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It’s time to use our imagination in the war against terror.
The recent horrors in Paris command us to think out of the box. So here’s a modest proposal: a Foreign Legion of Muslim troops from Western countries.
You will hear — indeed, will need to hear — a lot of uncomfortable ideas as incidents like those in Paris multiply. We stand paralyzed between doing barely enough (Obama) and doing too much (Bush) and we need efficacious fresh initiatives within our narrow real-world options. Consider what France’s outgoing anti-terror magistrate, Marc Trevidic, said in Paris Match: “Our darkest days are ahead of us. The real war [ISIL] intends to wage on our soil has not yet begun.” Now think again with an open mind.
Since ISIL persists in uniting ethnically diverse Muslims to wage war, not least to drive a bloody wedge between Muslim immigrants and their host countries — why not turn the tables? Create a Muslim military corps of immigrant volunteers with the values of their Western countries to take on ISIL.
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Such a force would confront ISIL with its own methods, allow Muslims to fight for their new values, generate an anti-jihadi jihad, unite Shiite and Sunni under a common cause bonded by democratic principles, and give such people the chance to dispel the shadow of disloyalty by serving their country of choice. That they’ve chosen a preferred geographical soil should also mean that they’ve opted for the values therein. If their lands of origin failed to bond them and disarm their sectarian enmities, this is their chance. Why have they come if not to rise above the those things that forced them to come? And if they wish for their new haven to stay strong and stable, to remain a haven, they should be given the option to defend it. Not to mention the option to spread the principles that make it a haven back to their own lands of origin.
Let us swiftly address the reflex objections that may cast immediate doubts over the idea.
1. Wasn’t this what the U.S. tried, in vain, to do by arming the “moderate” opposition to Assad? No, not exactly. Here we are talking about, say, Frenchmen from immigrant families willing to fight — in Muslim lands abroad — those who threaten France. If they cannot be trusted to keep from handing over their weapons to ISIL once they hit the ground, they shouldn’t be living in France in the first place.
2. Isn’t this spreading of freedom by force precisely what we disastrously attempted in Iraq? Yes, but there’s a huge difference. The toppling of Saddam was followed by an occupation of foreign troops. That, to many people, constituted a “Crusade.” Enough said. But whatever your concerns, think hard and make sure that they’re not based on your doubts about the fundamental loyalties or moderation of such a military force. If so, you should face the implications. Either you are a racist, or they shouldn’t be living in France.
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Many commentators have noted that the spike in unfettered allied bombing of Syrian cities and renewed hostility toward Arabs in our midst is exactly what Al Qaeda and now ISIL wanted to achieve. It would confound their plans if a volunteer Muslim army from our countries chose to pick up their gauntlet. Furthermore, such an army would finally create the kind of space to which they would want to return and live with their families. That gives them an added incentive, one missing from any occupation composed of “foreign” troops.
We keep hearing that nobody chooses to leave their homeland if not for terrible pressures. Given the slightest chance of decent conditions, they would go back. Here then is that chance for them to create those conditions.
If it’s not too “racist” to say so, it would also allay the fears of many Europeans about their societies’ ability to absorb so many migrants — fears that have terrified the bien pensant by boosting support for right-wing political parties. Give those migrants a (fighting) chance to go back. And as a bonus, make the countries that largely sponsor radical Islam — such as Saudi Arabia — pay for the initiative. Here is their chance to demonstrate their good faith to the world, to undo the chaos they’ve wrought or be exposed as charlatans.
Finally, perhaps the biggest bonus of all: We would no longer depend on Vladimir Putin to do our dirty work for us.
Melik Kaylan, an Anglo-Turk, is a foreign affairs columnist for Forbes.com and co-author of “The Russia-China Axis: The New Cold War” (Encounter Books, 2014).
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