TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 1

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. More face time, less screen time: To survive adolescence, kids need to put down their phones and practice interacting with each other.

By Cory Turner at National Public Radio

2. History texts may perpetuate stereotypes and deepen ethnic divides. The History Project is fighting bias with facts.

By the creators of the History Project

3. “Controlling wheat brings power.” Islamic State has carefully targeted farms and mills to tighten their grip in Iraq.

By Maggie Fick in Reuters

4. Because of innovative provisions in the $17 billion settlement facing Bank of America for its role in the housing crisis, families could get genuine much-needed relief.

By Ellen Seidman at the Urban Institute

5. The nation’s largest pension fund just pulled out of hedge funds, choosing transparency and accountability instead.

By Dean Baker at Al Jazeera America

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Syria

The U.S. Challenge of Turning Syria’s Ragtag Rebels into a Fighting Force

Free Syrian Army
A Free Syrian Army member is seen in Azaz, Syria on June 27, 2014. Hasan Ozkal—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It won't be easy to arm and train moderate rebel groups like the Free Syrian Army to fight ISIS

In April, when videos began appearing online of bearded Syrian fighters firing anti-tank missiles and chanting “God is great”, there were questions about how they had obtained the U.S.-made weapons but few answers. The U.S. government does not comment on details of what weapons they have provided or to whom.

Many of the fighters in the videos were from the Hazem Movement, a large and moderate faction of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which controls strategic parts of the battlefield in Syria as it fights Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus.

While the source of the weapons remains unclear, the Hazem Movement has long sought U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict. But they were also the first to come out against the U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in the country. “No Syrian was consulted in these strikes,” Khalid Saleh, secretary general for the Hazem Movement, said last week.

The reason is that, like many rebels in Syria, the Hazem Movement remains focused on deposing Assad, not fighting ISIS.

American efforts, on the other hand, are aimed at degrading ISIS’s infrastructure and capabilities. Crucially, the U.S. has ruled out putting any of its own troops on the ground in Syria. Instead, the plan is to arm and train moderate rebels there. On Friday, 20 rebel commanders—including those who oversee the FSA—signed a pact in Turkey to work together to defeat ISIS. In many locations, these fighters are taking on both the regime and rival militants.

But turning the anti-Assad militias that make up the FSA into an effective anti-ISIS fighting force will be a challenge, according to Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst and specialist in the Middle Eastern affairs at the Brookings Institution. “The first problem is the FSA as it exists, is an extremely fractious group, with a dozen, maybe even a hundred little groups of people,” he says. “That’s not an ideal force.”

The first obstacle is how to figure out which individuals to trust with military hardware, to ensure that weaponry doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. “The FSA is a porous organization and it has been deeply infiltrated by all manner of extremists and even intelligence influence from the regime itself,” said Pollack. “You need to go through this process to get rid of these bad actors. You got to promote the guys who are loyal, who are apolitical.”

Then there are the internal divisions within the FSA. The Mujahedeen Army, a moderate group which claims to have received some weapons from the U.S., and which shortly after its formation in January declared war on ISIS, says it has been successful at pushing ISIS fighters out of the countryside west of the Syrian city of Aleppo. “We are the group that can be relied on to head the fighting against ISIS,” said a spokesperson who would not give his real name, due to the sensitivity of the issue. The U.S. has not confirmed putting weapons in the hands of these fighters.

The Hazem Movement makes similar claims about its success against ISIS—claims which are disputed by the Mujahedeen Army. “They are very good with their rhetoric, however they are not the fighters that have been tested in battle or on front lines,” the spokesperson adds. “[The U.S.] needs to have operatives on the ground to assess these factions.”

To complicate matters for the U.S. and its allies, many FSA factions are loathed by Syrian citizens — and supporting groups that lack popular support could hurt the anti-ISIS effort. After three years of civil war inside the country, some of the groups have come to be seem more interested in self preservation than in the goals of the initial uprising against the Assad regime in 2011.

“Self-interest and localism are pretty rampant,” says Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on Syrian and Iraqi militants at the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum. Many military groups and leaders control their own little patches of the warzone and may be hard-pressed to give that up to join a larger force under a single higher command. “Even if it is a stretch of a frontline that’s a quarter-mile long, that’s [their] turf,” says Pollack.

There is also a risk that Western support, instead of unifying moderate rebels, might in fact serve to further divide the FSA units. As the weapons and training begin to trickle to these rebel groups, some are bound to get more than others while many will get nothing at all. “There is a risk here of actually increasing factionalism,” says al-Tamimi, who also highlights the divergent aims of the various rebel groups. “The main divide is—do rebels want some kind of Islamic state or not?” he adds.

TIME Australia

Australian Police Arrest 1 in Counterterrorism Raids

Australia Terrorism
A police officer, left, speaks with two people outside of a house where a man was taken into custody during a counterterrorism raid in Seabrook, suburban Melbourne on Sept. 30, 2014 Julian Smith—AP

Police say the raids came after an eight-month investigation that began with a tip from the FBI

(MELBOURNE) — One man was arrested in counterterrorism raids in the Australian city of Melbourne on Tuesday after police said he provided money to a U.S. citizen fighting alongside extremists in Syria.

Hassan El Sabsabi, 23, appeared briefly in a Melbourne court on six counts of intentionally making funds available to a terrorist organization. He did not enter a plea or apply for bail.

El Sabsabi’s arrest comes a week after Melbourne police fatally shot a terror suspect who had stabbed two officers. Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan said Tuesday’s arrest was not connected to that incident.

Police say the raids came after an eight-month investigation that began with a tip from the FBI. El Sabsabi is accused of giving about $12,000 to a U.S. citizen to fund his travel to Syria, where he is currently fighting, Gaughan said. The two men are not related and know each other primarily through social media, he said.

Gaughan declined to release details about the American in Syria, except to say he’d been fighting there for “a number of months.”

El Sabsabi was not involved in planning an attack, and there was no specific threat to the public, Gaughan said. Police believe he was operating alone, and was about to provide additional funds.

State and federal police officers raided seven properties in Melbourne on Tuesday and collected a large amount of electronic data, Gaughan said.

“This is a terrorism financing case — we didn’t assess there being a significant community safety risk, or a significant risk to our officers,” Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said.

Prosecutor Andrew Doyle said the evidence against El Sabsabi includes 25,000 pages of material from social media accounts and 500 telephone calls and messages.

El Sabsabi’s lawyer Trieu Huynh told the court that his client had never been in custody before. He asked that a doctor examine El Sabsabi as soon as possible for a medical condition, which Huynh declined to detail in court.

El Sabsabi said nothing and was ordered to reappear in February. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.

