I’ve been reading Scott Atran to try to figure out what is going on with these attacks in Europe, and he has some important insights. What are their goals? To eliminate the Grey Zone and polarize nations. They win when they isolate immigrant populations.
The core strategy outlined in the ISIS playbook, The Management of Chaos-Savagery (Idarat at-Tawahoush, required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir), is to fill the void wherever chaos already exists, as in much of the Sahel and Sahara, and create chaos that can be filled as in Europe.
In reality, today’s Brussel attacks represented just the latest, ever more effective, installment for fomenting chaos in Europe and thereby “Extinguish the Grey Zone,” along the lines of 12-page editorial published in ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015. ‘The Grey ZOne’ describes the twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil – in other words, between the Caliphate and the Infidel, which the ‘blessed operations of September 11’ brought into relief. The editorial quotes Osama bin Laden, for whom ISIS is the true heir: ‘The world today is divided. Bush spoke the truth when he said, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”’, with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the Western Crusaders. Now, ‘the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Grayzone.’A welcome to Syrian refugees would clearly represent a winning response to this strategy, whereas wholesale rejection of refugees just as clearly represents a losing response to ISIS. We might wish to celebrate diversity and tolerance in the grayzone, but the general trend in Europe and the majority of the US political establishment and population is to collude in erasing it.
The following are axioms drawn from The Management of Chaos-Savagery (Idarat at-Tawahoush, required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir), and from the February 2015 editorial in Dabiq (online ISIS publication), on “The Extinction of the Gray Zone.” ISIS’s actions have been, and likely will continue to be, consistent with these axioms:
Diversify the strikes and attack soft targets – tourist areas, eating places, places of entertainment, sports events, and so forth — that cannot possibly be defended everywhere. Disperse the infidels’ resources and drain them to the greatest extent possible, and so undermine people’s faith in the ability of their governments to provide security, most basic of all state functions.
· Motivate the masses to fly to regions that we manage, by eliminating the “Gray Zone” between the true believer and the infidel, which most people, including most Muslims, currently inhabit. Use so-called “terror attacks” to help Muslims realize that non-Muslims hate Islam and want to harm all who practice it, to show that peacefulness gains Muslims nothing but pain.
· Use social media to inspire sympathizers abroad to violence. Communicate the message: Do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.
I suspect that ISIS is planning a coordinated attack across multiple cities in Europe to ramp up the process of extinguishing the gray zone, and to also shift the focus of its possible adherents away form its increasingly noteworthy military containment in Syria and Iraq.
He also explains why anyone would join a violent nutbag organization like ISIS. If you’re screwed by the status quo, upheaval at least gives you a chance that your situation will improve.
Unlike Al Qaeda, whose attacks in Europe and elsewhere were largely instigated by inspiration rather than direct command and control, ISIS is able to remotely command as well as inspire with the idea of a Utopian Caliphate in here and now (something Bin Laden earnestly rejected as long as the USA was powerful enough to to contain and thereby delegitimize), and has infiltrated immigrant neighborhoods, ridden piggyback on refugee pipelines, and tapped into the ennui of a society that hasn’t know war or real struggle over values for 70 years and the anomie of a seemingly endless, genderless, culturally indistinct adolescence. The clear red lines of the Islamic State radically terminates all of this with spectacular violence that its foreign adherents experience as breaking their personal chains and those of humanity.
In the absence of a devout alternative of passion and significance, many who join IS seem to say: “Better an end to suffering the status quo, with hope for something better, whatever suffering and horror it takes.” That, of course, is the heart of the apocalyptic mindset: to save this world it may be necessary to destroy it, and postpone hope to the next life. It is an ultimate expression of the power of seemingly preposterous ideas made real: that privilege of absurdity to which no creature but man is subject, but which renders all creatures subject to His whim, including fellow men.
He wrote about the Paris attacks a while back, too, and it summarizes what they’re trying to do.
Isis is reaching out to fill the void wherever a state of “chaos” or “savagery” (at-tawahoush) exists, as in central Asia and Africa. And where there is insufficient chaos in the lands of the infidel, called “The House of War”, it seeks to create it, as in Europe.
It conscientiously exploits the disheartening dynamic between the rise of radical Islamism and the revival of the xenophobic ethno-nationalist movements that are beginning to seriously undermine the middle class – the mainstay of stability and democracy – in Europe in ways reminiscent of the hatchet job that the communists and fascists did on European democracy in the 1920s and 30s. The fact that Europe’s reproductive rate is 1.4 children per couple, and so there needs to be considerable immigration to maintain a productive workforce that can sustain the middle class standard of living, is a godsend for Isis, because at the same time there has never been less tolerance for immigration. Therein lies the sort of chaos that Isis is well positioned to exploit.
Create chaos, make Western governments turn in hostility against immigrant populations, thereby eliminating the “Grey Zone”, where those immigrants might aspire to be members in full of their new homeland, and let those nations drive their own people into conflict. It’s a brilliant strategy. It’s clearly working. Look at our own Republican presidential candidates, who are responding to pain and bloodshed abroad by threatening to
patrol Muslim neighborhoods in America or promising to do
a lot more than waterboarding, basically amplifying the effect of the terrorist act to alienate further disadvantaged populations here.
Cruz and Trump are unthinkingly acting as agents of ISIS.
So what are we to do? I think Arun has it exactly right: do the opposite of what ISIS wants. Rather than polarizing the nation to obliterate the gray zone, embrace our immigrants as full partners in our society. Give them a stake in our country. Rather than chaos and savagery, offer stability and support. And keep in mind that when we send in drones or A-10s or cruise missiles into a foreign country, we are making ISIS very happy by creating the chaos and savagery in which they thrive.