Who would ISIS vote for?

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

“HIL­LARY CLIN­TON’S weak­ness while she was sec­re­tary of state has em­bold­ened ter­ror­ists all over the world to at­tack the US, even on our own soil,” wrote Don­ald Trump on Face­book af­ter the bomb­ing in New York on Satur­day. “They are hop­ing and pray­ing that Hil­lary Clin­ton be­comes pres­i­dent, that they can con­tinue their sav­agery and mur­der.”

Mrs Clin­ton replied on Mon­day by brand­ing the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date a “re­cruit­ing sergeant for the ter­ror­ists”. In­deed, in an in­ter­view on Is­raeli tele­vi­sion this month, Mrs Clin­ton said Is­lamic State was pray­ing for a Trump vic­tory. There’s clearly a lot of pray­ing go­ing on, but whose vic­tory are the ji­hadi fa­nat­ics re­ally pray­ing FOR?

There’s no point in ask­ing them, be­cause they are likely to lie about it. At least half of them are smart enough to re­alise that if Is­lamist ex­trem­ists openly ex­press a pref­er­ence for one can­di­date, Amer­i­can vot­ers will tend to back the other. (Tac­ti­cal vot­ing is a time-hon­oured prac­tice, but it does en­cour­age tac­ti­cal ly­ing.)

Be­sides, it’s re­ally hard for the opin­ion poll­sters to con­tact a sta­tis­ti­cally valid sam­ple of the fighters of Is­lamic State by phone. We’re go­ing to have to fig­ure out their views with­out their help, but hap­pily, this is not very hard to do. Their weapon is ter­ror­ism, and there is a clear, uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged doc­trine on how that weapon works.

Some truly stupid things were said and done in the first years af­ter the 9/11 at­tacks in 2001. “They are at­tack­ing us be­cause they hate our val­ues!”, for ex­am­ple, or “We’ll in­vade Iraq and root them out!” (There were no ter­ror­ists in Iraq be­fore the in­va­sion.) But a new gen­er­a­tion of West­ern sol­diers has fi­nally grasped how ter­ror­ism works. The ter­ror­ists them­selves, of course, knew it all along.

Three ba­sic facts about ter­ror­ism: First, it is the weapon of choice for the weak, be­cause it does not re­quire a large army, so­phis­ti­cated weapons or a lot of money.

Sec­ond, with­out those as­sets, ter­ror­ists must not en­gage in frontal as­saults and stand-up bat­tles against pow­er­ful op­po­nents (usu­ally gov­ern­ments) who do have them.

Third, it can, there­fore, only suc­ceed by trick­ing those more pow­er­ful forces into do­ing things that re­ally serve the ter­ror­ists’ pur­poses.

What is the ul­ti­mate goal of Is­lamic State and sim­i­lar ji­hadi groups? Ob­vi­ously, it is to come to power in var­i­ous parts of the Muslim world. If they ever man­age to be­come a gov­ern­ment, they may de­velop fur­ther am­bi­tions (for then they would have a large army and lots of money), but tak­ing power is the cru­cial first step.

Clearly, the ter­ror­ists do not have mass sup­port in their own coun­tries, or they would al­ready be in power. In order to build that mass sup­port – it doesn’t have to be ma­jor­ity sup­port, but they do need a lot of peo­ple be­hind them – they need a vil­lain that will push peo­ple into their arms.


That vil­lain can be ei­ther the gov­ern­ment that cur­rently rules the coun­try, or a for­eign power that in­vades the coun­try, but in ei­ther case, it must be pro­voked into be­hav­ing very badly. Only tor­ture cham­bers and/or clus­ter bombs will make the mass of the pop­u­la­tion so des­per­ate that they turn to the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies for help.

To get the tor­ture and the bomb­ing go­ing, the tar­get gov­ern­ment must be­come so fright­ened and en­raged that it


starts us­ing them on a large scale. That’s what the ter­ror­ism is ac­tu­ally for: to make gov­ern­ments over­re­act and be­have very badly. Then the ter­ror­ists might ac­tu­ally build enough sup­port to win.

Ter­ror­ism is not just blind ha­tred. It is a tech­nique used by ruth­less but in­tel­li­gent lead­ers with co­her­ent strate­gies and clear po­lit­i­cal goals, and the vi­o­lence is never “sense­less”. Bin Laden’s strat­egy in car­ry­ing out the 9/11 at­tacks, for ex­am­ple, was to pro­voke the United States into in­vad­ing Muslim coun­tries.

It worked, and the in­va­sions gave a huge boost to the pop­u­lar­ity of the ji­hadi move­ment. In­deed, Is­lamic State and its clones could never have gained power with­out those in­va­sions.

All ter­ror­ism is a kind of po­lit­i­cal jiu-jitsu, in which a rel­a­tively weak group tries to goad a far stronger force into do­ing some­thing very big and stupid. Ter­ror­ism doesn’t just thrive on over­re­ac­tion. It can­not suc­ceed with­out it.

So now ask yourself: Which of the Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates is more likely to over­re­act to a ter­ror­ist provo­ca­tion?

Okay, so now you know whose vic­tory the ter­ror­ists are re­ally pray­ing for.


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