ISIS: damned if we do, damned if we don’t?

Sunday 19 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Hammerson Room, Barbican Special topical sessions

This session is part of a special series of informal conversations between Battle of Ideas speakers on topics in the news, programmed in the days leading up to the festival to ensure they are as topical as possible. All Hot Off the Press sessions are free and open to non ticket holders.

On the 26 September, Parliament voted overwhelmingly in support of the UK joining the US and other allies, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan, in carrying out air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) targets in Iraq. David Cameron has described ISIS as ‘a clear danger to Europe and our security’, and ISIS militants now have a large presence throughout northern Iraq and northern Syria, with the expressed aim of creating an Islamic Caliphate in the region. Superficially at least, ISIS appears to be a formidable foe when compared to similar Islamic extremist organisations: they have huge financial support, professional soldiers, the machinery of a modern standing army, not to mention the ability to recruit Westerners to fight for their cause. But what has led many to the emergence of such a deadly group, so quickly, and with such force?

Over the past few months, ISIS has kidnapped and beheaded Westerners as part of a sophisticated propaganda campaign, including American journalist James Foley, British aid worker David Haines, and most recently, another aid worker, Alan Henning. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Kurds and Iraqis have been displaced as a result of the violence, and supporters of intervention have claimed that the West is right to intervene to prevent more killing.

President Obama recently admitted that the campaign against ISIS could take years, leading many observers to question whether we risk involving ourselves in yet another bloody, protracted and ultimately unsuccessful Middle East campaign. Added to this, the ongoing conflict in Syria further complicates matters, and the scars of the recent Western invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq make some question whether more Western involvement in the area is really what is needed.

So, how should we view ISIS? Is it really a threat to the UK, or is it just a regional problem? Are we right to tackle ISIS militarily, or does this action risk making things worse, further undermining Western credibility in the region? Can we say that the emergence of ISIS as a potent terrorist force is an indictment of previous intervention in the region, or is that too simplistic, ignoring the deeper, complex issues that are at play? And what should we make of the regional players - Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular: should more be done to build cooperation between them, even if that means building uncomfortable alliances for the sake of the greater good? Ultimately, just how do we stop the march of ISIS?

Listen to the debate:

Dr Vanessa Pupavac
associate professor; co-director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, University of Nottingham

Karl Sharro
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture

Nadim Shehadi
associate fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House

Anwar Oduro-Kwarteng
promotions manager, Academy of Ideas; writer on politics and ideology

Produced by
Anwar Oduro-Kwarteng promotions manager, Academy of Ideas; writer on politics and ideology

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