The ISIS Conundrum

I’m a problem solver who studied defeating insurgencies. I’m at a loss. This is a low.

Do you feel exhausted? I do. I’m not talking about running a new personal best, or burning the candle at both ends. I’m referring to the mental fatigue of the onslaught of news this year.

2016 opened with a slew of celebrity deaths. If we knew what else it had in store, I’m sure we would have appreciated this warm-up to the main event, but instead, we were all stunned by the wave of high profile deaths. As beloved celebrities slipped away, we felt not only the sting of loss as an uninformed public, but also the whack of volume. So many people were dropping dead. Awful.

Speckled amongst this, we watched in horror as accounts and videos of police brutality in the USA populated our newsfeeds, Syrian refugees faced persecution and aggression throughout Europe as they desperately tried to flee the situation in their homeland, support for the far-right seemed to gain momentum across the board and terrorist attacks continued, with the horrendous lack of bias which shocks to the bone.

Then Brexit happened. Given that the Leave campaign had been (from what I could see) conducted with nothing more than thinly-veiled xenophobia, wild right-wing claims and lies, the Leave vote felt unreal to me. As we woke up to the news that the British majority had voted to fracture the EU and leave, many of us felt a complete abstraction from the fact — this couldn’t be happening, could it? Not after Jo Cox’s murder? Not after Nigel Farage even being associated with the Leave campaign? How?! Certainly, the digital echo chamber I had unwittingly found myself in meant this felt like an incomprehensible blow. No one I knew wanted this. Terrifyingly, I felt for the first time a deep, irrational resentment — I’d been sold out by the working class, the uneducated, the elderly. Whilst I had enough rationale left (just) to realise these feelings of anger were misdirected, I was surprised that I had to even talk myself down. If I felt this, someone who at least attempts to understand all sides of an argument and not point blame in the wrong places, how must other people be feeling? The British population became at best fractured, at worst broken, along political, national, generational and class lines.

With near-pantomime tumbling and scuttling, we then sat back and watched the British Government scramble and stumble with the grace of a new born fawn on an icy lake. David Cameron peaced out, and the Leave camp vanished like candy floss in water. What government remained seemed to blink blankly at each other, waiting for someone to take the lead. An unelected Prime Minister May stood up and appointed an unelected Cabinet around her. All the while, the British public cried out for a second referendum, protested, rallied and eventually tired and paused, realising the next step was out of our hands.

But you know what? Even during all of this, I felt passion. I felt scared, sure, but I felt my heart beat with fury. I like to solve problems and in the midst of all this chaos, I sought out pathways of resolution in my mind — would a united Ireland solve this? Could Theresa May stop Brexit? Should I get my Irish passport? Could the United Kingdom be saved? Although I didn’t find any solutions, I didn’t stop hungrily searching for them.


But…Something else is quelling my will to fight. Something else is dangerously close to scaring me into inaction.

I am tired now, truly and thoroughly, of the constant stream of ISIS attacks. I am afraid to read the news and yet, I can’t tear my eyes away. Day after day, when random terrorist attacks prey on and murder innocent non-combatants, I feel more and more scared. I can’t figure out a solution and I desperately want to.

What’s Wrong Now

  1. There’s no leadership.

There’s no political or national leader or group taking any visible lead or action, except condemnation. We cannot allow this to continue, and yet, all I see is desperately unorganised governments.

2. The wrong actions are being taken.

Anti-refugee sentiments are rising. Even when the refugee crisis was breaking, I wondered why governments were dealing with the effects, but not the cause. “How will we cope with all these refugees?” is a valid question, but what were they going to do about the reason why these poor people were fleeing their homeland?

3. There’s no clear enemy.

Traditionally, we are used to war against a clear enemy — a nation, usually. This is not a war against a nation. This is also not a war against a religion. This is a war against disenfranchised, radicalised fanatics, who have nothing to lose. Despite being poorly run on the ground, ISIS are playing the social media game with superb aplomb, appealing to other disenfranchised, unhappy vulnerable people across the world.

4. Media Frenzies Encourage More Attacks.

It’s no surprise that we’re seeing a wave of attacks. As is the case with shootings, these lone actors often are obsessed with other attacks and the press the perpetrator receives. It’s been forwarded by several institutes in the US that the media’s method of reporting these attacks should be changed, focusing on the details or the victims, rather than the attackers. The spotlight attention is exactly what these people want.

Why I can’t see a solution

1. A Traditional Military Response is Invalid

Why can’t we “bomb the shit out of them?” Why can’t we send in the army and destroy ISIS on the ground? The problem is a traditional response would be considered in accordance with the Just War Theory. These “rules” essentially outline the pathways to war, where it can be accepted. In this case, proportionality is questionable, as is the element of the appropriate enemy — we are not fighting a nation, or indeed, a fixed locale. If the West were to take action against ISIS, it would presumably happen in geographical boundaries, and we’ve already seen that they spill over these. Destroying the heart, if we assume that is in Syria, or in a fixed base somewhere, will not necessarily stop these other speckled attacks we’re seeing across the globe. (also see point 3)

2. Doing Nothing is Wrong

Sitting back and letting this happen is wrong. No living creature can continue to endure attack after attack, before eventually snapping. If we snap and unleash a disproportionately heavy-handed response, we lose. If we sit and accept these attacks, our populace become scared, angry and withered in morale. Currently, this is what we’re doing, and it’s clear the public’s ability to rally themselves after each attack is beginning to deplete dramatically.

3. Fighting a Radicalised Enemy is Nearly Impossible

There’s no state to fight. There’s an ideology. We are being attacked because whether we like it or not, we are considered a threat, an enemy. We are the giant in this David and Goliath battle. This means that not only do ISIS see themselves as an underdog, but also that any action from us will only serve to further their concept of us as the huge, heavy-handed villain. If they defeat us, they win. If we fight back and hurt them, we are doing what they want us to do. They already are prepared to die for the cause. We hurt ourselves by hurting them in traditionally violent ways as we only serve to further their ideology where we’re the baddies, make martyrs out of the dead and radicalise new recruits.

4. Terrorism Used to be About Hearts and Minds — but ISIS has Isolated Their Own People

In the past, guerrilla insurgents and terrorists were defeated, in large part, by winning over the hearts and minds of the local people. In this instance, ISIS have not only already isolated their native people (in a national sense, if not ideological) but also driven them from the country. There’s no one left to win over.


I like to solve puzzles. Even with difficult ones, I enjoy pushing myself with the clichéd “Cmon, Cat, think outside the box. There’s always a solution.”

Guys, this time, I’m struggling. I’m tired of these attacks, I’m tired of seeing countries’ morale being eroded away, and more than anything, I’m tired of seeing innocent people being mown down by senseless violence. I don’t know how to stop it, and that scares me. Are they winning? Right now, it feels like they are winning, and I’m really, really tired.