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Britain Mulls Military Action in Syria

  • Henry Ridgwell

After the recent Islamic State-inspired attack in Tunisia that killed 38 people – 30 of them British – the U.K. is debating how to tackle the terror group, also know as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Prime Minister David Cameron has announced new policies aimed at cracking down on propaganda and preventing nationals from travelling to join the group.

Filmed in high quality and overlaid with IS slogans and excerpts from the Quran, a recent video purportedly shows the brutal execution of Syrian soldiers against the backdrop of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. The video was widely circulated on social media – and it is this type of propaganda that British Prime Minister David Cameron said must be tackled in a speech Monday.

"We are going to introduce new narrowly-targeted powers to enable us to deal with these facilitators and cult leaders and to stop them peddling their hatred," he said.

Cerie Bullivant, spokesperson for the lobby group CAGE, said Cameron was targeting the whole Muslim community.

“He’s come out with a strong ‘us and them’ narrative, and he’s trying to divide and separate. He doesn’t want a debate, he wants to silence dissent,” he said.

Groups working to tackle extremism broadly welcomed the policies. But Afzal Ashraf of the Royal United Services Institute questioned whether the new policies would tackle the primary narrative that drives IS recruitment.

“The one thing that’s missing from this whole approach to radicalization and extremism is the point that what radicalizes people more than anything else is this concept of success,” he said.

Ashraf said the capture by IS of swathes of Iraqi territory a year ago continued to feed that narrative - and their progress must be checked.

“And really the primary way of doing that is through confronting them on the battlefield,” he said.

Speaking in parliament, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said it was time for Britain to debate action against IS in Syria – but ruled out troops on the ground.

“But we are also clear that any action we take must not provide any successor to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad or Assad's regime,” he said.

The West must not be afraid to prioritize, said Ashraf. “The Assad issue has to be a lower priority than Daesh (IS). Until you get that, I’m afraid we are going to be looking forward to many more decades of this conflict spreading.”

The United States is leading coalition air strikes against IS militants. David Cameron wants to extend Britain’s contribution to the mission beyond Iraq into Syria – but is seeking parliamentary consensus – something that could take months.

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