Caliph has no clothes

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To the Editor:

Especially since the vicious murder of James Foley, we have been hearing a constant roar of demands from the hawks in Congress to “just do it!,” meaning apply massive military force to take down the threat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses to the world at large, and to the United States in particular.

I am all for eliminating that threat in view of the fact that this movement is the greatest challenge the West has faced since Adolf Hitler. If Al-Qaeda was a dangerous guerilla force, ISIS is an empire in the building which is threatening to take the whole world back to the darkest Middle Ages and is not likely to burst into the kind of cultural flowering that the first expansion of Islam eventually brought. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadiis no Harun al-Rashid. If we want to have a future, we must overcome the new Caliphate.

But what we hear very little of, if anything at all, is how this is to be accomplished. All we hear from the U.S. establishment is about military strikes aimed at the physical extermination of the group. That is not very likely to come about in this way. ISIS cannot be effectively eliminated by military force alone, let alone airstrikes. While military containment must be achieved, it can only be a stopgap measure to give us time to deal with the underlying challenge of pulling the ideological-religious ground from under the extremists and depriving them of the charm they hold for young men who feel left out of the societies they live in. What we need is a psychological Manhattan Project to deal with this new threat. Only if we can convince the potential jihadis that the emperor — or in this case, the caliph — has no clothes, can we dry up the stream of idealistic radicalized recruits to the black banner. And only then will his brutal regime shrivel up and evaporate like the wicked witch of the East.

Brigitte Lent

Edgartown