A Frightening Precedent

The current situation in the Middle East is proof that ignoring a wound doesn't make it go away. Over three years of neglect from the international community with regards to Syria has destabilized that nation and its neighbors.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

The current situation in the Middle East is proof that ignoring a wound doesn't make it go away. Over three years of neglect from the international community with regards to Syria has destabilized that nation and its neighbors. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are dealing with an unprecedented refugee crisis and the conflict has bled severely into an Iraq already damaged by the consequences of recent American occupation and the subsequent lack of competent leadership from the Iraqi government of Nouri Al-Maliki. This has all been aggravated by a total absence of coherent foreign policy from the United States, still and for the foreseeable future the world's only superpower.

As I work on an oratorio capturing the current destruction of the vibrant and diverse city of Aleppo, the extreme al Qaeda offshoot now calling themselves the Islamic State (ISIS) is declaring an Islamic caliphate stretching from Aleppo in the west to the eastern provinces of Iraq. They're also threatening to break more borders in the future. The opportunity to support the legitimate rebellion in Syria against the brutal regime of Bashar Al-Assad seems to have passed. The international community has failed to act and the United States has lost significant credibility on the world stage by issuing hollow threats about "red lines" regarding Assad's use of weapons of mass destruction. The Security Council has failed to put forward a resolution to establish a region free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and enforce it with both a security umbrella and the real penalty of sanctions for anyone violating the resolution.

As we've seen from the history of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, extremist militants tend to take advantage of failed and failing states to form the bases for their operations. The difference here is that the Islamic State is now financially self-sufficient and they have declared for themselves a nation with a capital in Al-Raqqah.

The early intervention that was being called for by Saudi Arabia and other US allies in the region would have prevented this group of militants from taking hold of Iraq and Syria. The consequences of the deterioration of those states has meant that the black flags of al Qaeda have been raised in cities across Iraq and Syria. These cities are diverse in their populations and the results of the occupation by the Islamic State have been devastating: Aleppo's Jewish Arabs have all but evacuated the city; after a thousand years of Christian Arab worship in Mosul, church bells are silent; the Kurds of Iraq feel threatened and unrepresented; the secular and non-extreme Arab majority is being held hostage.

We could go on debating the consequences of three years of inaction on the part of the international community, but it might be worthwhile to talk about what needs to be done now. First, the Islamic State must be destroyed at all costs. This is a group of radical Islamist militants, colored with fighters coming to Iraq and Syria illegally from places as diverse as the United States, the United Kingdom, various Gulf countries, the Subcontinent and even an array of South American Countries. Many of these fighters are not fluent in Arabic and are foreign to the land they have invaded. Their establishment of this Islamic caliphate is not only dangerous but also an unjust occupation of two Arab states. In a recent propaganda video from the Islamic State, an Islamist militant announced "the end of Sykes-Picot." The irony that this dubiously momentous announcement was coming from a Chilean militant seemed to be lost on the organization.

The way that the Islamic State should be destroyed also matters. Iraq and Syria must not be allowed to become Iranian proxy states. The Iranian government has issued statements condemning the idea of US involvement in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq saying that the Iraqis can deal with the issue themselves. At the same time, Iran is sending Revolutionary Guards to Baghdad. During the 2003 US-lead invasion, Iraq's air force was destroyed and so there is an almost moral obligation on the part of the United States to provide Iraq with air support in fighting the Islamist militants. The outcome must also include an Iraqi government free from the divisive mismanagement of Al-Maliki who has proven time and again that he is unable or unwilling to unite the infinitely diverse strands of Iraqi society, from Sunni and Shia to Christians, Kurds, and Turkomens behind a united and representative government.

Continued disengagement from the Middle East will not work. The international community cannot afford the broader ramifications of the success of the Islamic State. There's no doubt that having a state-run by an extreme offshoot of al Qaeda located in one of the most geopolitically significant areas of one of the most geopolitically significant regions of the world would be a catastrophe. But there's also the broader issue that the Islamic State has carved out a caliphate through brute force out of two sovereign Arab states. Needless to say, the IS are not seeking to be signatory to any of the treaties of international law from the Geneva Convention to the International Bill of Human Rights. International law, for example, decrees that a person in need of medical attention must be given medical attention. We have already seen the that the Islamic State is happy to ignore this principle. We have to consider the ramifications of a nation being set up without the intention of being applicant to any of our international organizations from the United Nations to the International Criminal Court let alone being accepted as a member of those organizations. The consequences for the model of the nation-state, world-order and international cooperation in the 21st century are unthinkable. The precedent that this sets is frightening.

In my oratorio, back in Aleppo, I am bringing back one of the Middle East's most storied figures, King David, to retell through the Psalms, the consequences of the people of the world "raging in vain". I'm working with the always inspirational Najla Said to retell his story and the stories of the Psalms in the ruins of Aleppo through her words and my music. There is no doubt that the arts have inspired change across the millennia and perhaps our Jeremiad prophesies will inspire people to act faster. We, the artists, will continue to tell the vital human stories. Now we also need our diplomats and world leaders to act courageously and urgently too.

Popular in the Community