Waleed Aly’s celebrated video analysing Islamic State has so far clocked up more than 27 million views around the world on YouTube.
Why has it become so popular? To be fair, Aly is in such high demand because he has no peer. So quiet, so reasonable and so measured, he is once again the toast of those who reckon a massacre in Paris, the latest one, needs to be taken in our ho-hum stride, as doing more than sporting flowers and expressions of mournful forbearance will play into the hands of IS.
But it was a subsequent radio interview with Sydney’s Richard Glover that, for me, was more instructive. Radio is quite obviously different to video: there is no visual distraction; it is the words themselves, and those words alone, that are to be analysed and judged.
In this regard, Glover’s interview with Aly produced a very informative response. The audio of that encounter is here.
“If you were to put the military of ISIS up against, well, even a moderately strong nation state, like one of the European states, there is simply no contest whatsoever,” Aly says at the outset.
At this point, listeners might have wondered at the observation’s relevance. Islamic State is not likely, nor ever has been, to declare and wage open, conventional warfare on, say, Finland or Spain.
Executing hipsters, Jews, and random strangers is its style, and that, er, “irritation” has been enough to throw Paris into bloody chaos and for rumours of further action to see Brussels locked down. A mere handful of bearded attackers can achieve all this and worse, yet IS is “weak”?
“If ISIS were subjected to conventional warfare,” continues Aly, “it would last maybe a week.” This echoed his video statement that the Islamic State terrorists “don’t want you to know they would quickly be crushed if they faced a real enemy on a real battlefield”.
It is all scam and sham, he lectured Glover. His video mentions the Monis siege in Martin Place and dismisses any connection with IS. Unmentioned was the murderous lunatic’s demand that police provide him with an IS flag.
Attacks in Canada and New York were more of the same, Aly went on, drawing a distinction between operatives such as the Paris filth, who received direct instructions, and that kid in Parramatta who appears merely to have picked on the terrorists’ general message and meme.
If a local youth lacks a direct hotline to the IS HQ, then he is not acting for IS. So says an academic at one of our leading universities.
There can be no disputing IS would fold like a concertina if subjected to a serious military assault. Saddam Hussein’s army was the world’s fourth-largest and it ran up the white flag in mere days during Gulf Wars I and II.
So why doesn’t Aly urge the West to assemble its crusaders and smite the enemy in their lair, even allowing for his assertion that many of the acts committed at their urging are not, technically, at their specific command?
Given that Aly details IS’s strategy as being to polarise the world into the Islamist camp and everyone else, wouldn’t that be a kindness? Parisian spouses, children and parents of the most recently slain are suffering, but those living directly under the IS heel suffer more, says Aly.
Surely those unfortunates in IS-occupied territory deserve to be liberated, if only to enjoy the freedom of returning to the lower-key tribalism and sectarian hatreds that are the region’s norm. In the meantime, women and girls are traded for sexual pleasure and their menfolk slaughtered or dragooned.
So what is it about Aly’s video sermon that has proved so popular around the world?
The simple answer, like sticking with the West’s meandering course in Iraq and Syria, is that his “solution” is so bloody easy: do nothing, but do it with flowers.
Roger Franklin is editor of Quadrant Online. This is an edited extract of his commentary that first appeared on quadrant.org.au