My introduction to religious oppression and bloody conflict came early in life. Iran became the "Islamic Republic of Iran" when I was 2 ½ years old. For the next decade the brutal morality police was at everyone's door and the war with Iraq meant up to six rocket attacks into Tehran per day. A million people died. We managed to leave when I was eleven. First, to Canada, where my mother found feminism and my father raised three independent daughters; then to America, where I now practice law.
I look now at the terror that is the Islamic State, something far worse than anything I endured, expanding its borders beyond Syria and Iraq into Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, and through its affiliates, certain parts of North Africa and Asia; and I know that its imperialistic dictatorship must be stopped. While IS' terror is everywhere (mostly targeting other Muslims), the world is different today than it was two weeks ago. The horrific attacks in Paris added fire to the fuel first burned when IS beheaded American journalists, and now, many would say that we Americans are officially at war.
But how do we win such a war? As a trained strategist (in my professional life, I develop and implement the strategic direction of complex litigation for large corporations), I know this is not an easy question. More straightforward is to ask how we lose it. In this, we are guided by two of the most basic war-time strategies.
First: Never Underestimate Your Enemy
IS' general military strategy is traditional. It targets geographically proximate areas that are in political unrest and economic uncertainty, and easily takes them in a land war. Thus expand the caliphate's borders and wealth. IS' provocation of powerful western democracies, however, seems at first blush to be idiotic. Despite its claims that its attacks seek to end American and European involvement in its conflict, surely it must know that our response will be the opposite. One could say IS attacked Paris because its leaders are evil. While true, that is not an answer, for evil does not make them stupid. Rather than underestimate them, we must assume their terrorism is part of a grander scheme. But what?
The most likely strategy behind IS' provocation of America and Europe is that generally attributed to Julius Caesar: "Divide and Conquer." Central to the ideological, religious, and military ambitions of the Islamic State is the expansion of radical Islam combined with the notion that Christians and Muslims cannot co-exist. Any evidence to the contrary - such as Europe and America working together with the middle-east to assist refugees fleeing war and terror - is devastating to IS' propaganda. On the other hand, the stigmatization and rejection (rather than promotion and acceptance) of moderate Muslims eases IS' agenda of radicalization. Another component of IS' growing power is the notion that there is nowhere to run. Live by their rule, or die. The existence of a safe haven for refugees (considered traitors for fleeing and providing meaningful intelligence to IS' enemies), is harmful to the Caliphate's expansion. But demonization of the refugees can only benefit IS' hold over its conquered.
Dividing has been easy for IS. Blowing up innocent civilians "in the name of Allah" costs them nothing, and suddenly they see some of the leaders and would-be leaders of the free world seeking to turn away "three year old orphans," comparing refugees to "rabid dogs," requiring Muslims to register in a Federal database, advocating for a re-emergence of WWII-style internment camps (for Muslims instead of Japanese), and proposing to impose a "religion test" that would only allow Christians into our country. Many are feeding into IS' divide and conquer strategy. It must end.
Second: Know Your Enemy, and Know Yourself
Sun Tzu, the immensely influential Chinese military strategist, warns us to not proceed into battle with ignorance. We must know our enemy, and we must know ourselves.
Who is our enemy? A heinous regime that is rooted in hatred and dictatorship, but also an organized, coordinated, and reasonably wealthy state with imperialistic military ambitions. But just as Jewish Germans were not the enemy during WWII, and southern Vietnamese were not the enemy during the Vietnam war, to brand all Muslims as the enemy is not only irrational, it is a grave strategic error. The war against IS will be difficult and expensive, both in dollars and lives. Turning such a war into one against the 1.4 billion Muslims unrelated, oppressed by or fleeing the Islamic State is a tremendous waste of resources on unnecessary targets, the loss of potentially great allies, and a humanitarian catastrophe. The enemy is IS - that is simple enough.
Now the final question. To win the war, we must not only know our enemy, but also know ourselves. This is not difficult.
We know who we are.
We are the land of the free, and the home of the brave. We do not shut down religious institutions or turn away three-year-old orphans begging for our help.
Perhaps because of my past, because I know what it is to live under a different system, I have never taken my freedom here in America for granted. And I know that if we allow our fears to rob us of our freedoms or our principals, we will lose ourselves.
We must not be tricked into division, or we will lose our America.
We will lose it all.
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." - The Art of War
Many thanks for your "likes", "shares," "tweets", and thoughtful commentary. Dynamic and respectful conversation is welcomed and appreciated. Yours, Shermin Author of Butterfly Stitching