Cameron plans to launch airstrikes in Syria

Bomb attack: Airstrikes will be part of the prime minister’s seven-point plan. © PA

First Mali on Friday, then high alert in Brussels all weekend. Now the UK aims to join the fighting in Syria. But Islamic State stands for an idea. Can we destroy an idea with weapons?

In Brussels the Metro was closed, football matches and concerts were called off and restaurants shut early. The Belgian government spoke of ‘a serious and imminent threat’ of a terrorist attack, with several men at large who are believed to be extremely dangerous.

Tonight a TV show, about women who champion Islamic State in Britain, will strengthen the mood of desperation as David Cameron puts forward a plan to deal with the threat from Islamic State. He will propose extending British airstrikes against the group to their territory in Syria. ‘Britain is not a country which allows others to do its work for it,’ said Chancellor George Osborne yesterday. ‘This is a threat against us all.’

Cameron will also outline details of a proposed transition of power in Syria in response to a report from the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee. In a shift of policy it is likely to include some kind of settlement for the current Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, even though his forces have massacred tens of thousands since 2011.

Meanwhile the notion of jihad (holy war) continues to inspire Islamic State and a number of other violent Islamist groups worldwide. On Friday, an attack by al-Murabitoun, an offshoot of the al-Qaeda network which carried out the 9/11 attacks, left 19 people dead in a hotel in Mali.

Other groups seeking to impose Islamic rule through violent means include Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, Jemaah Islamiya in Indonesia, and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Though these groups are often only loosely connected, all are motivated by violent and highly literal — and contentious — interpretations of Islamic texts. In particular they believe in religious martyrdom, which they interpret to mean that paradise awaits those who die fighting jihad — that they are rewarded with the company of 72 virgins and eating the fruits of paradise.

Ji-had it?

Some say jihadism cannot be beaten. It is as old as Islam itself, which has existed for 1,400 years. Western governments can drop countless bombs, but they will simply play into the jihadists’ anti-Western narrative and inspire more to take up the struggle. You cannot defeat a cult of those who wish to kill and be killed.

With that attitude, respond others, democrats may as well surrender; it needed optimism to defeat fascism and communism in the 20th century. Like jihadis, Hitler was beyond reason — but concerted action against him destroyed his military, political and economic capability and exposed him for the murderous fool he was. It will take time, but liberal democracy can and will win: it is, after all, better to offer people life than death.

You Decide

  1. Is a fanatic always a bad person?
  2. Can you eradicate an idea with weapons?


  1. Write down five questions which you believe David Cameron should answer publicly before committing Britain to military action in Syria.
  2. Find out about one of the jihadist groups mentioned in this article and prepare a short briefing paper for the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, explaining who they are and what motivates them.

Some People Say...

“This is a war. We must fight it to the bitter end”

What do you think?

Q & A

Do I really need to worry?
Unfortunately, Islamic State has declared war on the West and promised more attacks like the one in Paris. Some now argue that involvement in Syria will make Britain more of a target, particularly in the short- to medium-term. But the prime minister says Britain’s security services have already prevented seven Islamist terror plots this year alone. Expect a fierce debate over this.
Who suffers the most at the hands of jihadists?
Seven of the ten bloodiest conflicts in the world are now in countries with Islamist groups — Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya. Between 2011 and 2014 Islamists killed 80,000 people in these countries. As they all have substantial Muslim populations, Muslims have overwhelmingly been the main victims.

Word Watch

Several men
One was Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving terrorist from the Paris attacks, believed to be armed with a suicide belt. Abdeslam is from Brussels. Belgian police said they had found a cache of weapons during a raid on a suspected accomplice on Friday.
TV show
Tonight at 9pm, Channel 4 will broadcast Isis: The British Women Supporters Unveiled, an investigation into groups of British women who are urging Muslims to join Islamic State.
Foreign Affairs Select Committee
An 11 member cross-party group of MPs who scrutinise the government’s foreign policy. The report said ‘there should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there is a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating [Islamic State] and of ending the civil war in Syria.’
Tens of thousands
In June 2014, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said Assad’s forces had killed 133,586 people since the outbreak of war in 2011. The same group says that the Syrian government killed another 7,894 between January and July 2015 – compared to 1,131 attributable to Islamic State.

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