Remarks by Lord Alton of Liverpool at a Memorial Service for Dr. Helmy Guirguis at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, 6.30 pm, March 3rd 2015.
In 1997, when I was raised to the Peerage as a Baron, and entered the House of Lords, one of my young children asked me "Dad, does it mean we get a castle?".
The failed state of Libya has become easy prey for ISIS. The terrorist organization has announced that it is planning to use Libya as a gateway to Europe.
From Sabratha and Sirte, ISIS is able to launch attacks on Italy and Malta.
In his much talked about article, “What ISIS Really Wants” in the March issue of The Atlantic, Graeme Wood punctures Western fantasies that the Islamic State is made of psychopathic discontents, or, in President Obama’s estimation, al Qaeda’s “JV team.”
One day, historians will have their hands full debating the causes of the chaos now overtaking much of the Middle East. To what extent, they will ask, was it the inevitable result of deep flaws common to many of the region's societies and political systems, and to what extent did it stem from what outside countries chose to do (or not to do)?
But it is we who must deal with the reality and consequences of the region's current disorder. However we got to where we are in the Middle East, we are where we are, and where we are is a very bad place to be.
The stakes – human, economic, and strategic – are enormous. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives; millions have been rendered homeless. Oil prices are low, but they will not remain so if Saudi Arabia experiences terrorist strikes or instability. The threat to the region is large and growing, and it menaces people everywhere, as extremist fighters return home and still others who never left are inspired to do terrible things. Indeed, though the Middle East is facing an abundance of challenges to its stability, none is as large, dangerous, and immediate as the Islamic State.
Those who object to calling the Islamic State a state have a point. In many ways, IS is a hybrid: part movement, part network, and part organization. Nor is it defined by geography. But it does control territory, boasts some 20,000 fighters, and, fueled by religious ideology, has an agenda.
Ultimately, of course, deciding whether to call what has emerged “ISIS" or “ISIL" or the “Islamic State" matters much less than deciding how to take it on. Any strategy must be realistic. Eliminating IS is not achievable in the foreseeable future; but weakening it is.
A strategy must also be comprehensive. First, the flow of money to the Islamic State must be reduced. Lower oil prices help, and there are only so many banks to rob. But extortion continues, as does financial support from individuals. Such flows should be shut down both by governments and financial institutions.
Curtailing the flow of recruits is even more essential. Countries can do more to make it difficult for individuals to leave for Iraq or Syria; a Europe-wide watch list, for example, would help. But nothing would have a greater impact than Turkey deciding that it will no longer allow itself to be a conduit, and that it will enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178, which calls for stronger international cooperation against terrorism.
Another component of any strategy must be to counter IS's appeal and propaganda. This means publicizing the misery it has caused to those living under its rule. It also means persuading Muslim religious leaders and scholars to make the case that IS's behavior is illegitimate from the standpoint of Islam.
Of course, any strategy must challenge IS directly in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, there is some evidence that its momentum has been halted; but the growing role of Iran and the Shia militias it backs all but guarantees that many Iraqi Sunnis will come to sympathize with or even support the Islamic State, whatever their misgivings. This is why outsiders should place greater emphasis on providing military and political support to Kurdish forces and Sunni tribes.
Syria is a far more difficult case, given its civil war and the competition among outsiders for influence. Attacks from the air on IS forces are necessary but insufficient. Because IS is a territorially based entity, there must be a ground dimension if the effort is to progress; after all, only ground forces can take and hold territory.
The best approach would be to create a multinational force consisting of soldiers from neighboring countries, particularly Jordan. The United States and other NATO countries could offer assistance, but the fight must be waged largely by other Sunnis.
Signs of a new regional order in the Middle are becoming clearer with the visit of Egypt’s president Abdul Fatah Al Sissi to Riyadh. The presence of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the possibility of a meeting between the two presidents. Intensive efforts by many regional leaders made Al Sissi’s visit possible.
A Christian man and his son were shot dead in Egypt when he refused to pay extortion money demanded by a Muslim racketeer, who has been kidnapping Christians for ransom.
The offender went to the home of Moawad Assad, a building contractor, in Nag Hammadi on 26 January to collect the money that he had demanded three days earlier. The Christian refused to go to his car for fear of being kidnapped. Four men armed with machine guns then got out of the vehicle and opened fire on Moawad and his 26-year-old son Assad Moawad, an engineer. They were both killed instantly.
The racketeer and his gang have been extorting money from Christians and kidnapping their children for ransom for some months; eleven Christians were seized between 11 August and 24 December 2011 in Nag Hammadi and neighbouring Farshoot and Bahgoura.
A senior Christian leader in Nag Hammadi said all the incidents had been reported to the police. He questioned why the ringleader, who is well known to the police, has not been arrested and called on the authorities to protect Christians in the Nag Hammadi area, “who are continuously being subjected to terror and kidnapping”.
Elsewhere in Egypt, a mob of Muslims attacked Christians and their property in the village of Kobry-el-Sharbat in Alexandria on 28 January. Two Christians and one Muslim were injured in the violence; homes and shops were looted before being set ablaze.
Muslims descended on the village after a rumour spread that a Christian man had taken photos of Muslim women. A Christian activist said that the allegation was made by a Muslim man when the Christian man refused to pay extortion money that the former had demanded from him.
The Christian’s home was looted and torched, and the homes of a further 11 Christian families attacked.
Eyewitnesses said that the perpetrators were Salafists and some were from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Reconciliation meetings were held in the village in which the aggressors demanded the forced displacement of Christian residents and refused to approve any compensation for the victims.
No arrests were made in connection with the attack.
Coptic Solidarity 2014 Conference
The Annual Conference was held in Washington, D.C. on June 26-28, 2014.