Category Archives: Islamic State


2017-07-28

The End of “The Islamic State” . . . and information links for informed discussion

by Neil Godfrey

And so it ends in Mosul, Iraq . . . .

Mosul’s bloodbath: ‘We killed everyone – IS, men, women, children’

Meanwhile — as if one can slip from the contents of the above article with a helpless sigh — Tom Holland, a historian whose books I’ve much enjoyed — “Unlike most historians, Tom Holland writes books which bring the past to life” — has gone a bit funny with his gushiness over Christianity . . . .

It came from

Michael Bird:  Tom Holland: Why I Was Wrong about Christianity (2016-09-16)

Darrell Pursiful:  Tom Holland Was Wrong about Christianity (2016-09-16)

Larry Hurtado: Tom Holland and Hurtado on Early Christianity (2016-10-10)

and no doubt others I missed.

The reason I mention him in this context is that he has most recently he has produced a Channel 4 doco for the BBC that I have not seen, but I have read first, a rebuttal of a rebuttal of the doco, and then I read the rebuttal of the doco. I found both worth thinking about.

First, the one I also read first, the rebuttal of the rebuttal of Tom Holland’s doco:

An inconvenient truth: IS draws on Islamic sources for its inspiration by Philip Wood

Yes, there is no basis for critics of Atran and co to say that there is no religious role in terrorism. Of course religion plays a part. read more »


2016-08-21

“All Jihad is Local”

by Neil Godfrey

alljihadislocalSome interesting research datasets relating to who joins ISIS have been published by Nate Rosenblatt. They make interesting reading alongside other research into the motivations and profiles of who are the most likely candidates for extremist radicalization. The data was supplied by an ISIS defector so of course must be assessed with that in mind.

Nate Rosenblatt sums up his findings in three points:

Anti-government sentiment and poor local-federal relations are common threads among provinces sending high rates of fighters. Recruits join ISIS from regions with long histories of resisting the influence of state institutions. 

Foreign fighters joining ISIS are geographically, demographically, and socioeconomically diverse. Fighters from Xinjiang, China are generally older and poorer and tend to travel to ISIS territory with their families, while fighters from Muharraq, Bahrain are far younger, relatively wealthier, and unmarried. 

Local interventions could prevent the spread of radical ideology before it takes root. Motivations for foreign fighters are derived from highly specific local conditions, and so must the solutions.

The first point carries an echo (I won’t say anything stronger than an echo) of what Robert Pape’s research into suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2003 found. The second point coheres with what has become common knowledge by now, but what Rosenblatt has done is to examine the data at subnational (regional) levels and found that at that level the diversity at a national or global level disappears. And that leads in to the third point which reinforces other findings that point to personal grievances, feelings of social isolation and craving for a meaningful and adventurous life in a cause bigger than oneself are highly significant factors.

[Please, if anything in that paragraph offends you enough to want to leave a hostile comment I would ask you to by all means comment but do not just do so as a troll. Be prepared to engage in a discussion of the details of the evidence behind our respective views.]

The report is titled All Jihad is Local: What ISIS’ Files Tell Us About Its Fighters — The link is to a 13 MB, 44 page PDF file.

Few pages, many megabytes — that’s because there are lots of cool and colourful maps and tables to make for easier cerebral digestion.

Voice of America has a website discussing the report, too, and there it is stated:

But a new analysis of the terror group’s own entry records suggests while those flocking to the self-declared caliphate come from diverse regions and from a variety of socio-economic background, many share a deep-seated resentment of where they live.

And the study suggests it is a sentiment that IS managed to expertly exploit once and could possibly exploit again.

“I think this grievance narrative is a common thread that you can knit across a lot of these places,” said Nate Rosenblatt, an independent researcher and author of the New America Foundation report, All Jihad is Local.

“It’s not just that these frustrations drive people to go join ISIS in these areas but that ISIS also actively recruits based on that same narrative,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group.

So ISIS market their barbarism with high tech methods and up to date targeted marketing techniques.  There is a Loopcast audio interview with Rosenblatt in which he describes families migrating together from Xinjiang province in China as a response to ISIS film showing them images of better lives for their children in the ISIS Caliphate, whereas younger individuals leave from Bahrain in response to videos playing on the injustices of the monarchical state there.