Earlier this month, Australia raised its terror warning to the second-highest level, citing the domestic threat posed by supporters of the Islamic State militant group.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament security agencies know of 100 people within Australia who are supporting terrorist groups overseas through recruitment or funding. He said 630 million Australian dollars ($550 million) in new spending on intelligence, law enforcement and border protection agencies over the next four years would include AU$20 million for the anti-money laundering agency AUSTRAC to help prevent terrorism funding.

“Anyone who supports terrorists is complicit in the dreadful deeds they do,” Abbott said.

Last week, terror suspect Numan Haider, 18, was killed after he stabbed two police officers during a routine meeting outside a Melbourne police station. Both officers are recovering.

TIME Syria

‘Contradictory’ Syria Policy Helps Assad

Mideast Syria
Syrians walk amid the rubble of damaged houses following a Syrian government air strike in Aleppo, Syria, on Sept. 27 2014 Syrian Observatory for Human Rights—AP

Obama said his first priority is degrading the extremists who are threatening Iraq and the West. To defeat them, he acknowledged, would require a competent local ground force

(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama on Sunday gave voice to the conundrum at the heart of his Syria policy, acknowledging that the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria is helping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, a man the United Nations has accused of war crimes.

“I recognize the contradiction in a contradictory land and a contradictory circumstance,” Obama said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” ”We are not going to stabilize Syria under the rule of Assad,” whose government has committed “terrible atrocities,” Obama said.

“On the other hand, in terms of immediate threats to the United States, ISIL, Khorasan Group — those folks could kill Americans.”

ISIL is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group, which has broken with al-Qaeda as it has taken control of large sections of Iraq and Syria. The Khorasan Group is a cell of militants that the U.S. says is plotting attacks against the West in cooperation with the Nusra front, Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate. Both groups have been targeted by U.S. airstrikes in recent days; together they constitute the most significant military opposition to Assad, whose government the U.S. would like to see gone.

Obama said his first priority is degrading the extremists who are threatening Iraq and the West. To defeat them, he acknowledged, would require a competent local ground force, something no analyst predicts will surface any time soon in Syria, despite U.S. plans to arm and train “moderate” rebels. The U.S. has said it would not cooperate with the Assad government.

“Right now, we’ve got a campaign plan that has a strong chance for success in Iraq,” the president said. “Syria is a more challenging situation.”

Earlier Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner questioned Obama’s strategy to destroy the Islamic State group. Boehner said on ABC’s “This Week” that the U.S. may have “no choice” but to send in American troops if the mix of U.S.-led airstrikes and a ground campaign reliant on Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters and moderate Syrian rebels fails to achieve that goal.

“We have no choice,” Boehner said. “These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don’t destroy them first, we’re going to pay the price.”

Obama, though, made clear he has no interest in a major U.S. ground presence beyond the 1,600 American advisers and special operations troops he already has ordered to Iraq.

“We are assisting Iraq in a very real battle that’s taking place on their soil, with their troops,” the president said. “This is not America against ISIL. This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership.”

Only the U.S. could lead such a campaign, Obama said.

“When there’s a typhoon in the Philippines, take a look at who’s helping the Philippines deal with that situation,” he said. “When there’s an earthquake in Haiti, take a look at who’s leading the charge and making sure Haiti can rebuild. That’s how how we roll. And that’s what makes this America.”

“60 Minutes” interviewer Steve Kroft asked Obama how the threat emanating from Syria and Iraq squares with the president’s longstanding position that al-Qaeda’s leadership has been “decimated.”

“You had an international network in al-Qaeda between Afghanistan and Pakistan, headed by bin Laden. And that structure we have rendered ineffective,” Obama said. “But what I also said .. .is that you have regional groups with regional ambitions and territorial ambitions. And what also has not changed is the kind of violent, ideologically driven extremism that has taken root in too much of the Muslim world.”

While an “overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful,” Obama said, “in the Muslim world right now, there is a cancer that has grown for too long that suggests that it is acceptable to kill innocent people who worship a different God. And that kind of extremism, unfortunately, means that we’re going to see for some time the possibility that in a whole bunch of different countries, radical groups may spring up, particularly in countries that are still relatively fragile, where you had sectarian tensions, where you don’t have a strong state security apparatus.”

But “rather than play whack-a-mole and send U.S. troops wherever this occurs, we have to build strong partnerships,” Obama said. “We have to get the international community to recognize this is a problem. We’ve got to get Arab and Muslim leaders to say very clearly: ‘These folks do not represent us. They do not represent Islam.'”

Asked how Islamic State fighters had come to control so much territory in Syria and Iraq, Obama acknowledged that U.S. intelligence agencies underestimated the threat and overestimated the ability and will of Iraq’s army to fight.

Obama said he agreed with his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who acknowledged that the U.S. “underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.” Obama also said it was “absolutely true” that the U.S. overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi army.

TIME Military

The War Against ISIS: Operation Fingers Crossed

Airstrikes in Syria
A KC-135 Stratotanker begins a mission refueling U.S. warplanes attacking Syria. Senior Airman Matthew Bruch / U.S. Central Command

History offers a checkered record on its chances of success

For more than a week, U.S. and allied warplanes have bombed targets inside Syria every day. While that may seem an awful lot like war to those being pounded, it hardly feels that way to most Americans. When U.S. troops are in combat, on the ground, they’re generally accompanied by reporters, who in recent conflicts have been able to fill TV screens and the Internet with up-close scenes of the action.

But when the U.S. elects to conduct an air war, Americans generally witness the action from airborne targeting cameras, or social-media posts from the ground. Both of those, of course, have their own problems: footage released by the Pentagon has been edited—scrubbed, if you prefer—and represents only a tiny fraction of what was recorded. The provenance and, indeed, the authenticity of cell phone videos allegedly capturing what is happening on the ground gives a similarly incomplete, and often suspect, picture of what’s happening.

The U.S. military’s assault against targets belonging to two groups of Islamic militants inside Syria has become almost background noise for most Americans. Granted, the airmen involved are at risk, but the nation generally seems to focus on war—and holds its breath—only when U.S. ground troops are involved in combat.

For Americans, that’s a double-edged sword. For sure, it cuts down on the risk to U.S. military personnel. But it also makes accomplishing President Obama’s declared mission—the destruction of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Khorasan Group—tougher to achieve.

That’s why Pentagon officials have made clear that the aerial campaign is open-ended and likely to be lengthy. Inflicting real pain on the jihadists is going to require ground troops, and U.S. officials say they’re more than a year away from training the first batch of 5,000 to take on an ISIS force estimated at 30,000.

“I don’t see the political strategy, at least a realistic one, in Syria,” Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told CNN Sunday. “That begs the question, how long are we going to be there and is there any end? There’s just no appetite in the American public for an open-ended military conflict in Syria.”

