The truth about evil

When Barack Obama vows to destroy Islamic State’s “brand of evil” and David Cameron declares that Islamic State (ISIS) is an “evil organisation” that must be obliterated, they are echoing Tony Blair’s judgment of Saddam Hussein: “But the man’s uniquely evil, isn’t he?”

Blair made this observation in November 2002, four months before the invasion of Iraq, when he invited six experts to Downing Street to brief him on the likely consequences of the war.

The experts warned that Iraq was a complicated place, riven by deep communal enmities, which Saddam had dominated for over thirty-five years.

Destroying the regime would leave a vacuum; the country could be shaken by Sunni rebellion and might well descend into civil war.

These dangers left the Prime Minister unmoved.

What mattered was Saddam’s moral iniquity.

The divided society over which he ruled was irrelevant. Get rid of the tyrant and his regime, and the forces of good would prevail.

If Saddam was uniquely evil twelve years ago, we have it on the authority of our leaders that ISIS is uniquely evil today.

Until it swept into Iraq a few months ago, the jihadist group was just one of several that had benefited from the campaign being waged by Western governments and their authoritarian allies in the Gulf in support of the Syrian opposition’s struggle to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

Since then ISIS has been denounced continuously and with increasing intensity; but there has been no change in the ruthless ferocity of the group, which has always practised what a radical Islamist theorist writing under the nameAbu Bakr Naji described in an internet handbook in 2006 as “the management of savagery.” Continue reading

John Gray is formerly Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and the author of many books.

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