Nate Rosenblatt

Nate Rosenblatt

 


2016-06-05

A Cartoon Explanation of ISIS

by Neil Godfrey

See

Where did Islamic State come from, and what does it really want? By Eleri Mai Harris

It even includes an explanation of the apocalyptic beliefs of certain of the ISIS leadership, linking nicely to my previous post:

jesus3


2016-05-23

The “Only Way” to Free Someone from Cults: Islamic or Christian

by Neil Godfrey

Another illustration of the only way a devoted member of a “tribe” — whether religious cult or ISIS — can begin to loosen their attachment and head towards the Exit door appeared in AP’s The Big Story: Islamic State’s lasting grip is a new hurdle for Europe, US written by Lori Hinnant. Its message is consistent with my own experience or exiting a religious cult and with the scholarly research I have since read on both religious cults and terrorist groups, both Islamist and secular.

Lori Hinnant is discussing the experiences of a French program to “de-radicalise” former ISIS members. Its key sentence:

Only once doubts are seeded can young would­be jihadis themselves reason their way back to their former selves.

Attempting to argue them out with reason is futile. In the case of fundamentalist cults we can easily enough see why: their thinking is entirely circular. There is no escaping. All “contrary thoughts” are from Satan and to be cast down, writes Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5. It is no different with Islamic extremists, as previous posts have illustrated. Membership of the group is the foundation of the identity of each member; the group is their family and the bond stimulates the dopamine. Life only has meaning as an active member of the group.

Try talking anyone out of leaving their family and walking away from the cause that gives their life meaning.

There is no reasoning with someone in the thrall of a jihadi group, those who run the program say, so the recruits have to experience tangible doubts about the jihadi promises they once believed. Bouzar said that can mean countering a message of antimaterialism by showing them the videos of fighters lounging in fancy villas or sporting watches with an Islamic State logo. Or finding someone who has returned from Syria to explain that instead of offering humanitarian aid, the extremists are taking over entire villages, sometimes lacing them with explosives. Only once doubts are seeded can young would­be jihadis themselves reason their way back to their former selves, she said.

That’s how it’s done. It won’t happen immediately. At first the response to “proofs” of hypocrisy among the group’s leaders and deception in what they promise will be met with incredulity, a suspicion that the stories are all lies. But show enough with the clear evidence that the stories are not fabrications and slivers of doubts have a chance of seeping in. Some will react with even more committed idealism, convincing themselves that they will fight the corruption within. But their powerlessness will eventually become apparent even to themselves.

Only then will the member begin to “reason their [own] way back to their former selves”.

 

 


2016-05-09

Interesting ISIS/Al-Qaeda developments

by Neil Godfrey

stateterrorDo not comment on this post unless you are prepared to stay to engage with possible alternative views and defend your own ideas in civil discourse. Angry and fly-by-nighter comments may be deleted.

I keen an eye on the webpage of J.M. Berger, one of the authors of an excellent book explaining the origins, nature and goals of ISIS and who joins it and why, ISIS: The State of Terror and this morning there appeared a collection of three particularly interesting articles. We have been seeing more generally in the news that ISIS in Syria and Iraq is lately suffering significant territorial losses, though the end result is loss all round given ISIS’s “scorched earth” policy of destroying everything as they retreat. Ramadi has been recaptured by Iraqi forces but it is no longer a place anyone would want to return to. So with ISIS appearing to be on the back foot at last the following new developments are of particular interest, I think.

Syrians abandoning ISIS

The first article of special interest is published in the current issue of Foreign AffairsQuitting ISIS: Why Syrians are Abandoning the Group by and . The reasons for growing numbers of defections in recent months are as diverse as the reasons for joining ISIS in the first place. By way of reminder, some of the reasons for joining that have emerged in many of the studies: bergerstern

revkin_quittingisis_formerchildsoldier

AHMED JADALLAH / REUTERS Yazidi boy Emad, 5, and his brother Murad (back), who was trained by Islamic State, stand in a grocery at a refugee camp near the northern Iraqi city of Duhok, April 19, 2016.

  1. true believers
  2. criminals and thugs finding amnesty with ISIS in return for service
  3. the pay — raw economics
  4. hatred of Assad of Syria and ISIS appearing the most likely opposition
  5. adventurers and opportunists

I can’t repeat all the FA article here but I have linked to it above. In brief:

  1. they are in retreat, losing
  2. hypocrisy: corruption, inequality, cronyism, are as common in ISIS as elsewhere, some believe
  3. salaries are being cut
  4. to avoid being redeployed to fight in Iraq or Libya. They joined to fight Assad in Syria.