Todd Harrison of the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimates that the cost of the U.S. war against ISIS is approaching $1 billion, and could end up costing $6 billion annually for an aggressive, sustained bombing campaign. While significant, that’s far less than the roughly $150 billion the U.S. spent during the peak years of the Afghan (2011) and Iraq (2008) wars.

At best, the daily bombing will likely only freeze ISIS’s grip on eastern Syria. “Combined with our ongoing efforts in Iraq, these strikes will continue to deny [ISIS] freedom of movement and challenge its ability to plan, direct, and sustain its operations,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday. In western Iraq, reinvigorated Iraqi army and peshmerga forces are more likely to regain ground lost to ISIS over the past year.

Such campaigns have a mixed history. When the U.S. and its allies forced Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 1991 in Operation Desert Storm, it took a 43-day aerial bombardment before ground forces swept in to finish the job.

The 1999 NATO-led air campaign to drive Serbs out of Kosovo in the Balkans, Operation Allied Force, required 28,000 high-explosive munitions. It cost an estimated $3 billion and killed nearly 500 civilians. The 78-day barrage did highlight airpower’s ability change the reality on the ground.

But both of those examples pitted the U.S. and its allies against organized state militaries commanded by dictators: Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. As heads of state responsible for far more than battlefields, they were subject to pressures the zealously-driven ISIS is unlikely to feel.

The air war that most closely parallels what the U.S. is now conducting against ISIS is Operation Unified Protector, the U.S.-led seven-month effort over Libya in 2011. Launched by the U.S., with NATO eventually assuming a larger role, it began as a humanitarian effort to protect Libyan rebels from Muammar Gaddafi’s army. While air strikes played a critical role in Gaddafi’s ouster and eventual killing, the country has since been wracked by conflict among its warring factions.

Two years ago, terrorists took advantage of the chaos to attack U.S. diplomatic outposts in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. “Where you’ve got states that are failing or in the midst of civil war, these kinds of organizations thrive,” Obama told CBS’ 60 Minutes Sunday night, referring to ISIS. But he just as surely could have been speaking of Libya, where the war he launched more than three years ago initially was hailed as a victory for U.S. leadership. Two months ago, the U.S. shuttered its embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli and evacuated its diplomats.

“The fate of that country has been largely absent from discussions about the new war,” the New York Times warned Sunday, “which is certain to last longer and unleash a wider array of consequences.”

The Pentagon, thus far, has declined to name that new war.

TIME

US-Led Airstrikes Hit Syria Oil Refinery by Turkey

US-led coalition's airstrikes, against ISIL, hit residential areas in Aleppo
Many buildings are damaged following the American-led coalition's airstrikes staged against the headquarters of Al-Nusra Front's snipers in a residential area of Al-Muhandisin district of Aleppo, Syria on Sept. 27, 2014. Ahmed Hasan —Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

SANLIURFA, Turkey (AP) — Airstrikes likely carried out by the U.S.-led coalition struck an oil refinery in Syria held by the Islamic State group on Sunday, shaking buildings and sending flames shooting into the air near the Turkish border, a witness and activists said.

Al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate meanwhile warned that Muslims would attack countries taking part in the coalition air raids, which have targeted both the Islamic State extremist group — with which al-Qaida is at war — as well as hardline militants battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Explosions lit the sky for two hours at the refinery in the northern Syrian town of Tel Abyad around 2:30 a.m. local time (2330 GMT Saturday), said Turkish businessman Mehmet Ozer, who lives in the nearby Turkish town of Akcakale.

“Our building was shaking and we saw fire, some 60 meters (65 yards) high, coming from the refinery,” he said. The strikes were also reported by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Turkey’s Dogan news agency. Dogan said the strikes targeted an oil refinery and the local headquarters of the Islamic State group.

U.S. Central Command, which is overseeing the air campaign, did not immediately comment on the strikes.

The U.S.-led coalition has been targeting oil installations across Syria controlled by the extremist group, aiming to cripple its finances. The group is believed to earn some $3 million a day from selling smuggled oil on the black market as well as kidnapping and extortion.

The United States and five Arab allies launched an aerial campaign against Islamic State fighters Tuesday with the aim of rolling back and ultimately crushing the extremist group, which has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border. The U.S. has been carrying out airstrikes against the group in neighboring Iraq since August.

In seizing territory, the Islamic State group has massacred and beheaded its opponents, chased out tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis who belong to minority groups and imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law on residents,

The Islamic State group has also abducted Syrian activists, international aid workers and journalists, and has beheaded a British aid worker and two American reporters.

The coalition includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan. Several European countries also are contributing to U.S. efforts to strike the Islamic State group in Iraq, including France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Britain.

The campaign against the oil facilities is expected to be a long, slow task as most of the refineries held by the Islamic State group are small and scattered across their territory.

The Britain-based Observatory says at least 19 civilians have been killed so far in coalition strikes in Syria. Most recently, six oil workers in the far northeast province of Hassakeh were killed overnight, said the Observatory, which obtains information from a network of activists on the ground.

Overall, some 190,000 people have been killed in Syria’s three-year conflict, and nearly one-half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million people has been displaced.

In Syria, the strikes are also targeting the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s official branch in the country.

Washington views the group as a terrorist organization, while most Syrian rebels see it as a highly effective ally against both President Bashar Assad’s government and the Islamic State extremist group, which has been rejected by al-Qaida’s central leadership.

The Nusra Front’s ultimate goal is to impose Islamic law in Syria. But unlike the Islamic State group, it has fought alongside other rebel groups, seeing the overthrow of Assad as its first priority.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the Nusra Front warned that jihadists around the world would strike back against the coalition.

“This will have a response,” spokesman Abu Firas al-Souri said in a video uploaded to social media networks by Nusra loyalists. “These countries undertook an ugly act that will place them on the lists of targets for jihadi forces all over the world.”

Al-Souri said the strikes on the Nusra Front were “against the Syrian people… who rose against the oppressor and fought in the way of God.”

Al-Souri’s speech was preceded by mournful music and images of what appeared to be dead Nusra fighters and rubble from bombing. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to Associated Press reporting.

Syrian rebels have expressed anger at the coalition airstrikes, both because they have targeted the Nusra Front — which they see as an ally — and because they are not hitting forces loyal to Assad, which are the best placed to benefit from any rolling back of the Islamic State group.

TIME Syria

US-Led Planes Strike Fighters Attacking Syria Town

Syrian Kurdish boys, fleeing an onslaught by ISIS, sit in a truck as they cross the Syria Turkey border at the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on Sept. 27, 2014.
Syrian Kurdish boys, fleeing an onslaught by ISIS, sit in a truck as they cross the Syria Turkey border at the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on Sept. 27, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

BEIRUT — U.S.-led coalition warplanes struck Islamic State fighters in Syria attacking a town near the Turkish border for the first time Saturday, as well as positions in the country’s east, activists and a Kurdish official said.

