Taking a different approach to ISIS

Students, staff, and commnity members  gathered at Conrad Grebel University College Jan. 15 to learn about some of the problems with Canada’s current approach to actions being taken by the Islamic State.

Sponsored by the Waterloo Region branch of the Canadian International Counsel, the event featured a presentation by Peggy Mason, former UN ambassador and president of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs in Ottawa. Mason’s talk was titled “Countering ISIL: why canada needs to change course,” and was followed by a question-and-answer period.

Before her time at the non-profit advocacy and research-focused Rideau Institute, Mason worked with the United Nations as Canada’s ambassador for disarmament  and continues to help teach militaries about peacekeeping. Among other things, she has aimed to help the military understand its role as a support in a broader peace process.

In her presentation Thursday, Mason emphasized the idea that political problems cannot be solved through military-based solutions, specifically in relation to the Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS, or ISIL.

“Bombing without a comprehensive strategy [that has] regional players at the core is a recipe for disaster,” she said, suggesting that the fundamental military approach to this situation needs to change. “Political problems require political solutions.”

Mason explained that North America has had a lot to do with the issues to which extremist fighters are responding. The core members of the Islamic State survived the “dirty war” from 2006 and 2009, when the U.S. “unleashed a campaign involving Special Forces” and took drastic measures that included the “Shake’n’Bake” strategy.

“Anyone who survived that is going to be a determined individual,” Mason said.

According to Mason, foreign policies are at the root of the problem. 

The world view that Islam is under attack is held by many people who live under oppressive governments in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Some of these governments have strong ties with the West, and many of their actions have been fuelled by motives that have had little to do with what is best for their people.

Penalties for political dissent or even questioning the government in some Middle Eastern countries are extremely severe, and in other parts of the world there is often great hostility towards Muslim people.

Mason said that the Islamic State is responding to this situation strategically.

“IS may be brutally ruthless, but they know exactly what they are doing.

“They are playing chess every step of the way while the West [referring primarily to North America] is playing military tik-tak-toe,” Mason said.

 In order to engage with the Islamic State effectively, Mason said that the West needs to show its support for local governments in places where other regimes have control.

Quoting Canadian journalist Linda McQuaig, she asked, “Can we finally have an adult conversation about the root causes [of this conflict]?”  

Mason encouraged people to take action themselves, citing websites such as ceasefire.ca, a website with “25,000 people working together for peace” behind it.

This issue is one that has preoccupied military officials and politicians on a global scale for over a decade. According to Mason, the solution will only come with a new approach.