The final paragraphs are especially disturbing (my own bolding):

Although the increase in defections might seem like welcome news to the U.S.-led coalition, the trend has some alarming consequences for Syrians. In addition to summary executions of combatants or civilians who are suspected of disloyalty, ISIS has started to recruit large numbers of child soldiers to shore up its dwindling ranks. The “cubs of the Caliphate,” as ISIS calls them, are cheaper and more ideologically malleable than adults. Tarek, a former ISIS fighter from Deir Ezzor, estimated that when he deserted his unit in Deir Ezzor, 60 percent of his fellow combatants were under the age of 18. One former ISIS child soldier from al-Hasakah, Sami, was 14 years old when he first joined in 2014. . . . Sami cried as he recounted the deaths of several of his oldest childhood friends who had joined ISIS with him and were recently killed in a battle against the regime in Deir Ezzor. ISIS had been using these children as cannon fodder on the frontlines because they lacked the training and experience to be useful in other roles.

In another sign of desperation, ISIS has dramatically abbreviated the training—both physical and ideological—that its fighters must undergo. ISIS used to require that all new recruits first enroll in Islamic educational courses known as dawraat sharia, which last from 30 to 45 days, followed by military boot camp for another 30 days. But after losing Sinjar to Kurdish forces backed by U.S. airstrikes in November 2015, ISIS dramatically shortened the recruitment pipeline by eliminating military training altogether and requiring only a few days of Islamic education before sending new recruits into battle. The curriculum of the dawraat sharia covers ISIS’ version of Islamic humanitarian law, which does set some limits on violence against civilians, enemy combatants, and prisoners of war. As ISIS lowers its standards to attract new recruits, its fighters will become increasingly prone to indiscipline, corruption, and looting. Such internal problems will weaken ISIS militarily but they come at a high cost to Syrian civilians, who are likely to face increased violence and exploitation by an organization that is beginning to unravel.

Al-Qaeda giving permission for a break from its ranks

Then there is this latest intriguing development involving Al-Qaeda. Zawahiri is Bin Laden’s replacement, the leader of Al Qaeda. Al Nusra is the anti-Assad rebel group closely affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Al Jazeera reports: Zawahiri: Syria’s Nusra free to break al-Qaeda links. ISIS itself began as Al-Qaeda in Iraq led by Zarqawi (the one who began the spate of beheadings and bombings of Shia centres in Iraq) but after Zarqawi was killed in a bombing raid the new leadership broke from Al-Qaeda and morphed into ISIS, the Islamic State, in 2014. So it is interesting to see Al-Qaeda giving permission for its Syrian affiliate, Nusra, to break ranks.

The thinking appears to be that Nusra will have more leverage in peace talks and hence more clout as an anti-Assad force if it can disclaim its links to Al-Qaeda. With ISIS on the retreat, Nusra may have the opportunity to dominate the anti-Assad forces and become a major driver in Syrian politics. The Russian military action has proved to have been a game-changer but if Al-Nusra is no longer tied to Al-Qaeda there is some speculation that Russians will have less justification for attacking it.

Propaganda vulnerabilities

read more »


2016-03-26

Alternative view: What ISIS Is (Not) “Planning” for Europe

by Neil Godfrey

Thomas Hegghammer and Petter Nesser have published an alternative view to the thoughts expressed by Scott Atran in my recent post, What ISIS Plans for Europe (and Beyond). Their article, Assessing the Islamic State’s Commitment to Attacking the West, is published in the Open Access journal Perspectives on Terrorism.

