Contributions to a wiser, cooler look at IS and terror

On Facebook I remarked “I saw Tony Abbott’s presser on ABC News 24 today. I just can’t trust his judgement, I really can’t. Seriously something fundamental is missing there.”

I was interested this morning to read:

A terrorism expert has warned that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is feeding Islamic State’s (IS) own propaganda machine by calling it a “death cult”.

Abdul-Rehman Malik is the programs manager at Radical Middle Way, an outreach group for young Muslims.

“I think to call [Islamic State] a death cult, as the Australian Prime Minister does, is a complete misnomer and it actually feeds in to IS propaganda,” he told the ABC’s Lateline program.

“The propagandists of the Islamic State, when they hear themselves referred to as a death cult hell bent on global domination, are patting themselves on the back because you know what?

“You’ve bought in to their narrative.”

Speaking at today’s Countering Violent Extremism summit in Sydney, Mr Abbott said the threat posed by IS, also known as Daesh, was global.

“Daesh is coming, if it can, for every person and for every government with a simple message: ‘Submit or die’,” Mr Abbott said.

“The declaration of a caliphate, preposterous though it seems, is a brazen claim to universal dominion.

“You can’t negotiate with an entity like this, you can only fight it.”Mr Malik, who attended the summit at the invitation of the Federal Government, said Mr Abbott was headed in the wrong direction….


For your consideration I offer Stephen M Walt, What should we do if the Islamic State wins? from the US magazine Foreign Policy:

Despite its bloodthirsty and gruesome tactics, the Islamic State is not, in fact, a powerful global actor. Its message attracts recruits among marginalized youth in other countries, but attracting perhaps 25,000 ill-trained followers from a global population of more than 7 billion is not that significant. It may even be a net gain if these people leave their countries of origin and then get to experience the harsh realities of jihadi rule. Some of them will realize that the Islamic State is brutal and unjust and a recipe for disaster; the rest will be isolated and contained in one spot instead of stirring up trouble at home.

More importantly, the relative handful of foreigners flocking to fight under the Islamic State’s banner are only a tiny fraction of the world’s Muslims, and the fanatical jihadi message shows little sign of winning significant support in this large and diverse population.

I’m not being naive. Islamic State fellow travelers will no doubt conduct terrorist acts and cause other forms of trouble in various places. But that is a far cry from the Islamic State’s being able to spread willy-nilly across the Islamic world….

Malise Ruthven has written much about Islam and terror. I read his A Fury for God some years ago and learned much from it. Coming up in The New York Review of Books (but already online) is a great review article by Ruthven: Inside the Islamic State.

The jihadists of ISIS may be terrorists—to use an imprecise, catch-all term—but as Atwan explains, they are both well paid and disciplined, and the atrocities they commit and upload on the Internet are part of a coherent strategy:

Crucifixions, beheadings, the hearts of rape victims cut out and placed upon their chests, mass executions, homosexuals being pushed from high buildings, severed heads impaled on railings or brandished by grinning “jihadist” children—who have latterly taken to shooting prisoners in the head themselves—these gruesome images of brutal violence are carefully packaged and distributed via Islamic State’s media department. As each new atrocity outdoes the last, front-page headlines across the world’s media are guaranteed.

Far from being an undisciplined orgy of sadism, ISIS terror is a systematically applied policy that follows the ideas put forward in jihadist literature, notably in an online tract,The Management of Savagery, by the al-Qaeda ideologue Abu Bakr Naji. This treatise, posted in 2004 and widely cited by jihadists, is both a rationale for violence and a blueprint for the Caliphate. It draws heavily on the writings of Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328), the medieval theologian who inspired the Arabian Wahhabi movement and is highly regarded by Islamists for holding rulers to account in the practice of true religion…

Brutality, however, is only one element in the stream of images uploaded by its sophisticated media outlets. The Islamic State, according to Atwan, is also presented as

an emotionally attractive place where people “belong,” where everyone is a “brother” or “sister.” A kind of slang, melding adaptations or shortenings of Islamic terms with street language, is evolving among the English-language fraternity on social media platforms in an attempt to create a “jihadi cool.” A jolly home life is portrayed via Instagram images where fighters play with fluffy kittens and jihadist “poster-girls” proudly display the dishes they have created.

The idea of the “restored Caliphate” has been the dream of Islamic revivalists since the formal abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate by Kemal Atatürk in 1924. The appeal, carefully fostered by Baghdadi and his cohorts by means of the Internet and social media, is for a transnational body that stands above the various tribes or communities making up the Muslim world. They are achieving impressive results, with pledges of allegiance (bayat) from militants in places as far removed from one another as Nigeria, Pakistan, and Yemen, and in Libya ISIS now has an airbase in Sirte, the hometown of former leader Muammar Qaddafi…

Confronting believers with the choice between heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, using fiery rhetoric and imagery, has long been the stock-in-trade of preachers, as famously analyzed by the psychiatrist William Sargant in his classic study of religious conversion and “brain-washing” in Battle for the Mind (1957). ISIS can dispense with preachers and instead use social media to stimulate a process of self-radicalization, with thousands of foreign Muslims (and some converts) flocking to join the Caliphate…

The obvious question that arises is, where will all of this end? A meeting in Paris in early June of twenty-four coalition partners led by the US and France failed to come up with any new strategies. With ISIS in control of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, and nearing the outskirts of Aleppo in Syria, coalition air strikes are plainly insufficient to deter the Caliphate’s expansion. Only the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iranian-trained Shiite militias have the capacity and will to halt the Caliphate’s amoeba-like growth in Iraq. But the deployment of Shia militias can only escalate an already dangerous sectarian conflict….

The whole article is a must read.

Finally, a few weeks ago in The Saturday Paper I was struck by the good sense of The delicate balance of policing suburban extremists.

Opening up conversation

There is a common liberal obstinacy that refuses to see this as a problem, or conceives of it only as an alibi for Western racism. That it is a problem is now beyond question. Before 2013, there were no known Australian suicide bombers. Ever. There are now three. Two of them have come in the past year. Both were Melburnian teenagers and both destroyed themselves – and murdered others – for IS. To me, this seems an extraordinary fact. Two teenagers, same city, conscripted as suicide bombers. That it is a problem is established – how much a problem and what the effective and proportionate responses might be, are the questions. But these inquiries are undermined by liberal myopia, media hysteria, organised bigotry such as Reclaim, and the specific Islamic institutions associated with these men who reflexively dismiss demands for accountability as racism. The whole conversation is stunned by bad faith.

“That we need to readjust the conversation is obvious,” Phil Gregory tells me. Gregory teaches intelligence and terrorism at Monash University, and is a former intelligence officer himself. “We can’t demonise certain questions. I also think we’re far behind the eight ball in understanding the radicalisation program. Understanding precisely how people become like this. It’s complex, and it varies. There are intelligence aspects – how we collect and interpret data – as there are questions of community policing and understanding social isolation. We have to ask ourselves: What are the first principles? What kind of society do we want?”

See some of my earlier posts on terror and Islam.