The Islamic State group’s assault on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani has sent more than 100,000 refugees streaming across the border into Turkey in recent days as Kurdish forces from Iraq and Turkey have raced to the front lines to defend the town.

Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said the strikes targeted Islamic State positions near Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, destroying two tanks. He said the jihadi fighters later shelled the town, wounding a number of civilians.

The United States and five Arab allies launched an aerial campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria early Tuesday with the aim of rolling back and ultimately crushing the extremist group, which has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border. Along the way, the militants have massacred captured Syrian and Iraqi troops, terrorized minorities in both countries and beheaded two American journalists and a British aid worker.

The latest airstrikes came as Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV that airstrikes alone “will not be able wipe out” the Islamic State group. Speaking from New York where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly, al-Moallem said in remarks broadcast Saturday that the U.S. should work with Damascus if it wants to win the war.

“They must know the importance of coordination with the people of this country because they know what goes on there,” al-Moallem said. The U.S. has ruled out any coordination with President Bashar Assad’s government, which is at war with the Islamic State group as well as Western-backed rebels.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the coalition’s strikes near Kobani came amid heavy fighting between the Islamic State group and members of the Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPK.

The Britain-based group, which relies on activists inside Syria, had no immediate word on casualties from Saturday’s strikes. The Observatory reported Friday that 13 civilians have been killed by the strikes since they began.

Kurdish fighter Majid Goran told the Associated Press by telephone from Kobani that two bombs were dropped over the nearby village of Ali Shar, at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT), but that the positions they struck were empty.

Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported Saturday that the sound of heavy fighting could be heard from the Turkish border village of Karaca. The agency said Kurdish forces retook some positions they had lost to the Islamic militants a few days ago. It did not cite a source for the report.

Dozens of people wounded in the fighting arrived in Turkey for treatment on Saturday, it said.

Another Kurdish fighter, Ismet Sheikh Hasan, said the Turkish military on Saturday night retaliated after stray shells landed on Turkish territory, firing in the Ali Shar region. He said the Turkish action left Kurdish fighters in the middle of the crossfire.

He said that on Friday, the Islamic militants were attacking the Kobani area from the east with tanks and artillery, advancing on Ali Shar and Haja. He said some 20 people were killed, including Kurdish fighters and civilians, while another 50 people were wounded.

The fighting around Kobani sparked one of the largest single outflows of refugees since Syria’s conflict began more than three years ago. The Syrian Kurdish forces have long been one of the most effective fighting units battling the Islamic State, but the tide has turned in recent weeks as the Islamic militants have attacked with heavy weapons likely looted from neighboring Iraq.

The Observatory said other coalition airstrikes targeted Islamic State compounds in the central province of Homs and the northern regions of Raqqa and Aleppo. The group said 31 explosions were heard in the city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, and its suburbs.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said the strikes in the east hit the province of Deir el-Zour as well as Raqqa. The LCC also said the coalition targeted grain silos west of Deir el-Zour city.

It was not immediately clear why the silos were targeted.

Max Blumenfeld, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said the U.S. airstrikes “don’t target food or anything else than can be used by the civilian population.” But he said that until the military reviews images from planes that participated in the strikes, he could not rule out that silos were hit.

He said the airstrikes are aimed at specific Islamic State targets such as command and control centers, transportation and logistics, and oil refineries, “but not food that could have an impact upon the civilian population.”

“Our targets are structures that combatants would use,” he said.

In recent days coalition warplanes had struck oil-producing facilities in eastern Syria in a bid to cut off one of the Islamic State group’s main revenue streams — black market oil sales that the U.S. says generate up to $2 million a day.

The coalition striking Syria includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan, and the strikes are an extension of the U.S. campaign in neighboring Iraq launched in August.

Near the capital Damascus, Syrian troops meanwhile entered the once rebel-held northeastern suburb of Adra after days of clashes, Syrian state TV said. The advance came two days after troops captured the nearby Adra industrial zone.

 

TIME conflict

3 More Countries Join the Coalition Against ISIS

Parliament debates military action against ISIS at the House of Commons, London on Sept. 26, 2014.
Parliament debates military action against ISIS at the House of Commons, London on Sept. 26, 2014. PA Wire/Press Association Images/Reuters

British Parliament did not vote on whether to allow strikes in Syria as well

The United Kingdom became the latest country to join the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Friday, after the British parliament voted decisively to allow air combat missions to bomb the militant group in Iraq.

“This is going to be a long campaign—weeks and probably months—to push [ISIS] back and to see it defeated in Iraq,” U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said, according to the Guardian.

Belgium and Denmark also joined the growing coalition, which includes France and Australia, along with Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

While British support in Iraq bolsters American efforts, the U.K. has not voted on taking the additional step of joining air strikes against ISIS in Syria, which some leaders argue would be an infringement on its sovereignty. Nonetheless, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that he supports U.S. strikes there, regardless of whether the U.K. joins.

“[ISIS] needs to be destroyed in Syria as well as Iraq,” he said. “We support the action the U.S. and five Arab states are taking. I believe there is a strong case for us to do more, but I did not want to bring a motion to the House today which I could not get consensus on.”

[The Guardian]

TIME world affairs

Tony Blair: How We Counter Violent Islamist Extremism

Former British prime minister Tony Blair
Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair Torsten Blackwood—AFP/Getty Images

Tony Blair is the founder and patron of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Without a comprehensive strategy, we will face a future marked by conflict and instability across swathes of the world and major acts of terrorism in our own lands

The horrifying events of the past weeks in Syria and Iraq have significantly shifted the terms of the debate about whether intervention is desirable or sensible to counter the violence in the Middle East and its potential impact back in our own countries.

President Obama is rightly building the broadest possible coalition for action against ISIS and should be given all support necessary. It is also clear that he is developing US strategy in a way that recognises that the threat is bigger and broader than ISIS. This is important and should also be supported. Secretary John Kerry has succeeded in putting together a formidable array of allies for the immediate task; France has already taken action; David Cameron is pledging British support. Today’s leaders have this opportunity: as a result of changes in the politics of the Middle East, there is a real possibility of building a coalition that goes far beyond the West. Leading Arab nations are also part of the coalition. This is invaluable and corrects one of the principal weaknesses of Western strategy after September 11th 2001.

In addition, there are at least the beginnings of an emerging consensus which is global, about the nature of the threat we face. It is clear that there is a fundamental problem with radical Islamism; clear that it is deep; clear that the solutions are not easy or presently to hand; clear that this is the work of a generation not an election cycle; and clear – most important of all – that this is ‘our’ challenge and not simply ‘theirs’.

