I agree with the widespread condemnation of Islamist theocrats like ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State. After their recent beheadings of journalists, along with murdering thousands of innocent people, trashing antiquities and treating women like chattel, what civilized person wouldn't oppose them?
But I cannot imagine our Internet-addicted instant gratification society, with its near-zero tolerance for the harsh realities of warfare, being patient enough for the US and a new coalition of the willing to really do the job.
Theocrats don't quit easily. The Spanish Inquisition lasted some 400 years. It officially ended only in the 1830s. Did you know it was that recent? Thousands were burned at the stake for various alleged heresies. Millions lived in mortal -- and eternal -- fear of the whims of often-corrupt men in robes and odd hats who had enough influence to command armies of conquest along with their personal goon squads of faith enforcers. What did it take to stop the radical Christianists from using religion as a weapon? It took the French Revolution, Napoleon's conquests, the Age of Enlightenment and finally a new monarch in Spain to finally put the Inquisitors out of the execution business.
Even with all that, it still took the crafting of the US Constitution to introduce the world to a peaceful form of civil law strong enough to protect and support the tolerance necessary for religious freedom to exist. Only when the colonies were free did the idea of a state religion finally get shoved out of mainstream Western thinking. And yet, to this day, we still have blatantly religious "blue laws" on the books in many states. But hey, at least we don't chop people's heads off for selling beer on a Sunday.
But so many of the agitated, conflicted and brutalized nations of the Middle East and Africa have no strong and proud history of democracy. And worse, there is no clear public demand for such. And even less demand for separations between mosque and state. So why do we think a few dozen, or even a few hundred airstrikes, will stop the Islamic theocrats? They've had several Napoleons (dictator generals) far nastier than Obama will ever be who tried to replace Islamic brutality with secular authortarian rule. But those dictators who sorta kinda let some of their people enjoy certain aspects of "Westernized" life are mostly gone. Unlike the successful toppling of monarchies in Europe, the kingdoms of the Middle East remain very much in power. And worse, the only forces posing any threat of replacing the vile and corrupt monarchist-dictators are even nastier theocrats.
So I think the world will be stuck with an Islamic-flavored inquisition continuing in at least a half-dozen nations and making life miserable for millions of people for years to come. We "degraded" al-Qaeda, and got ISIS. We will degrade ISIS, and some other jihadist group will take their place. This will continue until the imams and the politicians over there finally stop preaching and promoting jihad, which means it will take a movement of the people to reject the concept. But when will the Muslim world finally go through the deep anti-monarch, anti-theocratic revolution that was needed to defang Europe's church-monarchist oppression industry? Will it happen in our lifetimes? What makes you think that?
So yes, let's drop some bombs on ISIS, al-Shebab, and Boko Haram. They are genuinely evil organizations that must be stomped like the disease-infested vermin they are. But just remember, regardless of their claims of reestablishing a "caliphate," they're still the little bullies. The far bigger problems are the princes of Saudi Arabia, Iran's ayatollahs and the weird situation happening in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where crossing blasphemy laws can get you killed and even talking about reforming them can get you arrested. All of these full-blown nations use well-armed police and deeply entrenched court systems to enforce religious laws at gunpoint. They behead people. They whip people. They deny women so many rights so callously that Ray Rice would fit in just fine over there. Religious tolerance does not exist in those places -- and it stays that way because the people themselves are not willing to do what it takes to make the change. Far, far too many regular people still believe in the codified cruelty of Islamic "law."
Believers in democracy fight violent theocracy because that's the right thing to do. Freedom is a better path. But we won't win until the masses of people in those countries support an ethos of religious tolerance and commit to seeking a free society that actually has real political choices, real economic opportunities and improving day-to-day quality of life. Air strikes won't bring that great day to the Middle East.
And it's very hard to imagine when that day might come. Unlike the optimistic days of the US and French revolutions, the notions of Liberty and Equality aren't all that enticing in current times. It is hard for the oppressed of the world to see the current American way as an ideal path for others to choose. Racism, sexism and all the other "isms" seem to be thriving here. Violence remains higher here than almost any other nation not embroiled in civil war. The middle class American dream seems less achievable by the day. And with the shameless exploitation by the wealthy business class happening here, we might as well be a monarchy for all the good our democratic institutions are doing these days.
So as we voice outrage over police abusing their power in Ferguson, as we wring our hands over the lousy millionaire role models of the NFL and the racist billionaires who own NBA franchises, and all the rest, we need to realize how bad this looks to outsiders. Look how easy it has become to think we couldn't care less about the people being crushed by the imams and sheiks. After all, if democracy is all that, why do so many Americans not even bother to vote?