"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"
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
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
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
The Revd Nadim Nassar, a Syrian priest, is Director of the