ISIS feeds off Western Is­lam­o­pho­bia

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - David Ig­natius

THE West suf­fers from what one lead­ing strate­gist calls an “au toim­mune dis­ease” in fight­ing the so-called Is­lamic State (ISIS). The self-de­fence mech­a­nisms cham­pi­oned by Don­ald Trump and his Euro­pean neo-pop­ulist coun­ter­parts have gone into toxic over­drive — weak­en­ing the West’s body politic and mak­ing the ji­hadist fever far worse. David Ken­ning, a Bri­tish counter rad­i­cal is at ion ex­pert, made this provoca­tive ar­gu­ment in a tele­phone in­ter­view this week and in re­cent re­search for var­i­ous Western gov­ern­ments. His com­ments are part of a new wave of analysis that views the ISIS more as a youth gang driven by the iden­tity pol­i­tics of vic­tim­i­sa­tion than as a re­li­gious or ide­o­log­i­cal move­ment.

These scep­ti­cal an­a­lysts ar­gue that many cur­rent mes­sag­ing strate­gies against the ISIS are back­fir­ing — and that po­lar­is­ing politi­cians such as Trump have am­pli­fied the ji­hadists’ im­pact and been their best re­cruit­ing tool. Is­lam­o­pho­bia helps the ji­hadists by fu­elling their nar­ra­tive about em­bat­tled Mus­lims, Ken­ning ar­gues. It cre­ates a sense of wounded com­mu­nity — a shared iden­tity of hav­ing been wronged, which prompts vi­o­lent re­venge.

Watch the videos dis­trib­uted by the ISIS and you’ll often see young men atop pickup trucks in Syria and Iraq, their hair stream­ing in the breeze, cradling .50-cal­iber ma­chine guns in an al­most sex­ual way. Ken­ning ex­plains why the self-styled caliphate’s ap­peal is so pow­er­ful with alien­ated, ado­les­cent re­cruits: “The ISIS brand is em­pow­er­ing. It tells you you’re a vic­tim and of­fers a li­cense for re­venge. And, through so­cial me­dia, it of­fers you celebrity, a chance to be some­body rather than no­body. Any­one who thinks a the­o­log­i­cal ar­gu­ment could counter this is sim­ply naive.”

Trump is the lead­ing Amer­i­can ex­am­ple of the po­lar­is­ing pop­ulist re­sponse to the ji­hadists, but it’s in Europe where so­cial co­he­sion is re­ally be­gin­ning to crack. Politi­cians such as the “Brexit” cam­paigner Nigel Farage in Bri­tain, the right-wing na­tion­al­ist Ma­rine Le Pen in France and the Mus­lim-bash­ing Geert Wilders in the Nether­lands are the faces of a Europe shaken by the dual on­slaught of ter­ror­ism and Is­lam­o­pho­bia.

Lapis Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a Mid­dle East-based con­sult­ing firm that works with Ken­ning and other strate­gists, ex­plains in a re­cent pa­per why Is­lam­o­pho­bia helps the ji­hadists: “In­stead of un­der­cut­ting re­cruit­ing, it pumps value into the brand.” “We are deal­ing pri­mar­ily with the ado­les­cent mind­set,” con­tends Lapis, cit­ing sta­tis­tics that 90 per­cent of ji­hadists to­day are un­der 25. These mil­i­tant youths want to see things in black and white. The only an­ti­dote, ar­gues Lapis, is ‘the grey’ of so­cial com­pro­mise and tol­er­ance, of nu­anced and con­sid­ered thoughts.”

An­other con­trar­ian an­a­lyst who shares this per­spec­tive is Marc Sage­man, a psy­chi­a­trist and for­mer CIA case of­fi­cer. In a forth­com­ing book ti­tled “Mis­un­der­stand­ing Ter­ror­ism,” Sage­man ex­plains the process of rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion — stress­ing that it’s a com­mu­nity phe­nom­e­non in­stead of an in­di­vid­ual or re­li­gious one. Sage­man’s hy­po­thet­i­cal ji­hadist group emerges from a po­lit­i­cal protest com­mu­nity that is at­tacked by the state and, as so­ci­ety is po­lar­ized, be­comes rad­i­cal and vi­o­lent. Sage­man says his model ex­plains more than 80 per­cent of the 34 cam­paigns of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence he has stud­ied over two cen­turies. It’s a sim­ple enough con­cept: Peo­ple turn to vi­o­lence when they feel their com­mu­nity is ex­cluded and un­der at­tack. What poli­cies will best counter the ISIS? I asked each of the an­a­lysts for sug­ges­tions. The com­mon theme is that the counter-ex­trem­ist cam­paigns should stop feed­ing the ji­hadists’ dreams by treat­ing them as a ter­ri­fy­ing Mus­lim threat to the West. Such talk just flat­ters and mo­ti­vates them. “Rad­i­cal Is­lam isn’t the cause, it’s the ex­cuse,” says Lapis. Mes­sag­ing that feeds the sense of an iso­lated and ag­grieved Mus­lim com­mu­nity is “the worst thing that can hap­pen in the West,” says Ken­ning.

Ken­ning ar­gues that the best way to de­feat the ISIS strat­egy is for the Trumps of the world to shut up. If they do that, the caliphate would quickly run out of steam. “They’re rotten at gov­ern­ing,” he says. “The word on the street is that their caliphate is bor­ing.” And these days, it has be­come a dan­ger­ous place, too. Ken­ning thinks the best ap­proach is to grad­u­ally pull the ISIS apart — by ex­ploit­ing the fault lines among those fight­ing un­der its flag. The “imag­ined com­mu­nity” of the ISIS is far weaker than it may seem, ar­gues Sage­man. What gives it strength, paradoxically, is fear and ha­tred from the West. The ISIS is a threat to our se­cu­rity, to be sure, but so is the re­sponse from Trump and his fel­low Mus­lim-bash­ers. — Cour­tesy: The Wash­ing­ton Post

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.