Saturday 4 July 2015

When you need a better strategy

Sorry if this is an honest-to-God ramble but I figured I'd get my thoughts down on (metaphorical) paper. We've heard a lot lately about extremism, and I wanted to add my stance on the smart way forward. It includes books and words, which, as we know, are the best weapons.

So, I guess most people will be aware of the events in Tunisia, France, Kuwait, etc. over the past week. Also the events in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, etc. over the past months and (in some cases) years. Those who don't know what I'm talking about - just go to any global news website and I'm sure you'll get the point.

But the way forward against IS and Boko Haram and all the other lost and lonely little boys playing at war out there (including white supremacists and their ilk)  is not guns, missiles, and bombs. These are not things that they're afraid of - in fact they actively want people to treat them to traditional warfare - to them it vindicates the role they've painted for themselves as under attack and fighting a holy war.

What they are afraid of is a lot more simple than that. Actually, it's a lot more pathetic than that, they're scared of coloured pens. After all, why else would Islamic State ban art and colour from schools?

They're also scared of learning. They're scared of words. Why else would the Taliban shoot Malala Yousefzai? They shot a girl with some books because she was a bigger threat than all of the bombs and guns put together. They're so insecure in both their beliefs and their masculinity that the idea that a woman could learn and think for herself was too frightening for them to let it happen.

The way forward then is not to shoot people - that's the way of the extremists, those lost little boys who want the world to hurt so that they don't have to address their feelings of inadequacy, their isolation from a world they feel they don't fit in to, their daddy issues and abandonment complexes. And their over-compensation for a lack of masculinity.

No, the way forward is far more subtle. Governments and world leaders need to control the narrative - words are powerful. The way to kill ideas is not with bullets (to paraphrase vol 2 (Dallas) of Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba's excellent Umbrella Academy,) it's with words. At the moment, world leaders are reading the script the extremists are writing - words like 'evil' and 'martyr' just perpetuate the sense of conflict, the insistence of Mr Cameron on the importance of 'British values' just makes him look like an idiotic out-of-touch Tory. His values are not mine, I happen to value people and not hurt them out of an idealistic urge to slash funding.

Instead, governments need to focus on what Islamic State would not want them to say. A sense of patronising pity, perhaps, that these boys have been led so far astray that they'll never be able to claw their way back to the lives they could have had, and the people that they could have been.

What needs to be said, and often, are the things that jar with the macho image Islamic State want to have - influential people need to call out the lost little boys and tell them they are jumping at shadows. They are frightened of art. They are frightened of women - frightened to let them wear what they want and think for themselves. They are frightened that what they believe is wrong - and so they defend it blindly without thinking it through. They are people who are so insecure in their faith and in themselves that they feel they must become defensive - like cornered animals.

Of course, the other thing that needs to be done globally, is the better kind of cloak-and-dagger stuff. This is not the assassination, plot-foiling, and secret codes stuff. This is the stuff that opens the minds of others. In short, we have to smuggle books into Islamic State. All books and any books. We need to drop leaflets with satirical cartoons from the planes that would otherwise carry bombs. We know that free speech scares them - Charlie Hebdo showed us that - so that is the weapon we must use.

So, we need to smuggle in classical novels with heroines - Jane Eyre and Moll Flanders - books with dangerously subversive messages - 1984, The Hunger Games - books of magic and fantasy - Harry Potter, J R R Tolkien - and however many Vampire novels and cheesy romance books we can squish into our metaphorical suitcase. There will be ears forever deaf to the voice of liberty and free-thought, but we don't know if we don't try.

Let's screen movies on huge projectors against the walls of buildings, drop art prints into the towns of Syria, poetry into Boko Haram controlled areas of Nigeria. Let's remind people that they're human. Guns and bombs are weak weapons, let's bring out the WMK - weapons of mass knowledge - and bring down these pockets of stupidity from the inside.

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