In the aftermath of Paris, people of good will are wrestling with perhaps the existential question of our time: can we fight our way to peace, or does the solution lie in following those greatest teachers of our time—Gandhi and King—who argued that we can never “drive out darkness with darkness in kind, but only with light”? My heart and soul want to follow those teachings and our deepest aspirations for humanity. I want to know that we can “peace” our way to a solution rather than fighting to one. But the existential question is this: can peace win in a world that does not accept peace as the goal, any more than we can win peace by declaring a war?
Even Gandhi recognized this dilemma when he realized that the world was just not as holy as he, or as he wanted it to be. He believed that Hindu and Muslim could co-exist in one nation, but for every Gandhi there were a thousand who did not share his worldview, and so Hindu and Muslim slaughtered each other, and even the physical partition of states did not stop the animus. I have no doubt that Gandhi was morally, spiritually, and philosophically right. But ultimately Gandhi won in his pursuit of dignity against the British Raj because the British had a fundamental moral compass that did not include the maiming and slaughter of non-violent innocents. ISIS has no such moral compass.
The civilized world faced this same question with Hitler and found that, when dealing with a group which has a completely different worldview, and the means to impose that worldview on others, you have to choose to either fight or let them win. The Caliphate, like Hitler, does not believe there is any natural boundary to their power or to those over whom they should exercise that power. There is no middle ground and no physical boundary within which they agree they should fall. We, like Native Americans and other indigenous groups around the world, found that appeasement does not work when the appetite of the aggressor is limitless.
This does not mean that the sole solution is to carpet bomb the territory of ISIS. There is no specific physical place in which the cancer grows. The ultimate solution must include offering alternative world views and futures to young people who currently only find a future in the apocalyptic philosophy of the Caliphate. In the long term, we can only destroy the cancer by cutting off its nutrient system. But that long-term solution is not pragmatic without some radical “surgery” as well. That surgery is to use all weapons in parallel, including warfare aimed at killing these people wherever they are. In the process we will likely even need a greater tolerance for the death of innocents amongst whom these vicious tribes embed. Most Jews, and many others, would argue that in hindsight the Allies should have bombed the Nazi concentration camps in 1942-43, even if it meant killing the innocent. The analogies to WW II are inevitable. For every rabid Nazi whose perversions could not be stopped short of death, there were 1,000 innocent Germans who suffered or died in the process of excising the rabidity. This was not “good”, but the alternatives were worse.
Groups with radically alternate worldviews have existed for millennia, but now their ability to project those alternatives onto others has dramatically increased. Two centuries ago, in order to project an alternative worldview onto others required large armies and a fleet of ships, and only a few nation-states had that ability; we call it colonialism. Now the threshold of projection is ridiculously low: a few computers, a small packet of explosives, small arms, and cell phones. And there is no question whatsoever that, unlike even the Nazis, the Caliphate would be happy to unleash weapons so destructive that even they might not survive; that is the nature of an apocalyptic vision.
Existential questions have no easy answers, and possibly no answers at all. I don’t see this question playing out in less than a century-long time frame. The world has changed for “us” just as it did for Native Americans when the first Europeans showed up on their shores.