To bomb or not to bomb, that was the question. Britain's MPs answered and, perhaps unsurprisingly, we are now at war. As was expected, the debate concerning airstrikes in Syria was tepid and uninspired. Crudely contextualised as the choice between bombing and surrender, the debate ignored alternatives that could properly challenge terrorism. To tackle terrorism in the long-term, we will eventually have to explore the etiology of terror. We must remember that ISIL - as with al-Qaeda before them - are the product of Islamic terrorism, not the source. It isn't good enough to keep putting plasters on a gaping wound.
The government chose the easy option. The difficult options are contentious and complicated. Britain would have to confront its allies, take on vested interests and challenge the root causes of terror. These difficult options would take years. They would threaten the growth of our economy. They would require bravery from our government. Unlike a mass bombing campaign, however, these options have the potential of bringing some sort of lasting peace to the region. The government essentially ignored these options.
The government overlooked, for example, Saudi Arabia's part in perpetuating Islamic extremism. Since at least the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has used its vast wealth to spread their ultra conservative brand of Islam - Wahhabism - across the Muslim world. Western governments' allegiance to Saudi Arabia - due to their strategic position and our dependence on cheap oil - has led to an implicit acceptance of the spread of Wahhabism - the doctrine now adhered to by ISIL, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab and a host of other terrorist organisations.
Apart from the odd whispered condemnation, western governments have also ignored Saudi Arabia's barbaric human rights record. Our government condemns ISIL's beheadings, their encroachment of free speech, and their mistreatment of women and homosexuals, but tacitly accepts such acts of barbarism when enacted by Saudi Arabia. They are aware, furthermore, that ISIL receive direct funding from wealthy Saudi businessmen. If the government was serious about tackling Islamic militancy at its source, Saudi Arabia would face direct condemnation. It is apparently too difficult to challenge our ally. Bombing Syria is the easier option.
In the debate, Britain also failed to question the roots of Islamic militancy at home - the real, imminent threat to our country. There was little mention of preventing radicalisation. Britain could do more to work with the Muslim community to extend a programme that challenges radical ideologies. We could offer a greater platform to peaceful clerics and promote the work of progressive Islamic scholars. We could ensure folks that are vulnerable to extremism have proper outlets for their grievances and work harder to redirect their energy into healthy, socially productive pursuits.
We could also attempt to understand the core aspects of homemade radicalism. Jason Burke, for example, argues in The New Threat From Islamic Militancy that prison systems have become a breeding ground for militant Islam. He notes that many of the extremists that attempt to kill share a common trait: they have all spent time in incarceration. If so many terrorists are seemingly radicalised in prison, we have to confront this issue. Britain could focus on separating radical preachers from ordinary, vulnerable citizens. We could ensure more social workers are educating inmates about the dangers of extremism.
These difficult alternatives offer long-term solutions to prevent the growth of terrorism. This still leaves the short-term problem of ISIL. There are peaceful alternatives here too. We could put pressure on Turkey to prevent ISIL selling oil on the black market - perhaps considering sanctions. We could put stringent measures in place to reprimand those dealing in stolen Syrian antiquities - particularly in Europe. We could punish anyone with financial links to terrorist organisations, regardless of their status in countries we ostensibly support. These measures would rid ISIL of funding and inevitably thwart their power.
The crude debate in the House of Commons paid little credence to the abovementioned alternatives. Instead, we simply decided to bomb. MPs chose the easy option. I would have thought it was obvious by now, 14 years after the war on terror began, that bombs are little more than a plaster on a gaping wound. The real war on terror must seek and destroy root causes. Bombs alone cannot overcome terrorism. Airstrikes cannot defeat an ideology. War will not bring peace.