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Opinion >

The bank account is now mightier than the sword

Islamic State can be defeated without resorting to bullets, argues Nadim Nassar. Just stop the flow of resources and publicity

Dave Gaskill

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Credit: Dave Gaskill

"VATICAN endorses military force against IS", the headlines shouted, after Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (the Vatican's Permanent Observer to the UN) spoke to the United Nations in Geneva. His statement, widely reported, was interpreted by some as not only endorsing the use of military force to protect Christians and other minorities from the violence and oppression of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, but as the declaration of a "just war" against IS.

I believe that Archbishop Tomasi could not have emphasised more strongly the need for dialogue and peaceful means to solve all conflicts, including those in the Middle East.

Yes, he did leave the door open for military action if all else fails - but we have not yet exhausted all the alternatives.

I agree with Archbishop Tomasi that dialogue with IS is currently impossible; but there are other ways of defeating this monstrously evil force. These relate to the means by which IS survives and thrives: through human and physical resources, through money, and through propaganda. These are the areas that the world should devote its energies to pursuing rather than play with ideas of military intervention. 

FIRST, we need to understand that IS does not exist in a vacuum. It depends for its survival on connections with the outside world. IS has been expanding rapidly for the past two years: it has captured Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, and Raqqa, a city in Syria, and its province. This expansion could not have happened without huge, financial, logistical, and military support. Behind IS, there must be governments and banking systems.

Then, IS has been importing jihadis - who are pouring into Syria and Iraq from Turkey - and weapons, while simultaneously exporting oil worth $1 million through Turkey every day. Turkey is a NATO member, but its porous border makes possible the flow of people, weapons, oil, and money - IS's very lifeline.

None of this is secret knowledge. Why have other NATO countries turned a blind eye to Turkey's covert support for IS? With satellites that can read a terrestrial newspaper from space, and surveillance drones darkening the Middle Eastern skies, the West cannot justify its failure to act with a claim of ignorance.

Of course, Turkey is not alone. IS is greatly helped by some of the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia. But the Gulf States are strong allies of America and the West: how can they support IS without being challenged? Is the West afraid to challenge its allies in and around the Middle East, or is it in some way complicit in the whole affair? If we stop the flow of people and resources into and out of IS, then IS cannot survive.

AS FOR the billions of US dollars IS is reported to have: there cannot be a huge mattress somewhere, under which they secrete millions of crumpled banknotes. A large portion of IS's funds must be digital, flowing through the same banking system as we use every day.

How are the banks, and the national and international financial regulators, allowing this to occur? We should be tracking down and closing IS's bank accounts, and shutting the gateways on their electronic transactions, cutting off the flow of funds on which IS depends.

As well as this, IS is able to broadcast its message globally, spreading fanaticism and hatred, glorifying the culture of death and martyrdom in the name of religion.

All Western news channels happily use IS footage, many of them broadcasting videos of beheadings and other propaganda as a background to news reports. Sometimes these videos are played in slow motion, with sinister and dramatic music. It is time for the media, whether print, radio, or TV, to stop directly using IS propaganda in their work.

Jihadi propaganda is ubiquitous on the internet. Documentaries, songs, pop videos, interviews, forums, chatrooms, and testimonies promoting IS and its ideology are readily available. The chief search engines are happy to provide you with millions of results.

These videos and websites are made using modern techniques, designed to appeal to the young. Such digital resources must be eliminated, and young people should be protected from the poison that is crafted to groom them for IS recruitment.

The international community could put a stop to this, just as it has ensured that certain types of pornography are less easily available. If IS cannot get its message to impressionable young people, its recruits will dry up.

And, of course, the world should be searching energetically for diplomatic, political, and religious solutions to the ongoing civil war in Syria. IS was able to take root in Syria and Iraq only because of the chaos there. Ending that chaos will be a big step towards ending IS. 

UNTIL we have exhausted all the possible alternative ways of ending the threat of IS to Christians and other minorities in the Middle East - and indeed to the world - we cannot possibly justify a military "solution" that will only disperse IS, scattering its poison even more widely, and endowing its members with an ever-greater sense of martyrdom, victimhood, and vengeance.

In his statement, Archbishop Tomasi expressed concern that, if nothing is done, the international community will come to regret its inaction. "Otherwise," he said, "we'll be crying out in the future about why we didn't do something; why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen." We might find ourselves asking the same question if we have tried to put out the fire of IS with gasoline. 

The Revd Nadim Nassar, a Syrian priest, is Director of the Awareness Foundation.

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