Without a comprehensive strategy, we will face a future marked by conflict and instability across swathes of the world and major acts of terrorism in our own lands.

However there is still hesitation and unresolved expanses of discord in how we describe the problem and therefore in how we confront it. Here I will set out my analysis of what has happened, what is happening and what will happen and my belief that without a comprehensive strategy, we will face a future marked by conflict and instability across swathes of the world and major acts of terrorism in our own lands.

By all means let us take strong action against ISIS and against the citizens of our own country that seek to join them. But action against ISIS alone will not suffice. We need to recognise the global nature of the problem, the scale of it, and from that analysis contrive the set of policies that will resolve it. I want to set out seven principles of understanding that I believe should underpin such a strategy.

Islamism of course is not the same as Islam. The religion of Islam is an Abrahamic religion of compassion and mercy. For centuries it shamed Christendom with its advances in science and social development. This is not a clash of civilisations. It is a struggle between those who believe in peaceful co-existence for people of all faiths and none; and extremists who would use religion wrongly as a source of violence and conflict. Our enemies are those who would pervert Islam. Our allies are the many Muslims the world over who are the principal victims of such a perversion.

I also completely accept that strains of extremism are not limited to the faith of Islam. Such strains exist in most faiths. But not on this scale or with this effect. I agree too that in times past, Christianity exhibited cruelty and engaged in persecution that produced war and suffering. How Christianity escaped from that madness, is its own story. But we’re dealing with the present.

The views I put forward are of course in part shaped by my experience dealing with this issue as Prime Minister after the terror attack, planned from the training camps of Afghanistan, of September 11th 2001, in which over 3000 innocent people lost their lives on the streets of New York and elsewhere; and the terror attacks in Britain of 7 July 2005 by British born Muslims. But they’re equally the product of the last 7 years spent outside official office, in the Middle East every month, seeing and hearing first-hand what is happening there and having the opportunity, without the vastly varied in-tray of a leader in office, to study this phenomenon.

The two Foundations which I have established – one around Africa Governance and the other concerned with promoting respect between religious faiths and countering extremism – have also allowed me to examine the dynamics of what is happening not only in the Middle East but in the world, precisely around the challenge we now face. In the case of the Faith Foundation the connection is obvious. In the case of the Africa Governance Initiative, though it is primarily about helping African Governments implement vital programmes of change, it is increasingly clear that unless a way is found to deal with the de-stabilising power of religious extremism many African countries will be unable to make the progress they so urgently need.

So this is why I chose to do what I now do. I became convinced whilst PM that this was the issue of our time. I am even more convinced now.

1. Join the Dots. It Is One Struggle

There has been a tendency to see the conflicts happening in different parts of the world as unconnected, as driven by a collection of separate, essentially localised disputes. So we respond to each in its own way. One crisis arises and we act; another rears its head and we take another action. Or perhaps better we should describe our policy as a series of reactions. We have not yet a sense of a unifying core of strategic analysis leading to a set of actions that are governed by that core and that have coherence on a global scale.

I say that what is happening in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; and what is happening in Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, or in parts of Russia or in the Xinjiang province of China or in multiple other parts of the globe, are linked. They form different parts of one struggle. They all have their individual aspects. They all have unique dimensions. It would be odd if it weren’t so. But they have one huge and central element in common: extremism based on an interpretation of Islam which represents a clear ideology that, even if loosely at times, is shared by all these different groups of extremists.

So in every case there are distinct factors. Some are to do with long standing grievances over territory, or ethnic and tribal differences. Some are protests against central Governments and policies of repression. Some involve a dispute over the ownership and management of resources. But to deny as a result of these distinct factors, the common factor of religious extremism and of a particular ideology associated with the extremism, is wrong as a piece of analysis and dangerous in its consequences for policy.

I understand this is a contentious analysis. For example, in respect of the Middle East there has been a revival of the old Sykes-Picot debates, and whether it was the drawing of the map of the region by the British and French back in 1920 which is at the root of the present troubles. This is a quaint but ultimately fanciful explanation for what is happening. It is true of course that some of the lines then drawn have been fiercely contested. Some were at the time. True also that there are those within the region who see a chance in all the chaos, to right a perceived wrong of the past, since it is certainly true that the lines were drawn not by the people of the region but by the external powers, Britain and France.

But since those lines were put, however capriciously on the cartographers table almost 100 years ago, (and there was less caprice in it than sometimes imagined), the region has undergone a vast demographic transformation and become the centre of the world’s energy production.

For example, in 1920, the population of the UK was around 50m; France 40m; Germany 60m. Today the figures are roughly 60m for UK and France and 80m for Germany. i.e. a significant increase but not a transformation. Consider the figures for countries of the Mid East (not all obviously affected by Sykes-Picot, but all part of the same region). Egypt in 1920, 13m; now almost 90m. Syria less than 2m in 1920, by 2011, over 20m; Iraq in 1920, under 3m, now over 30m. Saudi Arabia had a population of just over 3m. Today it boasts 30m. Ancient Palestine, a hundred years ago, had less than 1m Arabs and Jews combined; now it is around 12m for Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

In 1920, oil production was minimal. The people, small in number, eked out a living often as poor farmers.

The last century has been transformative in a unique way in the Middle East. Going back would not be easy.

In any event all of these problems would be manageable if there was not violence and terror being visited on the region. Yes, there are long standing grievances and scars of tribe and tradition; but the reason why there is a living nightmare in the Middle East today, is not because of the politics of identity, but the politics of hate driven by Islamist extremism.

It isn’t the case that if we dealt with the historic issues of identity and boundaries, we would curb the extremism; it is literally the other way round: if we eliminated the extremism, we could resolve the issues of identity and borders.

The ideologies of the 20th C which caused such distress and conflict also manifested themselves in existing grievances and disputes in a variety of different ways and situations. But there is no doubt that the common factor of shared ideology crucially impacted both the manner in which conflicts arose and the vehemence with which they were conducted. Revolutionary communism had many faces. So did fascism. But their essential ideological character played a defining part in how the history of the 20th C was written, the alliances that were formed, the spheres of influence created. We have to see this ideology born out of a perversion of religious faith, in the same way.

In saying this I do not want at all to minimise the importance of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or its effect on extremism. I believe this conflict remains absolutely central to the future of the region. I speak and write about it so much I do not want to repeat myself here.

However I think it is also now clear that this conflict, in itself, cannot explain the turmoil of the region at this present time.

By seeing the struggle against Radical Islamism as one, albeit with many different arenas of action, we then can see plainly what before has been obscured: that no strategy to counter it, will work, unless it is comprehensive i.e. unless the big picture is perceived and understood. This alone has fundamental implications for policy.

