In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.
Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940)
I’m not sure I agree.
Certainly it is true that far too many people have lost far too much in the war being waged by ISIL.
The hundreds people killed in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris over the last few days, all their possible futures gone, all the people who loved them and lost them in incomprehensible circumstances, they have all lost this war.
The hundreds of thousands of people killed in Syria and Iran over the last few years have lost even more. For most of us outside the Middle East they are just numbers, so huge we cannot begin to comprehend them. Two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, half a million; the quantities become meaningless and we have lost our ability to feel anything about them. They’re not people, they’re not us, they’re not here. All those poor souls lost their humanity along with their lives.
The millions of people fleeing death and torture have lost everything but their tenuous grip on life. Homeless, stateless, traumatised, unwanted, feared, they have lost almost everything it is possible for humans to lose. Most of them will probably never get any of it back.
Those of us lucky enough to live in relative peace and safety have lost too. As terrorism reaches dark tentacles into the everyday places of our lives – concert halls, restaurants, the streets of our major cities – we lose our freedom. Not just our freedom to move unhindered around our world, we also lost our freedom from fear. War has come to us, whether we chose it or not. It’s a small thing in comparison to what others have lost, but it is something ISIL have won from us.
And they have also won from us our compassion.
ISIL’s actions have polarised our public debate, pushed their target into the crosshairs of the fearful commentariat and won the fight against acceptance. And make no mistake, ISIL’s target is not white Christians in the west, they are simply collateral damage. ISIL’s hated enemy are Muslims living in western societies, the ones who reject extremism and choose instead to sacrifice all in the search for peace. And ISIL is winning the war against them.
There were no calls to halt refugee intakes after the bombing in Beirut. No one was ramping up war rhetoric or demanding Australian Muslims denounce the terrorists who set off bombs in Baghdad. ISIL knows that, they read our newspapers, see our TV shows, they know that atrocities outside our bailiwick do not affect us.
Attacking western cities ensures the people who reject extremism cannot escape it. Syrians who want only to live peaceful lives somewhere, anywhere, will be marginalised, rejected, threatened, and, some of them, radicalised, by the reaction of the very people who claim to be the only ones truly willing to fight ISIL. Demonising the people who flee is colluding with ISIL to diminish the freedom and tolerance we tout so proudly as the difference between us and them. And in doing so, we help ISIL win their war.
If this feels like it is politicising the deaths of innocents, there’s a reason for that: their deaths were political. The slaughters in Pairs and Beirut and Bagdad were not personal, the gunmen and suicide bombers were not looking for individuals, they were committing atrocities in the name of ideology. Rejecting that ideology, and the extremism on both side of this war, is the only sane political response to deaths that were politicised before they even happened.
There is nothing we can do now for the people who died so tragically, there is no greater good, no purpose to it. It was senseless brutality for brutality’s own sake. We should cry out against it, we should cry in rage and sorrow for all that was lost. And we must give what little comfort we can to those they left behind, but we cannot allow the architects of terror to win any more from us.
We have all lost far too much to them already.