Once again, we find the UK taking military action in the Middle East, following the overwhelming vote in Parliament approving intervention. Once again, politicians have warily circled the issue, probed it, questioned it, some more avid for action than others, some urging utmost caution. Once again, we are presented an image of some demonic force that is a threat to our very existence, and of a situation that is very black and white, rather than the hideous grey smear of truth that it really is. The Middle East is on the verge of complete meltdown, and the reality is that no one really knows what to do, whose side they should be on, and in fact whether they should do anything anyway.
At least IS presents a good old Solid Target, even if they are being oversold as the Enemy du notre jours. They are, through the combination of serendipity and the Iraqi Army's complete lack of discipline in action, an extremely well-armed, tech-savvy, gang of murdering, smuggling, misanthropic, heretical brigands, not a state, and definitely not a Caliphate. But they're not the only group of people out there busy being misanthropic and beheading people. If our beef was just with that, then we should, by rights, be bombing Saudi Arabia, Iran, in fact pretty much everywhere in the region. Some argue that we should leave the whole place alone, and argue that this is really a war between which version of Islam should dominate - that this is the Semitic equivalent of the religious wars that convulsed all of Europe from the late Middle Ages onwards. I think there is some merit in this argument, but one intrinsic flaw - who would you be happier doing business with when it comes to buying oil? The Saudis may be ultra-conservative Sunni muslims who'd chop off a hand at the drop of a head, but at least they're OUR ultra-conservative hand-chopping Sunni muslims.
Who is the enemy?
Ask an Israeli soldier: He'll say Hamas, or Iran, or possibly everyone outside Israel's immediate borders.
Ask President Erdogan of Turkey: He'll point the finger of blame at the whole world.
Ask an IS fighter, born and bred in the East End: He'll shout that it's all the Kaffirs.
Ask an American: He or she might explain it's the A-rabs.
Let's get closer to home. Who's the enemy?
Ask the SNP: it's the elite in Westminster.
Ask Nigel Farage: the same (especially considering they ruined the first day of his conference).
Ask the Conservatives: It's Labour.
Ask Labour: It's the Conservatives.
Huddle in even closer. Who's the enemy?
The guy who cut you up in his car this morning?
That person who looked at you in a funny way in the supermarket, possibly because you had eleven items in your basket when you were in the 'Ten items or less' queue?
The person who wrote the sign for the aforementioned 'Ten items or less' queue, when it should be 'fewer', not less?
Where does the enemy begin?
Look in the mirror, and there it is.
The enemy, such as it is, begins where we are not - it is the Other, the thing that embodies, personifies, all the things that we believe we are not. The enemy is often just a projection of our own shadows, and the more intensely we are averse to our perceived opponent, the more intense they are in 'opposition' to us - and, in return, we are their shadows, too. So Israel and Hamas are each others' throats, and will remain so in perpetuity while their struggles persist; ISIS are the Shadow of the West, welling up through the sand because of the mistakes and poor decisions that have plagued the entire region since at least the Sykes-Picot Agreement after the First World War; and indeed, wherever you look, sectarianism, religious intolerance and plain old bigotry appear again and again wherever people are too scared to look into the mirror of their fears.
It doesn't have to be this way, of course. Whatever we may think of other people, they are still people, not baby-chomping, kitten-stabbing ogres, just as the face you look at in the mirror each morning is still you. It is being afraid that can make monsters of us, and just knowing that makes it easier not to be ruled by fear. The enemy does not have to start at the mirror, or across the road, or over the border, and this should be remembered, even in the hardest of times.