Almost half of Syria’s population now requires humanitarian assistance of some kind. Almost three million people have fled Syria, with Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey dealing with increasing numbers of refugees.
Both the Assad government and Daesh (ISIS) in eastern Syria have suffered sporadic defeats. Daesh has come under pressure from other fighters and the US led airstrikes. On Monday 16 February the Egyptian airforce began air strikes against Daesh strongholds in Libya, after the group made a gruesome show of their strength in the country, filming the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christian migrant workers.
Despite the victory of the Kurdish forces in Kobane, and continuing air strikes, Daesh fighters are leading successful actions. For the first time in weeks they have gained a town in Iraq, Al-Baghdad. They made a suicide attack on al-Assad air base, where US and coalition troops are supervising training of Iraqi armed forces.
The Baghdad government is even more fragile; the majority Sunni parties threatened to leave to coalition government following the death of a prominent tribal leader Sheikh Qaeda Swetiana al-Jania. Along with his son and entourage he was ambushed by Shiah militias in a mixed area just outside of Baghdad. Many of these militias still enjoy some degree of government patronage.
The government continues to ignore the humanitarian crisis, preferring to focus (ineffectually) on “deracialising” British youth and stopping them from joining the conflict in Syria, involving themselves with Danes and other Islamist fighters. £40 million a year is spent on the “Prevent” programme which targets 14 specific areas. Data obtained by the Guardian show the targets now include Brighton, Coventry, Portsmouth, Burnley, Calderdale, Southwark and Crawley.
It is estimated over 600 people have gone to Syria to fight, though it is not known how many joined Daesh. It is worth emphasising that most are now returning.
There have been many criticisms of the Home Office “Prevent” strategy. The most common has been that its focus — on stopping the promotion of violence — has meant that radical Islamist and salafist groups who share much of the ideology of Daesh, but are against the strategy of war and territorial expansion, can still engage with Prevent.
The Home Office decided to revise “Prevent” in 2011, they say “to ensure it challenges terrorist ideology, supports people who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and works with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation. Since then we have seen the terror threat level raised to severe and an increase in police arrests linked to terrorist activity in Syria”.
Bland “anti-terrorist” propaganda and increased police powers are not the answer!
However undermining recruitment to extreme Islamism is vital. The grip of these ideas on some young people highlights the weakness of the labour and socialist movements in many communities. The left can rightly criticise “Prevent” and proposals such as that remove citizenship from fighters returning from Syria. But a better alternative must be posed.
Islamist ideology should be tackled head on, engaging people in basic socialist ideas, opposing root-and-branch the reactionary nature of Islamist ideology and building support for equality, humanity and real democracy. That is what the entire left should now be doing.