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Islamic State: the complexities of military action

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The extremist attack in Tunisia last month has expanded the debate over Britain’s approach to Islamic State. Military action has again been raised as a solution, but we must remember how complex this issue is and what our limits are.

The first thing to bear in mind is that this issue is not at all straightforward. Terrorism is so difficult to deal with because it is so difficult to categorise. It is defined as violence with a political motive, but what exactly is a political motive? Does it always involve violence? What makes a jihadist kidnapper different from a kidnapper and what makes a neo-Nazi murderer different from a murderer? The problem is that terrorism is so focused on ideas and perception that there is no straightforward solution to it.

The easy thing to forget is that Britain is no stranger to dealing with terrorism. What is new to us is that we are under threat for a reason that is not entirely clear. Everyone in the UK knew what the IRA was and what it wanted. Its aim was clear to see and it was not too unforeseeable or unreasonable a goal. This is not necessarily the case with Islamic State. Granted, its name tells us what its ultimate aim is, but what exactly this entails is a mystery, probably even to its fighters. This demonstrates the complexity of what we are dealing with, we cannot hope to destroy something we do not fully understand.

The point I have been making leads to my ultimately disappointing conclusion. There is no simple solution for this problem. The first thought that occurs is a military response, but not only is this is a highly divisive and dangerous tactic, there is no guarantee that it will actually work. It will cause tension between many nations, endanger civilians and there is no credible plan behind it. Should we support Assad in Syria, a man we have decried for his human rights abuses? Should we continue our failed mission to rebuild Iraq? If it could be destroyed in the Middle East, will it prevent the radicalisation of young Muslims in Europe? There is always something that can be done, but the UK must accept that part of the responsibility of being powerful is to acknowledge your limits.