Of terrorist operations with links to a terrorist organisation like ISIS or Al Qaeda six types are identified:

  1. Training and top-level directives. The attacker trains in the organization’s heartland, is tasked by top leaders to attack in the West, and is supported materially by the organization in the planning and preparation process. The classic historical example is the 9/11 attack.
  2. Training and mid-level directives. The attacker trains in the organization’s heartland and is encouraged by mid-level cadres to carry out a more or less specified attack in the West, but has little or no interaction with the top leadership and receives little or no material support from the organization. Examples from al-Qaida’s history include the various plots by the Abu Doha network in the early 2000s or the Mohammed Merah attack in 2012.
  3. Training. The attacker trains in the organization’s heartland, but is not specifically instructed by anyone to attack in the West. Instead, he develops the motivation to attack in the West himself, in the belief that he is doing what the organization wants. A historical example is Mohammed Geele, who trained with al-Shabaab in Somalia, returned to Denmark, and tried to assassinate the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in 2010.
  4. Remote contact with directives. The attacker communicates remotely (typically by telephone, email, or social media) and bilaterally with cadres of the organization and receives personal instructions to attack in the West. A good example from al-Qaida history is Rajib Karim, who in 2010 was instructed by Anwar al-Awlaki via encrypted email to attack airline targets in the UK.
  5. Remote contact without directives. The attacker communicates remotely and bilaterally with members of the organization, but does not receive instructions to attack in the West. An example would be Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hassan, who exchanged emails with Anwar al-Awlaki without discussing operations.
  6. Sympathy, no contact. The attacker expresses ideological support for the group through his propaganda consumption, written or spoken statements, or some other aspect of his behavior, but does not communicate bilaterally with anyone in the organization. One example is Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed a British MP in 2010, having been inspired by al-Awlaki’s online lectures.

Hegghammer and Nesser examine ISIS related attacks against the West (Europe, North America, Australia) between January 2011 and June 2015. Their tabulated findings:

table1

Those frequency numbers combine foiled plots as well as successful attacks. Compare the following:

fig1

So up till June 2015 there was no evidence of ISIS commitment to launch increasing numbers of attacks in the West. The threat has come, rather, from Western sympathizers who have had no contact with ISIS itself.

The title of this post can be misleading. While ISIS may not be actively planning specific attacks in the West, it is nonetheless clear that it does encourage free-lancers to act in sympathetic response to its propaganda videos, whether by joining them, donating to them, or doing whatever one can to attack “the Grey Zone”.

See the article for the detailed discussion.


2016-03-17

Once more: “Obama and Trump both inadvertently helping the Islamic State through rhetoric”

by Neil Godfrey

The dust having only just settled on Barack Obama and Donald Trump are both wrong about Islam what do I wake up to read this morning . . . ?

One wouldn’t call them bedfellows, strange or otherwise, but President Obama and Donald Trump are both inadvertently helping the Islamic State through rhetoric that is either too cautious or too rash.

This time the critic is not Will McCants but another author whose book I have also posted about and highly recommend in Another study of ISIS. This time it’s Jessica Stern who co-authored ISIS: The State of Terror. The Washington Post report explains:

Obama, through his studious avoidance of explicitly calling terrorists or the Islamic State either Islamic or Muslim, is “silly,” perhaps “cowardly” and likely unproductive. And Trump, with his other-izing approach to problem solving — targeting adherents of Islam for special scrutiny — contributes to recruitment and radicalization by marginalizing Muslims.

he’ll “scream and pull [his] hair out” if he hears one more time that Islam is a religion of peace.

Stern wasn’t the only speaker in the news report. One has to grin at this scene:

Antepli was also critical of moderate Muslims who feel the need to defend Islam even in the wake of terrorist attacks. A jovial fellow whose students have nicknamed the “Turkish Delight Imam,” Antepli said he’ll “scream and pull my hair out” if he hears one more time that Islam is a religion of peace.

It is and it isn’t, depending on which text one uses for one’s purposes. Just as the abolitionists used scripture to end slavery, the Islamic State uses the Koran to resurrect slavery.

No religion, said Antepli, is one thing. Every religion, especially those that are centuries old, is many things. Understanding requires familiarity with what Antepli identified as the three main categories of all religions: history, people and, last, theology.

In other words, religion is only part of the terrorist equation, but denying it altogether is a mistake, both agreed. 

The article concludes with an interesting approach to deradicalising a youth wanting to join ISIS.

