Was Islamic State really a “threat to all humanity”?

How dangerous do you think terrorism is? How often do you think about it? Do you worry about attacks where you live? Have you witnessed an attack or, heaven forbid, been the victim of one?

The answer you provide will depend crucially on where you live. If you are a citizen of many parts of Afghanistan or Iraq or Somalia or even the northern stretches of Nigeria you may very well say that terrorism is a real concern and that you have seen its ravages first hand. If, however, you are Canadian or American say, the chances are you have not seen it up close up. although you may still worry about it. I have found that many accord terrorism much more importance than it deserves and believe it occurs much more frequently than it really does.

In any event, regardless of your response, how would you rank terrorism on the list of ‘threats to humanity’? High? Lower? Somewhere in the middle?

How about “a threat to all humanity”?

That is what the Prime Minister of the Kurdish region of Iraq wrote in a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post. Here is a series of excerpts:

  • After 16 years of upheaval in Iraq and five brutal years of war with the Islamic State terrorist group, a foe that imperiled all of humanity (NB emphasis added), we are embarking on a new journey toward building a stronger Kurdistan… The fight against the Islamic State, which we helped lead on behalf of the global community… ┬áSince the Islamic State took over much of western Iraq and eastern Syria in mid-2014, we have shown that our fight against the terrorists was as much about protecting our allies as it was about safeguarding ourselves… We have provided intelligence that has foiled terrorist attacks abroad.”

There should be no doubt that the Kurds suffered disproportionately from IS and other Islamist extremist groups. And, if you read the news coming out of the region on a regular basis, you will also know that IS, which was never ‘defeated’ despite claims to the contrary by many, is still planning and executing attacks against the Kurds and others. On top of that they have to worry about possible Turkish military incursions. So yes Kurdish territory is a dangerous place at times.

There should be equally no doubt that the Kurds carried out their fair share of counter terrorist operations against IS and their allies. The Kurds are also holding large numbers of captured Western and non-Western ‘foreign fighters’ and have no ways of prosecuting or incarcerating them, leading to appeals to many nations to take back their citizens. Canada, like many other countries, is dragging its feet on these requests for many reasons, some of which I have argued are legitimate.

So the Kurds have clearly had much experience with IS et al and should be thanked for what they did on our collective behalf. But did they fight a “foe that imperiled all of humanity” as Masrour Barzani claimed in his Post piece?

Not really.

While IS did pose a serious threat to the lands where it set up its self-styled ‘Caliphate’ even there it did not pose an existential one. And the countries around the world where its legions or those inspired by the group have carried out attacks have also not been threatened that much to warrant the moniker ‘foe to imperil all humanity’. These terrorists must be stopped of course before they strike but they are an irritant at best. We really should not embellish their acts or their importance.

In the end I can understand the motives behind Mr. Barzani’s rhetoric and I can feel for the Kurdish people, sometimes described as the largest nation without a national territory, but I cannot agree with his statement. I think we have to stop painting terrorism and terrorists as bigger menaces than they are.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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