The murder of thirty British tourists in Tunisia was what it took to whip the British government into a hysteria and put bombing ISIS in Syria back on the table. But we must be extremely cautious of knee-jerk over-reactions becoming official government policy, because not only will this kind of behaviour totally fail to prevent more killing, it would most likely make the situations far, far worse.
The government’s first hysterical pronouncement was to slap Tunisia with its highest possible travel alert warning, evacuation every British person not nailed down from the country, cancelling all tourism and decimating the fledgling democracy’s tourist industry in one fell swoop. This is an unmitigated disaster for Tunisia, where tourism accounts for 14.5% of the country’s GDP. A loss of GDP will almost certainly raise poverty levels and stir instability in the only success story of the Arab Spring, increasing the likelihood of further attacks. Surely this is exactly what the terrorists wanted? This travel ban is in spite of the fact that large scale security had been deployed to Tunisia’s tourist destinations, with tourists reporting feeling extremely secure surrounded by armed patrols. Tourists in Tunisia, whose holidays were cut short by this travel warning when they were begrudgingly ferried home by tour companies, expressed dismay at the decision.
Worse still, is the suggestion that we should start bombing ISIS in Syria. It is unclear exactly how the UK government thinks bombing militants in Syria will prevent lone-ranger gun attacks thousands of miles away in a totally different part of the world. It seems fairly obvious from looking at recent history that fighting Islamic extremists militarily encourages them to attack more ferociously than before. While the situation is certainly complicated and involves a large number of contributing factors, it is undeniable that Western interventionism in the Islamic world, particularly Iraq, has massively enabled the spread of ISIS and emboldened its supporters with opportunity, hatred and zeal. Lone ranger terrorist attacks like the one in Tunisia, or the killing of soldier Lee Rigby in London, are inspired by terrorist groups, but they are not orchestrated by them. Attacking ISIS in Syria will do nothing to prevent these lone attackers.
It is a galling situation to witness such horrific actions taking place and stand by while doing very little, but there is an unfortunate truth to the situation that permeated the Iraq War disaster and must teach us a valuable lesson when viewing the Syria/Iraq conflict from afar; sometimes there is very little we can do to improve a situation, and a lot we can do to make it far, far worse. Politicians are answerable to the public, and sometimes the hardest political reality is that cries of ‘something must be done’ should be followed by ‘…but what?’ The lesson from Iraq was that just because bad things are happening does not mean that we can make them better, a stable state headed by a horrible man has been transformed into a diabolical warzone and humanitarian disaster, and there were far worse tyrants waiting around the corner for the opportunity to take his place. With so much blame apportioned to ISIS for the Tunisia gun attack, we must also admit that the destabilising of Libya through unwise military action and non-existent post-conflict support is the single biggest contributor to Tunisia’s terrorist threat. It would be prudent for the British government to take note; we should support those countries like Tunisia that are taking the first steps into the secular, democratic world, but in places where horrors abound, sometimes we can only ever make things worse.