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‘Who watches the watchers?’ – responding to ISIS

  • November 16th, 2014

TV 3’s The Nation  on 15 and 16 November screened significant interviews, with the PM,  Att. Gen Chris Finlayson, and defense expert Dr David Kilcullen.  As a panellist I wanted to ask supplementary questions more than to comment despite perceptive interviewing from Paddy Gower and Lisa Owen. Each interview could have prompted an entire hour’s discussion.

Serious people will want more on Kilcullen’s repeated references to steps needed instead of the containment  policy implicit in the western ‘no boots on the ground’ policy that depends on drones and air support for Kurds. John Key was asked about the ‘green on blue’ attack risk while we train the local fighters our strategy will depend on, but did not pretend there were as many answers as there are questions.

Some of  Kilcullen’s explanations are here, in the Australian of 1 November.

“This conflict will not be over quickly or cleanly. On the contrary: it is, and will be, a multi-generational struggle against an implacable enemy, and the violence we’re dealing with in the Middle East and Africa is not some unfortunate aberration — it’s the new normal.”

Kilcullen highlights the risks from our internal responses (if the West fails to destroy the caliphate’s appeal to its own citizens):

“…if we fail to face the threat where it is today — primarily overseas — we’ll suffer the consequences at home. This isn’t to rehash some Cold War domino theory in which we “fight them there or we’ll fight them here”. It’s just to recognise the reality that a purely isolationist, defensive, policing strategy — protecting ourselves at home rather than seeking to defeat terrorism abroad — ultimately means the end of society as we know it. Mass surveillance, secret police, a national-security state, guards on every gate, a garrison society: that’s what a “defensive” strategy actually entails.”

He seems to be warning against the current mealy-mouthed approach to Islam within our countries, pretending that the conservative Islamic leaders, their schools and their doctrine are part of the solution, instead of recognising that they are fuel for the problem:

Western governments have been their own worst enemies here: the tendency to treat Muslim communities as a special case, to think that “mainstream” society can deal with “the Muslim community” (whatever that is) only through self-appointed, often conservative, authoritarian elders and notables, is to deny people the individual freedoms that belong to them, by right, as members of our society while absolving them from the responsibilities that go with those freedoms.

It’s to set up an unelected, often illiberal intermediary between our wider society and the idealistic, motivated young people who deserve — and from whom society has a right to expect— the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else. So the right strategy for dealing with 11/3/2014 The West’s failed counter-terrorism strategy requires a complete rethink domestic radicalisation is more freedom, not less — but with it must come more individual accountability.

We badly need more discussion of this, facing up to the lie that Islam is a religion of peace. It is no more peaceful than the religion that drove the Crusaders. The Protestant division between church and state,  and secularisation after the Enlightenment defeated the Popes, has eventually leached out that religious power in most of the West.

There has been no Islamic equivalent. I want to know how Dr Kilcullen would foster a similar change among the young people of pious Islam. It has a closed culture and kills apostates precisely to avoid that risk.


  • Brendan
  • November 16th, 2014
  • 10:27 pm


I’m thankful that main stream New Zealand, and the West in general is beginning to realize that ‘nothing to do with Islam’ when spoken by a politician usually means precisely the opposite.

Islam is Islam, no more no less.

Muslims engage with their faith across a broad spectrum, from nominalism at one end, to fanaticism at the other.

ISIS may not be the only expression of Islam, but it is one legitimate expression. The prophet Mohammad waged war against infidels, slaughtered prisoners, and took sex slaves from their wives and children. You would be hard pressed to find any difference between ISIS and his personal example.

What’s more, all of ISIS actions can be supported from the Koran and other Islamic scriptures. Far from misunderstanding their religion, they are taking their scriptures literally.

You say: “We badly need more discussion of this, facing up to the lie that Islam is a religion of peace.” I have been calling for such a discussion for some time, and now that higher profile personalities like yourself are on board, it may just happen.

We will ultimately require a grim and determined response to Islam both at home and abroad.

The question remains, are we up for it?

  • Mike
  • November 17th, 2014
  • 11:56 am

I tend to think that you need to address it as you would a dangerous epidemic – quarantine. Western countries should go back to the common sense approach of restricting entry to those who come from a culturally compatible background.


[…] A few days ago ex-MP Stephen Franks - whom I admire as one of the few political philosophers in this country, in the tradition of Simon Upton- wrote a piece on Islam. […]

  • mark taslov
  • November 29th, 2014
  • 8:27 am

Hey Stephen, get informed, if you can, only 20% of the world’s Muslims live in the middle east. most Muslims (one billion) live in Asia. Your narrative citing Islam as ‘the threat’ is profoundly unconvincing.

  • Garry
  • October 19th, 2015
  • 10:47 pm

Stephen is actually sekpaing sense.Character is what counts not policies.if a pollie is a flip flop than whatever he presents as policy won’t necessarily be that.Howeverif he has character you can have more assurance that what he presents will happen.That of course works against Mr (flip flop) John Key.maybe Stephen is the man to keep him on the straight and narrow.Only time will tell.and by then it may be too late.history counts for a lot you see.if you are prepared to actually look at and ACT on it.MikeNZ


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