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An alliance of Western leaders, Muslim nations and Vladimir Putin is the only way to defeat Isis

web-palmyra-AFPThe group is the biggest threat to humanity that the world has faced in the 21st century

It took a picture. The image of little Aylan Kurdi dead on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, appears at last to have woken the world from its slumber in relation to the horror of modern Syria. Iconic photography has changed the course of history before, most notably during the Vietnam War. Some good may yet emerge from the tragically brief life of a drowned three year-old, if it prompts not only a generous response to the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in Europe since the Second World War, but also – and in my view just as vital – a strong, ruthless international mission to deal with this problem at source. And that means defeating the savagery of so-called Islamic State.

Even young Kurdi’s name, containing as it does the name of a long persecuted minority, gives a clue as to the sectarian nature of this crisis. Today, right in front of our eyes, whole civilisations are being expunged, and we cannot save them if we deceive ourselves about the nature and identity of the enemy.

I believe that a militant, radical, mutated form of Islam is the greatest threat to humanity the world has faced in the 21st century. It unites Central Africa with Eastern Asia, and has sympathisers and affiliates from Lahore to – shocking to me – Dewsbury in Yorkshire. But its locus is in the Middle East, and specifically the lawless terrain between what is left of Syria and Iraq. It is true that some of the refugees heading our way – your way – are fleeing Eritrea and Afghanistan. But all the evidence is clear: the majority are Syrian.

I have spent some time in the Middle East, where any attentive visitor can immediately see the traces of truly great civilisations. I fear a generation growing up unaware that ancient Baghdad was home to the world’s greatest scholars; that the lands of Persia and Mesopotamia were home to artistic flourishing; that people of different faiths lived and loved happily from Cairo to Constantinople. And at the heart of it all was the majesty and beauty of Syria.


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