So we are right in the immediate term to concentrate on defeating ISIS. Defeating them is indeed vital. But another ISIS will quickly arise to take their place unless we go to the root of the issue and deal with this ideology wherever and however it shows itself on a coordinated global basis.

2. The Problem is Getting Worse not Better

The evidence is clear: the problem is growing not diminishing. The coverage of these issues in the Western media is led by events. The more horrific – such as the murders of the hostages – the more it intrudes on our conscience. But the truth is whilst we have focused on the hideous rampage of ISIS out of Syria into Iraq, the killing in Syria has continued, with now more dead than in the whole of Iraq since 2003; the slaughter of the innocent by Boko Haram in Nigeria goes on; the growth of militia violence in Libya is unabated (and I warn that Libya is going to become a problem potentially as bad as Syria if we do not take care); in Xinjiang in the last months hundreds have died and in the hill country of Pakistan the Army of the State fights an existential battle against terrorism, with hundreds of thousands displaced.

The timely summit on Africa held by President Obama in the early part of August swiftly became as much about the terrorist menace as about the more positive story of investment and commercial opportunity. Countries like Kenya are confronted now with an extraordinary challenge that puts at risk all the immense and substantial progress of the past years; and this has happened in the space of months.

And I haven’t even mentioned Somalia or Yemen or the Central African Republic or the travails of Central Asia. Just last week, we saw terrorist attacks in Thailand and a foiled plot in Uganda, neither country normally featuring on the roll call of extremism; and of course the arrests in Australia.

In our own countries, the biggest security threat we face: our own citizens – radicalised Muslims – who have gone to fight ‘Jihad’ in Syria, returning home battle-hardened and bent on bringing their ‘holy’ war to our own towns and cities.

In a grim harbinger of things to come, the spectre of anti-Semitism is again stalking the streets of Europe. The response of the political class has so far been confined to strong statements of disapproval. But this is an evil that requires gripping right now with firm and uncompromising action against both the perpetrators of violence and their ideological fellow travellers. When, a few days back, Chancellor Merkel took the extraordinary step of attending a rally in Berlin against anti-Semitism, accompanied by her entire Cabinet, it was a welcome response to recent events in Germany; but it was also an illustration of the seriousness of the problem.

3. The Challenge is a Spectrum not Simply a Fringe

This argument goes to the heart of the scale of the challenge and why we find it so hard to comprehend it, let alone defeat it. The problem is not that we’re facing a fringe of crazy people, a sort of weird cult confined to a few fanatics. If it was, we could probably root it out, kill or imprison its leaders, deter its followers and close the doors to new recruits.

The problem is that we’re facing a spectrum of opinion based on a world view which stretches far further into parts of Muslim society. At the furthest end is the fringe. But at the other end are those who may completely oppose some of the things the fringe does and who would never themselves dream of committing acts of violence, but who unfortunately share certain elements of the fanatic’s world view. These elements comprise, inter alia: a belief in religious exclusivity not merely in spiritual but in temporal terms; a desire to re-shape society according to a set of social and political norms, based on religious belief about Islam, wholly at odds with the way the rest of the world has developed, for example in relation to attitudes to women; a view of the West, particularly the USA, that is innately hostile and regards it essentially as the enemy, not only in policy but in culture and way of living.

This Islamism – a politicisation of religion to an intense and all-encompassing degree – is not confined to a fringe. It is an ideology (and a theology derived from Salafist thinking) taught and preached every day to millions, actually to tens of millions, in some mosques, certain madrassas, and in formal and informal education systems the world over.

It is the spectrum that helps create the fringe. A large part of Western policy – and something I remember so well fighting in Government – is based on the belief that we can compromise with the spectrum in the hope of marginalising the fringe. This is a fateful error. All we do is to legitimise the spectrum, which then gives ideological oxygen to the fringe.

Compile a compendium of all the formal and informal methods of teaching religion in Muslim communities, even in our own countries, and what you will find is much more frightening than you would think: that in many countries even those considered moderate, there is nonetheless a significant number of young people taught a view of religion and the world that is exclusive, reactionary and in the context of a world whose hallmark is people mixing together across the boundaries of race and culture, totally contrary to what those young people need to succeed in the 21st C. Only Foundations like my own and the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund are even attempting such an endeavour – a sign of the paucity of the strategy, on a global scale, which we require.

Then go to the online following of the more radical clerics and see how some, including those with views actually very close to the fringe, have followers numbered not in thousands or even tens of thousands, but in millions. Read some of the twitter feed coming out of parts of the Mid East. Read the sermons that some of the most acclaimed radical clerics give. Mohamed al-Araifi, banned in 26 European countries for his views on women and Jews, alone has 10 million people who subscribe to his account.

So we may naturally prefer to see these people who have come to our attention in the last weeks as isolated lunatics, to be hunted down like serial killers and with their demise the problem is eradicated. Would that it were so. But it isn’t. Unless we confront the spectrum as well as the fringe, we will only eliminate one group and then be faced with another.

4. Fight the Fringe; Speak Out against the Spectrum

The fringe and the spectrum require different strategies. There is a clear difference between those with whom we disagree, however strongly, and those who are an active security threat.

We have to fight the fringe. Here are certain guiding principles of analysis when devising the means of doing so.

The first is that it is hard to envisage compromise with such people. They have no reasonable demands upon which we can negotiate. This is not like Irish Republicanism. There may be individual conflicts – like the Mindanao dispute in the Philippines – where there can be a peace agreement reached because the primary cause of conflict is local. But in general, though political engagement can reduce the support and freedom of manoeuvre of the fanatics, or divide off the merely disaffected, as was the case in Iraq up to 2010, there is no alternative to fighting and defeating the hard-core.

At a certain point, once they know superior and determined force is being used against them, some of them at least may be prepared to change. And some undoubtedly have taken up arms because of genuine grievances. So yes it is true that in Iraq after 2006, as a result of the ‘Awakening’, the political process that brought the Sunni tribes to an understanding with the Government was crucial. However so was the surge; so was the day after day, night after night, war of attrition and suppression waged with such courage by US, UK and other forces.

The second is that the moment they cease to be fought against they grow; and fast. ISIS now controls a territory in Syria and Iraq larger than the size of the UK. Just think about that, let its full ghastly implications sink in. This is right on the doorstep of Europe. Boko Haram was reported recently to have taken the Northern city of Bama in Nigeria. Weapons from Libya together with funding have increased their reach and firepower. Libya itself is in the grip of warring factions where the risk is not just the vanquishing of internal stability, but the export of arms, money and extremist personnel across the world. As fighters are pushed out of Yemen, they go across to Somalia and from there across west to the northern parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. With territory comes the opportunity for these groups to gain money through extortion and kidnapping, to access resources, and build manpower.