Child Soldiers

Also in this morning’s reading is DEPICTIONS OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN THE ISLAMIC STATE’S MARTYRDOM PROPAGANDA, 2015-2016 by authors I am not familiar with but is from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point. It’s an ugly read. ISIS has a distinctly untypical use of child-soldiers when compared with other military groups who recruit them. Concluding paragraphs:

When considered in the context of the child soldiers in other conflicts, this is somewhat counterintuitive. Historically, when militant organizations enlisted children, they did so surreptitiously, a pattern that emerged with the release of the Machel Report on children in armed conflict in 1996 and the UN resolutions against youth recruitment that followed.[6] The Islamic State bucks this trend brazenly by boasting about its young recruits, something that is indicative of the fact that it is using them differently than the child soldier norm. The data suggests that the Islamic State is not recruiting them to replace lost manpower— children and youth only constitute a small proportion of its battlefield losses overall—and they are not engaging in roles in which they have a comparative advantage over the adults. On the contrary, in most cases, children and youth are dying in the same circumstances as adults. Additionally, existing research argues that children and youth will be used more to attack civilian targets among whom they can blend in better. However, the data shows that Islamic State’s children and youth have been used to attack civilians in only 3 percent of the cases.[7]

It is clear that the Islamic State leadership has a long-term vision for youth in its jihadist efforts. While today’s child militants may well be tomorrow’s adult terrorists, in all likelihood, the moral and ethical issues raised by battlefield engagement with the Islamic State’s youth are likely to be at the forefront of the discourse on the international coalition’s war against the group in years to come. Furthermore, as small numbers of children either escape or defect from the Islamic State and as more accounts emerge of children’s experiences, there is an urgent need to plan and prepare for the rehabilitation and reintegration of former youth militants.

I wonder if this is partly a sign of ISIS’s gradual losses of territory in Syria and Iraq, but on the other hand we have been reading about involving children closely in the participation of their gruesome activities for some time now.

Threats to UK

From the same source but this time from another author I have learned much, Raffaello PantucciTHE ISLAMIC STATE THREAT TO BRITAIN: EVIDENCE FROM RECENT TERROR TRIALS

While the nature of the threat in the United Kingdom is different than in France in certain respects —for example, there is easier access to heavy weaponry and ammunition on the European continent—the Islamic State itself has made clear that the United Kingdom is a priority target. Until now the public threat picture has been dominated by lone-actor plots. Going forward, however, with the Islamic State appearing to pivot toward international terrorism and around 1000 British extremists having traveled to Syria and Iraq, half of whom are still there,[49] there is a growing danger of Islamic State-directed plots against the British homeland.

One holds one’s breath to see which way ongoing losses of ISIS territory might play out in the U.K. and other Western countries.

H/T http://intelwire.egoplex.com/


2016-02-20

On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare

by Neil Godfrey
quote_begin By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

— Sylvia Plath, quoted by Charles Camerson in So: How Does It Feel at World’s End?, an exploration into the eschatological lure of ISIS.
quote_end

Charles Cameron is blogging about a book of his that is hopefully will be published soon: Jihad and the Passion of ISIS: Making Sense of Religious Violence. The first of these blog posts is On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 1: its sheer intensity.

Cameron builds on a number of works that I have posted about here on Vridar, so I am looking forward to his own contribution. He writes:

We now have, I believe, a strong understanding of the Islamic State and its origins in such books as Stern & Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, Jason Burke, The New Threat, Joby Warrick, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, and Weiss & Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. Delving directly into the key issue that interests me personally, the eschatology of the Islamic State, we have Will McCants‘ definitive The ISIS Apocalypse. My own contribution will hopefully supplement these riches, and McCants’ book in particular, with a comparative overview of religious violence across continents and centuries, and a particular focus on the passions engendered in both religious and secular movements when the definitive transformation of the world seems close at hand.

What follows is the first section of a four-part exploration of the horrors of apocalyptic war.

Cameron draws upon a dramatically colourful Winston Churchill account to convey the power of the Mahdi on the imaginations of followers in his day.

In his second post On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 2: to spark a messianic fire he encapsulates the sense of apoclyptic fervour in a passage from another book on my “to-read list”, Richard Landes’  Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience:

For people who have entered apocalyptic time, everything quickens, enlivens, coheres. They become semiotically aroused — everything has meaning, patterns. The smallest incident can have immense importance and open the way to an entirely new vision of the world, one in which forces unseen by other mortals operate. If the warrior lives with death at his shoulder, then apocalyptic warriors live with cosmic salvation before them, just beyond their grasp.

I’m looking forward to the remainder of Charles Cameron’s series.

enddays

 

 


2016-02-19

Why Westerners Are Joining ISIS — and the Caliphate stretching to Libya

by Neil Godfrey
Thomas Hegghammer

Thomas Hegghammer

Thomas Hegghammer is a specialist in Islamist terrorism whose research I addressed in The Religious Thrill and Bond of the Islamic State. Hegghammer was interviewed  by BillMoyers.com in late 2014 and what he says is still relevant. The interview:

Why Have a Record Number of Westerners Joined the Islamic State?

