November 16, 2015


The Islamic State's trap for Europe (Harleen Gambhir November 15, 2015, Washington Post)

The Islamic State's strategy is to polarize Western society -- to "destroy the grayzone," as it says in its publications. The group hopes frequent, devastating attacks in its name will provoke overreactions by European governments against innocent Muslims, thereby alienating and radicalizing Muslim communities throughout the continent. The atrocities in Paris are only the most recent instances of this accelerating campaign. Since January, European citizens fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have provided online and material support to lethal operations in Paris, Copenhagen and near Lyon, France, as well as attempted attacks in London, Barcelona and near Brussels. Islamic State fighters are likely responsible for destroying the Russian airliner over the Sinai. These attacks are not random, nor are they aimed primarily at affecting Western policy in the Middle East. They are, rather, part of a militarily capable organization's campaign to mobilize extremist actors already in Europe and to recruit new ones.

The strategy is explicit. The Islamic State explained after the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine that such attacks "compel the Crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves. . . . Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize . . . or they [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens." The group calculates that a small number of attackers can profoundly shift the way that European society views its 44 million Muslim members and, as a result, the way European Muslims view themselves. Through this provocation, it seeks to set conditions for an apocalyptic war with the West.

Unfortunately, elements of European society are reacting as the Islamic State desires.

Don't Give ISIS What It Wants : In the aftermath of the horrific terror attacks in Paris, it's important that the West not play right into the terrorist state's hands. (JARED KELLER, 1/16/15, Pacific Standard)

Other Islamic groups have, to some extent, accepted the realities of modern geopolitics. (Think: the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas' political dealings, or the Taliban's negotiations with the government of Afghanistan.) But recognizing borders and boundaries is "ideological suicide" to the Islamic State, an "act of apostasy," as Graeme Wood wrote in March; to sustain its ideology and, in turn, its allure to disaffected young Muslims around the world, the Islamic State needs to exist in a constant state of war against the crusaders of the West. This explains why ISIS doesn't really care about the indiscriminate deaths of Muslims, which comes as an ideological departure from terror groups like al-Qaeda. For ISIS, a terror attack that yields an international campaign of Western drone strikes, which in turn primarily kill civilians, is actually an end goal. As Wood puts it, "the biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself":

The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya'a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

The Islamophobic backlash running through the West is all but a recruitment windfall for jihadists everywhere. It's part of the logic of the Islamic State designed to build a new generation of loyal militants, a push that lends credence to the idea that, while American arch-conservatives flip out about refugees (like Ted Cruz, who called for a moratorium on U.S. refugee programs, or ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum, who tweeted "maybe guard the border before the massacre"), it's actually the Muslim world that's under attack from the West--a narrative that has very real ideological roots. "By strengthening and emboldening the xenophobic right-wing in Europe, they strengthen their own worldview as well," wrote Syrian blogger Nader Atassi in the aftermath of the attacks. "And the most tragic irony is that the backlash may target refugees who themselves had been fleeing ISIS' reign of terror."

Posted by at November 16, 2015 5:25 PM