Obama, human rights and ISIS – The Socjournal


Western leaders have suddenly woken up and realised that ISIS is a regional global security threat. This realisation has also forced policy makers and security experts to abandon their orientalist monocles.

The desire to act ‘now’ by launching airstrikes on ISIS targets and by providing military and humanitarian aid to the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities raises questions about the ‘real’ motivations.

Justifications for intervention

President Obama’s reasons to intervene in Iraq, as he has said is to stop ‘these barbaric terrorists in order to protect Americans and prevent an act of genocide.’ He added, ‘the terrorists have taken over parts of Iraq and have been brutal to religious minorities, rounding up families, executing men, enslaving women, and threatening the systematic destruction of an entire religious community, which would be genocide’.

However, ISIS has been operating in Syria and Iraq for the past few years, and and along with the Assad government have carried out many massacres in Syria. According to recent media interviews the military wing of the Syrian Kurds, the Peoples Protection Units had warned the US and the UK six months ago that ISIS was planning attacks. A spokesman said, ‘no one took us seriously. But now the jihadists have advanced weapons and money, they can do what they want on their own’. This begs that question why is Obama acting militarily in Iraq and did not in Syria? Surely an earlier intervention in Syria would have been more humanitarian. It would have been a ‘game changer’ and prevented massacres in both Syria and Iraq. It also would have prevented the Syrian refugee crisis and the displacement of religious minorities in northern Iraq .

If we take a closer look at the justifications and the time frame of the intervention we see the same old storyline. Obama’s sudden leap into action is based on the realisation that the ‘ground situation’ in the areas controlled by ISIS is quickly changing. If the ‘facts on the ground’ continue to change at there current pace, then the situation will become ‘irreversible’. This would replicate the ground situation situation in the Palestinian and Israeli conflict.

ISIS is not dangerous because it carries out massacres or the potential of ‘blow-back’ but how it operates and its goal to re-establish a  expansionist Islamic state. The group has learnt from both other groups and conventional armies, as well as having the means to recruit highly educated and trained individuals in subjects such as computer science, engineering, medicine, social sciences, business, media and military strategies. ISIS has a well coordinated, resourceful and an effective military wing, as we have witnessed over the past year. It also has a business back-end that has developed and implemented a successful business-plan and a public relations strategy. This has enabled the group to recruit fighters and earn millions of dollars in oil revenue. According to media reports ISIS is earning over a million dollars everyday from oil sales.

An ISIS Islamic state would have serious territorial, economic and security consequences for global powers because the state would control not only control a vast territory but natural resources. This would result in the state becoming a major economic and political force and changing the global power dynamics.

Problems with humanitarian intervention

Humanitarian intervention is an honourable act and must be applauded but selectively choosing a conflict to intervene in based on ‘economic or religious interests’ makes a mockery of human suffering and human rights. Muslims that I have spoken to are of the opinion that global powers such as America, Britain and France use human rights not only as shield to deflect criticism but also as a disguise to preserve their own interests, as one Yemenis Muslim said to me in an interview:

‘I am sick of Americans, all they want is oil and they will do anything to get it… America ranks humans, just look at the Palestinians, they are being massacred everyday, they are living in a concentration camp, do you see the US do anything… They won’t because Palestinians do not qualify as humans for them… Did you see the West and UN do any think in Rwanda.. No, they all watched as black people butcher each other.. Look, France intervened in Mali not for the Malian people but to maintain control over Uranium…’

The continuation of selective intervention by Obama, Cameron and Hollande to maintain economic and political interests will increase the mistrust and anti-Western sentiments. Intervention in any conflict should be based on preserving human rights and preventing massacres and not an excuse to secure natural resources, as the case for the past few decades.