Saturday, October 22, 2016

Confronting 'Thrill-Kill Cult' of ISIS

Review by Bill Doughty

An examination of the roots, branches and seeds of ISIS/ISIL/Da'esh can be found in two new approaches to the study of Islamist-jihadist theology: Fawaz A. Gerges's "ISIS: A History" (2016, Princeton University Press) and Malcolm Nance's "Defeating Isis: Who They Are, How They Fight, What They Believe" (2016, Skyhorse Publishing) including a foreword by Richard Engel, NBC's Chief Foreign Correspondent.

Both books reveal how Salafi-Jihadists arose from Sunni and Shia strife, and each author offers advice on how ISIS can be defeated, a "complex task that requires political and social strategies that deny the group the oxygen that sustains it," according to Gerges.

Gerges shows "the world according to ISIS" and how jihadism evolved from Zarqawi to Baghdadi. The evolution accelerated as wars in Iraq and Syria created a crisis in Sunni identity; that led to a breakdown in respect for countries' borders.
"Following a rapid rise and concomitant territorial conquests, the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), ISIL, (Islamic State of Iraq and wa-Sham or Levant), or by its Arabic abbreviation, Da'esh, has for now, by default, taken operational command and leadership of the global jihadist movement, eclipsing Al-Qaeda Central (AQC), which attacked the U.S. homeland on September 11, 2001. At the time of writing, ISIS controls a wide swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, as large as the United Kingdom, with a population estimated at roughly between six million and nine million people. Additionally, ISIS controls a sectarian army numbering more than thirty thousand combatants, in part through an amalgamation of local armed insurgents in Iraq and Syria and foreign recruits."
Fawaz A. Georges
Gerges says we must confront the ideology "frozen in time and space" from centuries ago that binds the groups of radicalized Sunni Muslims.
"It is easy to dismiss the Salafi-Jihadists ... as monsters, savages, and killers. It is also tempting to belittle their religious fanaticism and messianism as un-Islamic. This type of moral and ethical condemnation overlooks a painful truth: that an important Sunni constituency believes in the group's utopian and romantic vision of building an Islamic state, even though many might not condone its gruesome violence. Other Sunnis have lent a helping hand to ISIS because they see it as an effective bulwark against the Shia- and Alawite-dominated governments in Baghdad and Damascus respectively, as well as their Iranian patrons. Through its rapid emergence in the aftermath of the civil strife that has gripped the Middle East since 2011, ISIS has managed to effectively tap into a crisis of Sunni Arab identity in Iraq, Syria and beyond."
Both authors agree on how ISIS got its start – in the "social rupture" and "repercussions" caused in Iraq in 2003. According to Gerges: "The U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, combined with the subsequent social turmoil and prolonged and costly armed resistance, led to the dismantling of state institutions and the establishment of a political system based on muhasasa, or the distribution of spoils of power along communal, ethnic, and tribal lines."

In "Defeating Isis," Nance writes:
"The invasion of Iraq was not just an exhausting failure, unsuccessful in stamping out insurgency and terrorism; it actually created he entire legion of terror and tyranny that we know as the Islamic State. Had the invasion not toppled the existing social, political, and tribal structure of Mesopotamia, there would be no ISIS to fight. Al-Qaeda might well have died slowly in the mountains of Pakistan. Today, however, the global jihadist movement under the aegis of a newly minted ISIS has reinforced their ranks and even provided the old-guard al-Qaeda with enough recruits to conduct terrorist acts across such a widely diverse number of regions that the world is adjusting to the circumstances in what is becoming the 'new normal.'"
The origins and subsequent atrocities of jihadism – including suicide bombings, such as the attack on USS Cole (DDG 51) in 2000 and attacks of 9/11/2001 and since, as well as gruesome beheadings and burnings of prisoners alive – are extremely uncomfortable to read and think about.

I was reminded of the excellent Frontline specials on ISIS, including "The Rise of ISIS" and the latest, "Contronting ISIS" with correspondent Martin Smith"Warning: tonight's program contains graphic imagery of war and extreme violence."

Watch Frontline and you'll want to dive deeper into how and why the war is leading back to Mosul, for example.
An AV-8B Harrier with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) Aug. 8, 2016 for a precision air strike against ISIL targets in Sirte, Libya. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zhiwei Tan)
Gerges's insightful narrative is well-written and heartfelt. He examines the effects of not only a power vacuum but also a thought vacuum due to millenarian, end-of-the-world tribal thinking. "Formal separation of mosque and state is essential in order to end the instrumentalization of religion for political purposes by both religious and secular politicians."

Freedom-worshipping philosopher Voltaire
At just over 500 pages, Nance's book is encyclopedic in presenting the who, what, when, where and why of Da'esh. How to defeat the terrorists? Nance's recommendation is: Target the ideology as well as the entrenched warriors, and do so surgically with continued creative use of Special Warfare and airpower.

Da'esh's nasty lack of civility, love of authoritarian male domination, tyranny over dissent, and hate-based superstitious ideology succeed when people fail to apply critical thinking skills. Nance concludes:
"The French philosopher Voltaire once remarked, 'Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.' ISIS is the epitome of this commentary. The absurdity of their cult ideology has caused the deaths of tens of thousands and subjugated millions under their rule. If the war to defeat ISIS could be fought with just the strength and moral fiber of Lt. Kasabeh [Jordanian pilot burned to death in a cage] and Ruqi Hassan [assassinated for writing the truth about life in 'the fantasy of the caliphate.'] then the outcome would be the swift and utter destruction of this cult. Yet for all of the social power ready to be harnessed, a grand war promises not even the slightest chance of success until the ISIS cult's murderous mayhem is reframed, redefined, and revealed as the apocalyptic thrill-kill death cult that it is. Redefining and fighting this ideology with a single, damning word, "cult," is more accurate, readily consumable, and believable than hoping that ISIS will somehow contain itself or self-destruct."
Gerges concludes that ISIS is only the latest brand of Islamist extremist philosophy, what Peter Bergen calls "binladenism." Gerges writes: "Ideas are the first line of defense against the Salafi-jihadist nihilistic ideology and the final nail in its coffin. Without this revolution in ideas, the narrative and brand of Salafi-jihadism, of which iSIS is the most recent iteration, will continue to prevail in the Arab-Islamic world."

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Sept. 24, 2016) Boatswain's Mate Seaman Noah Cheeks, from Follansbee, W.Va., dons a cranial during flight operations aboard USS Ross (DDG 71) Sept. 24, 2016. Ross, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is providing multi-warfare defense support to Charles de Gaulle carrier-based operations in the Eastern Mediterranean against identified ISIL positions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)