The third is that whilst terror is upright and busy, it is impossible for any country to solve its everyday challenges and embrace with confidence the future. It is not simply the act of terror and the fact of carnage that de-stabilises a nation. It is the fear, the chaos, the tremor throughout the whole of society, deepening fault-lines, exacerbating existing divisions and giving birth to new ones. That is why it has to be fought against with vigour and without relenting.

Fourth and hardest of all, because the enemy we’re fighting is fanatical, because they are prepared both to kill and to die there is no solution that doesn’t involve force applied with a willingness to take casualties in carrying the fight through to the end.

This is where we get to the rub. We have to fight groups like ISIS. There can be an abundance of diplomacy, all necessary relief of humanitarian suffering, every conceivable statement of condemnation which we can muster, but unless they’re accompanied by physical combat, we will mitigate the problem but not overcome it.

Airpower is a major component of this to be sure, especially with the new weapons available to us. But – and this is the hard truth – airpower alone will not suffice. They can be hemmed in, harried and to a degree contained by airpower. But they can’t be defeated by it.

If possible, others closer to the field of battle, with a more immediate interest, can be given the weapons and the training to carry the fight; and in some, perhaps many cases, that will work. It may work in the case of ISIS. There is real evidence that now countries in the Middle East are prepared to shoulder responsibility and I accept fully there is no appetite for ground engagement in the West.

But we should not rule it out in the future if it is absolutely necessary. Provided that there is the consent of the population directly threatened and with the broadest achievable alliance, (to which I return below), we have, on occasions, to play our part. To those who say that after the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have no stomach for such a commitment, I would reply the difficulties we encountered there, are in part intrinsic to the nature of the battle being waged. And our capacity and capability to wage the battle effectively are second to none in part because of our experience there.

However we’re not talking here about armies of occupation. We are, in certain situations where it is necessary and subject to all proper limitations, talking about committing ground forces, especially those with special capabilities.

What helped turn the tide back in favour of Assad in Syria was the entry into the conflict of Iranian backed Hezbollah. They fought the ground war. They took casualties. On one account I was given, in a short period before the end of 2013, they took more casualties than the UK in the whole of Iraq in the years we were present there. For the same reasons extremist groups rose to prominence in the Syrian opposition because they were prepared to fight where the battle was hottest.

I know as well as anyone all the difficulties in advocating even the contemplation of such a course. It may require change whether in NATO or within the framework of European Defence to improve the force capability we have presently and our ability to work in alliance with others. It may even require a new configuration of combat forces altogether. But I repeat: you cannot uproot this extremism unless you go to where it originates and fight it.

The spectrum is a different matter. Here the most important thing is to expose it, to speak out against it, to make sure that at each point along the spectrum the proponents of this ideology are taken on and countered; but also be prepared to engage in dialogue and to acknowledge, as has been the case in Tunisia, that some of those on this spectrum may be willing to leave it. So there should be openness in our attitude, but the total absence of naivety. To engage successfully, we have to be willing to confront.

We are not doing this as of yet. The truth is that Islamism, unless fundamentally reformed, is incompatible with modern economies and open-minded, religiously pluralistic societies. This truth has to be recognised. This is not to say that it should be subject to oppression. Certainly in our types of society, people are perfectly entitled to hold views that we believe are destructive to our way of life and that we profoundly disagree with. Provided that that they express them within the law, that is their right.

But it is also our right to point out why they are indeed incompatible with all we hold dear. And it is our duty, if we believe in what we say we do, to take on the argument with vigour and to watch with vigilance to see that Islamism does play by the rules in our own country. And where, as so often abroad, they operate outside the law and seek to subvert progress we should be keen to expose them and be loyal to those, in these countries, who share our way of thinking.

This is why I argue that in the Middle East and elsewhere, we should not view the ideological struggle between Islamists and those who want open-minded societies, as one in which we’re neutral. There is a side we should take. And we should do so with energy, because they need our support.

This is why what has happened in Egypt is so important and what will happen in the future is vital; including to our own interests. Of course there will be disagreements, sometimes strong ones, – as over the jailing of the Al-Jazeera journalists or the death sentences handed down to hundreds of people in one ruling. I am not suggesting we do not criticise where it is right to do so. This is not advocating a policy of ‘turning a blind eye’ to human rights abuses. It is simply realising that in the complexity of the situation the country finds itself, we have to be the friend onside and supportive – though prepared to speak critically – not the distant commentator blind to the reality of the assault on its way of life by radical Islamism which this ancient and proud civilisation of Egypt faces.

Governments are not NGOs. We have to represent and advance broad strategic interests in defence of our values. It is massively to our advantage that President Sisi succeeds. We should help him. We should not make the mistake of dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood as if it were merely an Arab version of the Christian Democrats. It isn’t and there is little sign it ever will be.

World-wide, we should be on the look-out for where there is evidence that Islamist organisations are on the march. Those that fund and support them should know that we’re watching, should know that what they want hidden, will instead be exposed to the light.

5. Support Modern-minded Muslim Opinion. They Are Our Allies

One of the tragic myths of the past years has been the idea in the West – almost like a new Orientalism – that Arabs in particular and even Muslims in general are irredeemably lost in the mire of religious and ethnic dispute, that their mind-set is incompatible with democracy, that the whole thing is really about Shia vs Sunni, that they’re condemned by some invincible force of history to be in conflict and mayhem.

You still hear people say ‘Arabs think this’ or ‘the feeling in the Muslim world is that’. This is no more accurate than saying ‘the British think this’ or ‘Christians think that’. The fact is that opinion on most issues in the West is divided. There is a plethora of views. It is no different today in the Arab or Muslim world.

The true significance of the so-called Arab Spring – in reality a series of revolutions across the region – has not been properly understood in the West. Having been initially naive about the ease with which societies creaking under oppressive regimes and out of date institutions could make the transition to modernity, we’re now in danger of making the opposite mistake, believing that the instability that has followed these revolutions shows the inherent incapability of those societies to adapt and change.

What we’re actually witnessing is an agonising, immensely challenging but profound transition away from the past to the future. The regimes ultimately collapsed under the weight of their own contradictions, the biggest one being the contradiction between the need for a modern economy and well educated workforce in societies of burgeoning populations; and the reality of a system totally unsuited to such an economy and the absence of such education. Islamism often became the way that people protested against the regime under which they were groaning. When the old order passed away or came under attack, there was then a struggle between those who wanted a modern economy and society to come into being and those who wanted to turn instead to a religiously based order.

This is still the essential battle.

