaviour of the Islamic State is certain to build, legitimize and strengthen the anti-IS coalition, while weakening the authority of the IS itself. Such thinking, though, reeks of Western bias. What is reasonable or viable or even rational to us may not be, indeed is likely not, how the IS sees it; and, I’m afraid, not how many others in the world will see it, particularly throughout much of the Muslim ummah.
We got it wrong in Iraq, then again in Afghanistan, then in Egypt, then in Libya, and since the outset in Syria. Our values are not their values, nor are they universal (which is why Stephen Harper’s and John Baird’s trumpeting of a “values-based foreign policy” is ignorant and pretentious). However much we might wish it were so, there are effectively no universally agreed essential values, and we have had little success, anywhere in the world, forcing people to trade their values for ours. Despite our collective spending of trillions of dollars fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan to win over hearts and minds, many – perhaps most – Afghans do not want to see girls in school; have little interest in what we call democracy; believe our harping about corruption is extravagantly hypocritical; and would rather grow poppies than carrots.
Even the Canadian-authored Universal Declaration of Human Rights – of which we are so justifiably proud – is, in fact, not universally accepted. It was written in the late 1940s, when the infant United Nations was composed of a quarter of today’s membership.
The bulk of humanity was underrepresented. Present at the creation of the UN in 1945 and, three years later, when the Declaration was adopted, were few countries from what today we know as the Third World. China was but Taiwan, and the only African countries were Ethiopia, Egypt, Liberia and a very different South Africa. The colonial powers (Christian white guys all) believed they were the world. To an extent, we still do, tenaciously oblivious to the pervasive impact of our arrogance.
The IS, however, is well aware that we are perceived in such a light. They know the propaganda value of poking sticks into American eyes, or knives into Western throats. They understand the extent to which we in the West are casualty-shy, and that the effectiveness of our actions is crippled by collective attention deficit disorder. They know full well that ill-informed and poorly executed Western forays into “Muslim lands” have been disastrous for us – and they are anxious to lure us into further folly. They are confident that by so doing they will dramatically increase their recruiting base, their authority, and the scope and impact of their movement; and they simply do not give a damn about the numbers they will lose in the process. Truly, in their eyes, such losses are a blessing.
We Canadians are appalled by those grisly beheadings, outraged that anyone would – could – do such things to anybody, let alone to us. More personally, I am all too aware that what happened to journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, to James Foley, Steven Sotloff and aid worker David Haines over the past month, and just last week to French tourist Hervé Gourdel, would almost certainly have happened to my colleague Louis Guay and me had our 2008 kidnapping in Mali happened today.Report Typo/Error
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