Of particular interest:

his comparison of the Western volunteers and the local Syrian resistance (he says the Westerners are more ideological and hard-set against compromise than the local fighters)

his analysis of the threat ISIS terrorism poses the West (not as direct as many seem to think)

the difficulty of directly attacking ISIS (ISIS changes tactics to adapt to new threats — e.g. more merging with civilians and guerrilla war)

what might put Westerners at greater risk of ISIS inspired terrorist attacks (the recent Paris shootings and ISIS’s response appear to show ISIS read Hegghammer’s script)

the least-bad options for reducing the power of ISIS . . . .

And that last point segues sadly/depressingly into the next post recently highlighted on J.M. Berger’s IntelWire site:  read more »


2015-12-26

The Religious Thrill and Bond of the Islamic State

by Neil Godfrey
There is a serious and intense poetry associated with the jihad. There are captivating a cappella chants, and the serious sharing of night time dreams that characterise the culture of the Islamic State. A deep part of the human experience common to premodern cultures but increasingly absent from ours (and whose power and meaning the neo atheists and neo clausewitzians just don’t get) . . . .

 

People have flocked to the Islamic State for different reasons and one of these is the religious experience it offers. That religious experience runs much deeper than its apocalyptic hopes for “the end times”.

Atheism, not anti-theism

I am an atheist and deplore the immeasurable damage “religion”, both organised and personal, has wreaked upon so many lives. At the same time I cannot deny that many people find deep spiritual meaning for their lives in religion. (I use the word “spiritual” for convenience and sometimes use “religious” as a synonym. Normally I’d prefer to speak of the rich emotional life many find through the awe of existence and experiencing the universe, and as well as through companionship and the arts, music, and so forth.) It is for this reason I cannot bring myself to be an anti-theist. If it is true that “it takes religion to make a good person evil” it is also true that “it takes religion to turn bad person good”. I personally wish people could find some other idea or experience to make them good or in which they can find personal fulfilment, but that’s how people are.

Why are people like this? To help us with answers we have our own experiences to draw upon and works like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the spell : religion as a natural phenomenon (2006),  Scott Atran’s In gods we trust : the evolutionary landscape of religion (2002), Newberg, D’Aquili & Rause’s  Why God won’t go away : brain science and the biology of belief (2001) and especially Pascal Boyer’s  Religion explained : the evolutionary origins of religious thought (2001), along with dozens of others on fundamentalisms, new atheist critiques, and more.

Merely attacking religion’s unscientific and illogical beliefs and moral failings is entirely misdirected energy.

Merely attacking religion’s unscientific and illogical beliefs and moral failings is entirely misdirected energy. That approach only advertises the barrenness of the author’s understanding of the psychology of religious belief. Perhaps some New Atheists who are the most savage of critics of religion would modify their approach if they paused to investigate what some of the literature has to say about the origins of religion and why it is so deeply embedded in the human experience.

Thomas Hegghammer

Thomas Hegghammer

Thomas Hegghammer, a specialist in Islamist violence, wrote in an article in The New York Times (Dec 15, 2015)

When jihadis aren’t fighting — which is most of the time — they enjoy storytelling and watching films, cooking and swimming. The social atmosphere (at least for those who play by the rules) is egalitarian, affectionate and even playful. Jihadi life is emotionally intense, filled with the thrill of combat, the sorrow of loss, the joy of camaraderie and the elation of religious experience. I suspect this is a key source of its attraction. (Soft Power of Militant Jihad)

In seeking to understand the world of jihadis Hegghammer made it his business to understand everything they do, delving into “autobiographies, videos, blog posts, tweets and defector’s accounts”, and what he found he overviews in his NYT article which he titled The Soft Power of Militant Jihad.

Weeping, music, poetry

read more »


2015-12-16

ISIS is a Revolution, born in terror (like all revolutions)

by Neil Godfrey

A long essay by Scott Atran comparing ISIS to past revolutions to find out what is new, and what likely can and cannot be done against it. . . .

