Sorry, we can’t negotiate with ISIS

As Moshe Dayan, the Israeli military leader and politician, once said: “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”

So why not negotiate with ISIS?

Hilary Benn, the Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Minister who led a revolt of opposition MPs by voting in favor of Britain’s entry into the air campaign against ISIS in Syria, went back to his Leeds Central constituency this weekend to explain his position.

Members of the Stop the War Coalition, challenged Benn, saying that Britain should negotiate with ISIS.

In Britain and elsewhere, a lot of people are going to see an exchange like this as an argument between diplomacy and militarism, remembering perhaps Winston Churchill’s famous observation: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

Anyone who says we can’t negotiate with ISIS, is easy to cast as being addicted to the use of brute force. This perception gets further reinforced as politicians hammer their podiums declaring, we must destroy ISIS.

So again: why not negotiate with ISIS?

Here’s why: Negotiation requires compromise and the discovery of common ground and for ISIS to negotiate it would have to abandon the goals which are the reason for its existence.

In the latest issue of Dabiq, ISIS’s 65-page color magazine, the possibility of a truce between the West and ISIS is raised and they say that in such an event “nothing changes for the Islamic State… It will continue to wage war against the apostates until they repent from apostasy. It will continue to wage war against the pagans until they accept Islam… Thereafter, the slave markets will commence in Rome by Allah’s power and might.”

Wild rhetoric, no doubt, but what we already know is that on a more limited territorial scale, ISIS practices exactly what it preaches. It has no interest in co-existing with those it opposes. It is engaged in what it regards as a Manichean struggle which allows for no other possibility than the death, subjugation, or submission of its enemies.

The contents of Dabiq might be dismissed as propaganda written merely to appeal to the grandiose fantasies of ISIS recruits, but a newly published translation of an internal ISIS document appearing in The Guardian today shows that the organization is not only earnest in its goals but also in their meticulous application.

As far as foreign policy is concerned, again we see an utterly uncompromising position, modeled, it is claimed, on the example of earlier caliphates.

The objective in relation to “heretic communities” is “dispersing their groupings so there no longer remained any impeding opinion, strength or ability, and the Muslim alone remains the master of the state and decision-making and no one is in conflict with him.”

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