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jeffrey simpson

If indeed the French are Canada's "cousins," as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described them, his government has a funny way of showing affection.

No sooner had Paris been maimed by terrorist attacks by the Islamic State than Mr. Trudeau reaffirmed that Canada would indeed be withdrawing from the direct military fight against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

He did not say his government would reconsider in the light of the attacks. He did not say his government would consult with allies, including French "cousins." He merely repeated what he had said in the election campaign: Canada is not withdrawing from the struggle against IS but from any direct military commitment. Canada, in other words, is "back" in a rhetorical sense, but not in a real one.

Distracted by more pressing matters, the government of our "cousins" said nothing, but the French (and other allies) cannot be amused by Mr. Trudeau's decision. They are considering how to ramp up military efforts against the Islamic State; Canada is ramping down.

On Monday, at a meeting with reporters in Antalya, Turkey, Mr. Trudeau was unable to explain coherently why Canada's six C-18 fighter jets should be withdrawn from the fray. Instead, he underlined the utility of Canadian trainers working with Kurdish forces, as if that were the end of it.

To understate matters greatly, the battle against the Islamic State and other manifestations of jihadi terror will take a very long time, bring nasty developments of all kinds, and cannot be concluded by military means alone.

But it is difficult to imagine any scenario in which some military means will not be required, since IS has implanted itself in swaths of Syria and Iraq to which foreign fighters go for further indoctrination and training, resources are secured by selling antiquities, bootlegging oil, extortion and other criminal activities, and where a fierce ideology prevails that includes sex slavery of young girls, rampant executions and the most draconian imposition of sharia law ever seen in modern times.

Humanitarian assistance will, of course, continue to be necessary for the victims and dispossessed, but such assistance deals with the symptoms, not the cause, of IS-inspired turmoil. Training Kurdish fighters, as Canada has been doing, is of marginal use given the severity of the challenge involved in containing and curtailing the Islamic State. Canada, a bit player, has been doing a bit. Now it will do less, unless the Trudeau government recognizes the election campaign is over.

Figuring out how to combat IS must start with a threat assessment: How dangerous is the Islamic State? When the United States invaded Iraq, with all the doleful consequences that followed for that country and the region, the Bush administration completely exaggerated the threat of Saddam Hussein. He was reprehensible in many ways and had invaded Kuwait, but he also hated al-Qaeda and Iran and posed no threat to the United States, apart from being an irritant.

IS, however, is qualitatively different, in that the territory it occupies has attracted, and continues to attract, fighters from many countries – some as far away as Australia – where they are trained and further imbued with the hateful interpretation of Islam gone crazy. The Islamic State has also contributed to destabilizing, indeed one might say destroying, two states: Syria and Iraq, although other groups have helped in that destruction.

Just imagine a Middle East in which an IS proto-state became a fixture in the region, with an apocalyptic ideology of massive battles against apostates such as Shias, moderate Sunnis, Christians and other non-Muslim minorities in which the most barbaric of practices are used and justified in the name of Allah.

Now that IS-inspired people have brought down a Russian jetliner over Egypt, exploded a bomb against Shias in Beruit, and created carnage in Paris, the full horror of the Islamic State's ambition and the barbarity of its ways have been brought home once again to all but the blind and ignorant. Perhaps, now, more countries previously believing themselves removed from the reach of the Islamic State will consider with others what to do, including militarily.

Nothing will make progress against IS easily or quickly. Between 20 and 30 groups, depending on the definition, in other countries now identify with IS. The cancer of Islamic jihadi movements has metastasized, a process that began about a quarter of a century ago. The sickness has more to do with internal convulsions within Islam – Shia/Sunni rivalries, struggles for influence (Saudi Arabia/Iran), fights within Sunni Islam – than hatred against the West, although there is plenty of that.

What compounds everything is the failure of too many Arab Muslim states to provide decent, representative government, protection of human rights and a reasonable standard of living for their people – failures chronicled in studies by Arab experts for the United Nations. With so much poverty, and so few prospects for improvement, no wonder handfuls of young Muslims are inspired by the perverse dreams of becoming a somebody by killing others and joining movements that purport to restore respect for and fear of Muslims.

Unless something changes within Islam, these sentiments are likely to grow if nothing else for reasons of sheer numbers. The Pew Research Center suggests that Muslims' share of the world's population, which stands at about 1.6 billion (or 23 per cent) today, will reach 2.8 billion by 2050. During the next four decades, the world's population will grow by about 35 per cent; the Muslim population by 73 per cent.

The vast majority will be peaceful inhabitants of our world, but some, if the past quarter-century offers any guide, will not, so that the struggle against jihadi terror will be with us for a long time.

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