ISIS is a revolution

World-altering revolutions are born in danger and death, brotherhood and joy. This one must be stopped

Excerpts follow —

Asymmetric operations involving spectacular killings to destabilise the social order is a tactic that has been around as long as recorded history

The revolution:

What the United Nations community regards as senseless acts of horrific violence are to ISIS’s acolytes part of an exalted campaign of purification through sacrificial killing and self-immolation: Know that Paradise lies under the shade of swords, says a hadith, or saying of the Prophet; this one comes from the Sahih al-Bukhari, a collection of the Prophet’s sayings considered second only to the Qu’ran in authenticity and is now a motto of ISIS fighters.

This is the purposeful plan of violence that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-anointed Caliph, outlined in his call for ‘volcanoes of jihad’: to create a globe-spanning jihadi archipelago that will eventually unite to destroy the present world and create a new-old world of universal justice and peace under the Prophet’s banner. A key tactic in this strategy is to inspire sympathisers abroad to violence: do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.

The study:

To understand the revolution, my research team has conducted dozens of structured interviews and behavioural experiments with youth in Paris, London and Barcelona, as well as with captured ISIS fighters in Iraq and members of Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria). We also focused on youth from distressed neighbourhoods previously associated with violence or jihadi support – for example, the Paris suburbs of Clichy-sous-Bois and Épinay-sur-Seine, the Moroccan neighbourhoods of Sidi Moumen in Casablanca and Jamaa Mezuak in Tetuán.

While many in the West dismiss radical Islam as simply nihilistic, our work suggests something far more menacing: a profoundly alluring mission to change and save the world. . . . 

read more »


2015-11-19

ISIS: The First Step To Combating It

by Neil Godfrey
The first step to combating Isis is to understand it. We have yet to do so. That failure costs us dear. — Scott Atran in Mindless Terrorists? The truth  about ISIS is much worse (The Guardian)

We must fight their growing power any way, anywhere, we can. With words, with weapons, with sincere efforts at warm embrace for those who might otherwise be pulled or pushed into their dark world that would exterminate all who dare be free and different.

I think that most of us comfort ourselves with the thought that “they can’t win,” at least in the long run, that they must burn themselves out in their frenzy . . . . But this may be dead wrong. Why is it that so many young people are being drawn into this increasingly powerful destroyer of human rights, which despises the very idea of government of and by the people? — Scott Atran in correspondence with Professor Hoodbhoy in wake of UN address

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.01.17 pm

Military operations are obviously necessary but ISIS is not a conventional army. The risks of the wrong kind of military attack are warned against by Stern and Berger in ISIS: The State of Terror:

Even ground forces would likely not be enough to completely destroy ISIS. Absent a military invasion that would somehow— improbably, magically— transform both Iraq and Syria into truly viable, pluralistic states in which Sunnis and Shi’a both feel secure, ISIS would likely remain, at least as a terrorist group, for many years to come.

Beyond the necessity to oversee political change in both Iraq and Syria, a tall order indeed, the international impact of ISIS must also be considered, as it inspires oaths of loyalty and acts of violence in nearly every corner of the globe. As with its military might, ISIS’s potential to wreak terrorism has been limited until now, although the alignment of regional terror groups such as Jund al Khalifah in Algeria and Ansar Bayt al Maqdis in Egypt raise serious concerns going forward.

6 Millenarianism involves the expectation of sweeping societal change, possibly as a result of the apocalypse.

The broader problem is that jihadism has become a millenarian movement6 with mass appeal, in some ways similar to the revolutionary movements of the 1960s and ’70s, although its goals and the values it represents are far different.

Today’s radicals are expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo by making war, not love. They are seduced by Thanatos rather than Eros. They “love death as much as you [in the West] love life,” in Osama bin Laden’s famous and often-paraphrased words. In this dark new world, children are seen to reenact beheadings with their toys, seduced by a familiar drama of the good guys killing the bad guys in order to save the world. Twitter users adopt the black flag by the tens of thousands. And people who barely know anything about Islam or Iraq are inspired to emulate ISIS’s brutal beheadings.

ISIS has established itself as a new paradigm, one that is more brutal, more sectarian, and more apocalyptic in its thinking than the groups that preceded it. ISIS is the crack cocaine of violent extremism, all of the elements that make it so alluring and addictive purified into a crystallized form.

ISIS’s goals are impossible, ludicrous, but that does not mean it can be easily destroyed. Our policies must look to the possible, which means containing and hopefully eliminating its military threat and choking off its export of ideas.

