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To Beat Radicalization, Cameron Must Rebuild Syria, Not Bomb it

03/12/2015 11:13 GMT | Updated 02/12/2016 10:12 GMT

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Pro-Islamic State Graffiti, Ma'an, Jordan. Author's own.

Since the Islamic State (IS) claimed the terror attacks in Paris, which took the lives of 130 people, the British government has voted to begin dropping bombs on key areas of Syria, where the extremist group has established itself.

As well as failing to deal with the root causes of Syrian civil war, this decision is a recipe for more social and economic woes for the Syrian people. Unfortunately, bombing alone does not bring employment and social opportunity; I have yet to see any substantial, mainstream plans for the support of Syrian communities and their economies. If this vital issue is not addressed somehow in tandem with the strikes, then it has the potential to pave the way for a proliferation in extreme religious ideologies, fuelled by social, political and economic deprivation.

I have witnessed this firsthand, in Jordan, where young men turned to crime and Islamic extremism after becoming disillusioned with the political structures of the Jordanian government which were supposed to be in place to support them.

It was the summer of 2014, when a number of demonstrations praising the work of IS in Iraq erupted in Ma'an. 218km southwest of the capital Amman, this dusty, hot Jordanian town - already notorious as a hotbed of Salafism and a recruitment ground for Al-Qaeda - had not been enjoying comparative levels of economic success. Due to a subsequent lack of employment opportunities, young men were seeking status and value in different ways, dabbling in drug-running and arms-smuggling, or travelling to Syria to join rebel groups for some meaningful sense of success against a situation at home in which they would find little, if not no reward for their potential.

Naturally, these were not the first demonstrations that the town had seen. Those previous had been held in conjunction with other Jordanian towns and cities in response to economic reforms affecting the entire country. One such notable outbreak of mass unrest was when the Jordanian government abolished fuel subsidies in 2012, cutting deep into the pocket of the everyday Jordanian. However, the demonstrations of 2014 were different; not only were they confined to Ma'an, but concern grew fast when IS flags were spotted at a march and banners erected, congratulating IS for its recent military advances Fallujah, Iraq.

I travelled to Ma'an shortly after the unrest had subsided, assisting a friend in his research for the Jordanian Center for Strategic Studies, and asked local shopkeepers whether or not this reported solidarity with IS was real - what did they make of it all?

Their answers were complex, yet sobering. Most of those whom we spoke to confirmed the detrimental effects of high levels of unemployment and low relative economic opportunity. They were perceived by some as a form of oppression or wilful blindness by the state due to historic grievances and Islamic conservatism was flourishing in response. The solidarity with IS' advances in Fallujah, we were told, was down to a mutual disapproval of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Maliki and his treatment (or lack thereof) of Fallujah's inhabitants, which had resonated with those in Ma'an.

So I return to the pressing debate of whether or not the bombing the communities of Syria in which IS has established itself will provide relief, safety and opportunity, and eradicate any militant ideologies. From my experience, this is highly unlikely. Bombing IS will not end the civil war, nor will it address the crippling economic poverty facing the country. In turn, it will in no way address the political disenfranchisement of many Syrians which has led, just like in Ma'an, to individuals seeking alternative, sometimes radical opportunities.

Cameron's new campaign contains no concrete plans for curtailing the above, no plans for injecting life into the economies of these communities once IS has been eradicated and no plans for bringing an end to a civil war which has displaced 9.5 million people. Thus, as seen in Ma'an, a cycle of fight or flight will continue in the absence of any genuine offering of enduring stability for the Syrian people.