The scourge that is ISIS
IT was Pope Francis who said it first, after the Nov. 13, 2015 terrorist attack in Paris and St. Denis, in which 130 persons were killed and 368 were injured. He called it a piecemeal war, apparently in recognition of the violence occurring in various places at different times. In Ankara, 95 were killed and 250 were injured in an outbreak of terrorism on October 11; on Oct. 31, 224 passengers and crew perished when Russia’s Metrojet Flight 9268 was blown up over the Egyptian Sinai. France responded to the attack by staging an air strike against a terrorist stronghold in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and having the UN Security Council approve a resolution condemning the outrage and calling for an international coalition against ISIS.
This gave flesh to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s earlier proposal for such a coalition in his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 28. Until then there were no formidable signs of a global confrontation with ISIS or ISIL. Then on Nov. 24, Turkey downed a Russian SU-24 aircraft on the Syrian-Turkish border while returning to base from a bombing mission of ISIS targets inside Syria. The Erdogan government in Ankara claimed the plane had intruded into Turkish airspace and refused to heed warnings when it was shot down. This was denied by the pilot who survived after his co-pilot was machine-gunned to death by terrorists upon landing on Syrian soil. Putin called the attack a planned provocation, and imposed sanctions on the Ankara government.
The Syrian-Turkish border incident
Putin is now said to be in possession of the plane’s “black box” and intends to open it in the presence of international experts, to show that the plane, whose wreckage had fallen inside Syria, was destroyed by two US-made F16s in Syrian airspace. This incident came close on the heels of the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey where Putin had talked about the large illegal traffic of oil and petroleum products from the ISIS to Turkey, and accused powerful businessmen from 40 countries, including some G20 countries, of secretly funding the ISIS.
If these incidents had failed to measure up to the Holy Father’s theory of a world war, the latest terrorist outbreak in the United States certainly has not. The killing of 14 persons and the wounding of 17 others by a married couple in a health facility in San Bernardino, Calif. on Dec. 2 did not quite overshadow the carnage in Paris and Saint Denis, but it was the first major attack on Americans within their own country since the 9/11 al-Qaeda strike against the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC., which launched the US global war on terror.
Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims
Occurring in the runup to the US presidential elections, the incident has so impacted the field of presidential aspirants that everyone seems to be reacting with more emotion than common sense. The flamboyant billionaire Donald Trump, whom the New York Times in an editorial describes as a “bigot without any foreign policy experience,” has proposed that no Muslims be allowed to enter the United States henceforth. Trump justified his proposal by recalling the internment of Japanese, German and Italian immigrants in the US during the Second World War.
Trump was instantly trashed across the political spectrum, but ultra-conservative commemorators credited him with enormous ground support from the average Americans. For its part, the US House of Representatives responded by voting, 407 to 19, on a resolution prohibiting the entry of visitors from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Sudan or those who have visited those countries in the last five years, without a visa. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, one of the more outspoken presidential aspirants, spoke of carpet-bombing the ISIS and called for a “wartime president.” None of the Republican aspirants seem inclined to moderate their speech.
Real war-related moves
On the part of the administration, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced the deployment of additional US Special Forces in Iraq, as 900 Turkish troops with 25 tanks and other vehicles invaded the northern part of the country, and refused to withdraw, despite strident protests from the Iraqi government. An additional 350 Turkish troops were reported to have massed at the border poised to join the invading units.
On Dec. 6, the US was accused of bombing a Syrian army base, killing three soldiers; a second bombing raid reportedly killed 32 civilians. The Pentagon denied the accusation, and accused the Russians instead. This was rejected by the Russians. Instead Putin and his Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced launching Russian cruise missiles against the ISIS from a submarine in the Mediterranean. A cruise missile could have either a conventional or a nuclear warhead.
The fact that the US leaders seem all blinded by the “logic of war” is a grave danger to all of us; but the danger is multiplied several times over when the people themselves are led to believe that war is the only answer to the crisis, and they end up hungering and thirsting for it. This is what a blanket denunciation of all Muslims, or any particular religious group, is bound to bring about. Thus, neither the US nor the world would be served by listening to Trump.
Is ISIS the enemy or Moscow?
Unhappily, although the ISIS crisis should ideally bring the United States, Russia, Europe, China, India, Japan and the rest of the world together in the fight against the totalitarian Islamic caliphate, certain geopolitical interests tend to put the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia not just glaring at each other but on a “war footing.” What exactly has Moscow or Putin done, aside from outflanking Washington or President Obama in dealing with ISIS terrorism? The peculiar response to Russia, which has preceded others in confronting the ISIS menace in Syria, has not made the political situation outside the NATO area any more stable. The apparent calculation of experts is that should a war break out against Russia, it will automatically involve China.
Where Russia goes, China goes too
Thus, in the Asia Pacific, the arms buildup continues. The deployment of the US spy plane Poseidon in Singapore is but the latest detail. It is quite significant that the city-state, which has one-third of its world-class air force in Australia, one-third in the United States, and only one third in its own territory, is able to find space to host the supersonic spy plane. But where Singapore can be totally transparent about such arrangements, the Philippines under B. S. Aquino 3rd, with whom the US has an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, is more inclined to deceive its own people.
It makes a big show about finally receiving two long-awaited, but untested South Korean jet fighters, and the promise of four submarines from Japan. But where the Constitution prohibits the presence of nuclear weapons within the national territory, Aquino has allowed such weapons to be deployed inside the country, without the knowledge or consent of Congress or the Filipino people.
A homegrown delusion
Many Filipinos seem to believe that through some special arrangements with the gods of war, they will be protected from a thermonuclear conflagration that has the capability to destroy every living thing twenty times over. This is the delusion of the doomed, or the damned. Only the mercy of God can perhaps protect us from being blown up when the missiles and thermonuclear bombs start flying. But our bird-brained politicians seem to believe that the foreign naval and aerial assets we host in our territory could be our deliverance. And they seem to believe while the rest of the world fights ISIS, we could continue to fiddle with some emanation of the Islamic caliphate, just by calling it Bangsamoro political entity, even though its ultimate role seems clearly to pave the way for a totally jihadist caliphate and to balkanize the Philippines.
Where does Duterte come in?
For a while we thought the fascination with this Bangsamoro Basic Law (Babala) folly was over. But it isn’t. Aside from Aquino and Senate President Franklin Drilon, who would like to make a last-ditch effort to railroad the proposed Babala before Congress adjourns and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front goes back to the jungle, the latest one to endorse the toxic idea is the unrepeatable Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao, who has become the cause of the nation’s anxiety, and to whom it is now our duty to turn our most serious and undivided attention in a little while.