Scottish Member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee Alyn Smith has called on EU leaders to step up efforts to win the moral argument in the Middle East and reach out to the population of the region.
Speaking in a debate on EU nationals fighting for ISIS, Alyn said that "we may be winning a battle, but we are not winning hearts and minds" and highlighted that many of the EU member states, not least the UK, are not seen in the region as impartial. He also criticised the selective application of EU values in highlighting the appalling actions of ISIS yet remaining mute when allies in the region commit similar breaches of human rights.
Speaking after the debate Alyn said:
"In 90 seconds it is difficult to get a complex point across, but the fact is we must recognise that throughout a lot of the Middle East, ISIS and organisations like them do have support. They are attracting foreign fighters, often from our states, and we need to make more of an effort to understand why.
"The roots of the problems in the Middle East go deep, and a number of EU states need to shoulder our responsibility for our actions, even if over a century ago, in the region. Sykes-Picot and the Balfour Declaration are not ancient history in the Middle East. We are not seen as impartial, and nor should we be when it would be not unreasonable to assert that the UK's primary interest in the region is increasing arms sales to regimes of dubious legality, not the promotion of the human rights of the populace.
"This disjoint is used by ISIS recruiters against us, and in disadvantaged and marginalised individuals they have a ready audience. I absolutely concur in condemning the actions of ISIS, but demonising them is too easy, and hypocritical if we do not apply the same critique to all parties in the region. There are complicated roots to their existence and support, trying to build them into some sort of supernatural bogeyman is lazy, dishonest and does not address the root causes of the problem.
"And the proposals currently doing the rounds that in order to tackle 'foreign fighters' we need to implement a massive state mass snooping infrastructure at home miss the point entirely. Until we tackle the root causes of why ISIS has, in some quarters, support, any security measures we implement will infringe the rights of us all without actually addressing the problem."