But certainly the history of ISIS and al Qaeda before it show that overwhelming military force is not a solution to hybrid organizations that straddle the line between terrorism and insurgency.

Our hammer strikes on al Qaeda spread its splinters around the world. Whatever approach we take in Iraq and Syria must be focused on containment and constriction, rather than simply smashing ISIS into ever more virulent bits. read more »


2015-11-09

Another study of ISIS

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.01.17 pmAbout a week ago I wrote a few notes on my reading of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. I followed that with Jessica Stern’s and J.M. Berger’s ISIS: The State of Terror. It’s a great companion to former work; don’t hold off thinking it might be redundant if you’ve already read the former.

One small detail but a most valuable asset is an appendix by a Brown University doctoral student, Megan K. McBride, providing one of the most readable and informative outlines of the history and nature of Islam and where the various movements that culminated in ISIS fit in to that overview. My first reaction to reading it was to want to contact the author and seek permission to post it in Vridar.

A principal difference from the Weiss and Hassan study is that Stern and Berger explore in much greater depth the way ISIS is really such a modern phenomenon with the strategic ways it has exploited modern communication technologies, especially social media. I first heard the expression “barbarism empowered by modern technology” as a graduate student to refer to the Nazi machine of World War 2. ISIS is reverting to the most primitive forms of barbarism but empowering that barbaric message through modern communications technology. Beheadings have been historically employed as a “mercifully” swift means of execution; not for ISIS where some deliberately seek out blunt knives to do the job. The object is to strike fear, of course, as well as demonstrate to idealistic potential recruits just how serious they are. Bizarrely bloodthirsty messages are somehow mixed with video shots of an ideal visionary society, a caliphate where children are happy (even if playing with decapitated heads on corpse-lined streets) and the true ways of Allah ensure a purified “utopia”. Gone are the defeatist messages of the old terrorists like Al Qaeda with their expectations of being overwhelmed by godless forces and hopes for a future paradise. The heavenly kingdom is here now; the jihadists are strong and terrifying in their strength. That is their message and that is what makes them different from other terrorist groups. read more »


2015-10-31

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan

by Neil Godfrey

ISIS-Inside-the-Army-of-TerrorThere was a time I needed to read Marx and Mao to orient myself to the essential thought of the ideologies challenging the West. Never did I imagine that in my lifetime those works would be gathering dust and I’d be seeking out the likes of al-Maqdisi’s Democracy a Religion and Naji’s The Management of Savagery (and more recently, al-Suri’s – original name Nasur – Call for a Global Islamic Resistance)  to get a handle on contemporary threats.

Not long ago I devoured a cluster of works on Islam and terrorism and posted on snippets of that reading; the last few weeks I’ve been trying to catch up with Islamism (as distinct from Islam the religion and even “terrorism” per se — though there are obvious overlaps, of course). So most recently I’ve read Islam and the Future of Tolerance: a dialogue (by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz), Maajid Nawaz’s experience as a leader in a group with a long-term strategy of establishing Islamist regimes, Radical: my journey from Islamist extremism to a democratic awakening, Ed Husain’s The Islamist : why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left, and Isis: inside the army of terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. (Still on my to-read list are three other very recent works on ISIS — by Stern & Berger, Cockburn and Burke.

I recommend Radical and The Islamist to anyone who thinks all Muslims are by the nature of their religion somewhat medieval in their values. Nawaz’s upbringing was not particularly religious but Hasain’s certainly was. Reading the lives of these two, especially that of Ed Husain, is an eye-opener to the stark difference between the religion of Islam and the ideology of Islamism.

ISIS: inside the army of terror is a depressing yet informative study of the group’s origins, its brutal nature and strikingly sudden emergence. Michael Weiss (Twitter) and Hassan Hassan (Facebook Community) interviewed many persons closely associated with terrorist organisations and others among the military and political establishments that have been directly involved with events connected to the rise of Islamic State.

The roots of ISIS appear to go right back to Saddam Hussein’s preparations for an American led invasion of his country. Well before the occupation he had prepared safe-houses, secret arms storages and underground economic machinations that would help sustain their secret networks and ongoing armed struggle against the occupiers. Much of Iraq’s army melted into this underground network after March-April 2003 and became the backbone of the various resistance and terrorist movements that followed. read more »