The lesson from Iraq or Afghanistan is that where it is possible to have a process of evolution, then that is the optimal outcome, because the instability which accompanies revolution and the ousting of the old order is so difficult to bring under control and in the disorder that follows revolution, the wrecking forces of extremism have the opportunity to get out on parade.

This is why in respect of both Libya and Syria, as I argued at the time, it would have been better, if it had been possible, to have had an agreed process of change even if it meant for a transitional period leaving the existing leadership in place as the change happened.

However where the Western debate misses the point is in thinking that the systems that have been in place or still are, were or are sustainable for the long term. In other words when people say things like – maybe it would have been better if Saddam were still governing Iraq or Gaddafi in Libya or now want us suddenly to ally ourselves with Assad because then at least we would have stability, they fail to understand one crucial point: the people living under those regimes won’t accept it. The promise of stability of such a kind is hollow. This is the significance of the revolutions. So leave aside the actual misery of the people under those Governments. What the events following 2011 show is that the choice is revolution vs evolution. The status quo is not on offer. That is where the Islamists and the liberals agree.

The problem with the modern-minded elements – if we can describe them like that – is that they are numerous but not organised; whereas the Islamists are both numerous and well organised.

The important thing now is that we recognise that this struggle is ongoing, that it is not lost, and that we should do all we can to ally ourselves with those who want to get to the future but face inordinate challenges in doing so.

This issue – so connected with the debate inside Islam – cannot in the end be won other than by Muslims. But we have both an interest in the outcome and a role in supporting those who realise that the only hope for the future lies in a world in which different faiths and cultures learn to live with each other in mutual harmony and respect.

6. East and West Should Work Together

One thing is irrefutable: this is a challenge which East and West share. The extremism and its attendant ideology have caused serious attacks and terror in both Russia and China to say nothing of course of India. So the great powers of the East, without doubt, desire the right outcome to this battle as much as us.

I completely understand the hesitation of the West at any notion of an alliance in any form with Russia. The events in Ukraine cast their long and dark shadow. For the avoidance of doubt, let me make it clear I am not suggesting that we reduce our pressure on Russia in any way in respect of Ukraine. I am not contemplating some omnibus deal in which in return for help against the forces of Islamism, we yield on the proper protection of the people of Eastern Europe.

I am making two points. The first is that the main security challenge of the 21st C remains the Islamist threat. I do not minimise the risk of a more conventional confrontation between the big powers such as we saw in the 20th C. It is possible that Russia, relinquishing the old Soviet armour, decides to wear new battle garb forged by exaggerated sentiments of nationalism and to take it to the point of all-out war. We should certainly not be complacent about the danger.

But my belief is that the 21st C will not repeat the pattern of earlier times. The stakes are too high; the lessons of history too unambiguous. I think the principal threat today will come from non-State actors or from rogue States. Look at the death and terror of the past years since 9/11, and most of it has come from these sources. Radical Islamism is the issue.

On this issue, we need the East as partners. We need them as partners for many reasons to do with effective action against the threat, to coordinate, to cooperate and to disrupt the activities of the Islamists. But we need them for another reason. As will be very obvious reading the propaganda of the extremists and those further along the spectrum, essential to the propagation of their world view is the notion that this is a fight between the culture of the West and Muslims.

We need to have it absolutely clear that this is false. It is actually a global battle between those who believe in religious tolerance and respect across boundaries of faith and culture; and those who don’t; between those who accept globalisation and those who don’t, not because globalisation produces injustice, but because it necessarily involves the mixing and mingling of people.

In making this case, it is important – I would say essential – to have East and West lined up together. India should have a central part in any such alliance of nations East and West, because of its size, its experience and its religious composition.

7. Education is a Security Issue

This is the question upon which the least is said in this whole debate, which is both perplexing and alarming. Each and every day the world over, millions, even tens of millions of young children are taught formally in school or in informal settings, a view of the world that is hostile to those of different beliefs. That world view has been promulgated, proselytised and preached as a result of vast networks of funding and organisation, some coming out of the Middle East, others now locally fostered. These are the incubators of the radicalism. In particular the export of the doctrines of Salafi Wahhabism has had a huge impact on the teaching of Islam round the world.

I am not saying that they teach youngsters to be extremists. I am sure most don’t. But they teach them to take their place on the spectrum. They teach a view of the world that warps young and unformed minds, and places them in a position of tension with those who think differently.

If we do not tackle this question with the honesty and openness it demands, then all the security measures and all the fighting will count for nothing. As I have said before, especially foolish is the idea that we leave this process of the generational deformation of the mind undisturbed, at the same time as we spend billions on security relationships to counter the very threat we allow to be created.

We need at the G20, or some other appropriate forum, as soon as we can, to raise this issue as a matter of urgent global importance and work on a common charter to be accepted by all nations, and endorsed by the UN, which makes it a common obligation to ensure that throughout our education systems, we’re committed to teaching the virtue of religious respect. This doesn’t mean an end to religious schools or that we oblige countries to teach their children that all religions are the same. Catholic schools will continue to teach their children the virtues of the Catholic faith. Muslim countries will continue to teach their children the value of being Muslim. But we should all teach that people who have a different faith are to be treated equally and respected as such. And we should take care to root out teaching that inspires hatred or hostility.

The work which my Foundation does – now in 30 different countries – shows clearly the benefits of education programmes which teach young people about ‘the other’ in ways which enhance mutual respect. There is plenty of evidence such programmes work. We just need to act on it.

This should be a common global obligation, like action to root out racism or action to protect the environment. Nations should feel the pressure to promote respect and to eradicate disrespect.

It follows from all the above that what is required is a major overhaul of policy. This should be done without recrimination or unnecessary dispute about the past. There will continue to be fierce debate about the post 9/11 decisions particularly Iraq. But the fact of the Arab revolutions since 2011 in the Middle East and North Africa and the obvious prevalence of the Islamist problem far beyond the boundaries of either Iraq or Afghanistan, mean that this issue has to be re-thought and debated anew.

Neither should anything here be taken as a criticism of the new generation of leadership in the West. On the contrary I sympathise enormously with the challenge which it is their grave responsibility to meet. This is a problem of the first magnitude. It dismayed and often disoriented those of us before them. It will continue well beyond the present leaders. Certainly we made mistakes. And for sure our understanding frequently fell short. This is the way of things when new and original threats of great significance arise. But now we need to pool our energies and focus our attention, learning from the past so as better to address the future, without a narrow or partisan political debate, without attempts to discredit or decry, but with the combined rigour of analysis and action the situation now urgently demands.

This essay originally appeared on religionandgeopolitics.org, an online resource by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation that provides detailed analysis of religion and conflict.

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Al-Shabaab is stronger a year after their horrific attack on a mall in Kenya, thriving on widespread resentment of Kenyan anti-Muslim policies which must be reformed.

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The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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