ISIS Copies a Palestinian Tactic: Evelyn Gordon, Commentary, Aug. 15, 2016— In my last post, I discussed how Palestinian culture encourages suicidal youngsters to kill by offering a simple bargain: Murder a Jew, and you instantly become a hero.
Islamic State Should be Wiped Out: Prof. Steven R. David, BESA, Aug. 11, 2016— In my last post, I discussed how Palestinian culture encourages suicidal youngsters to kill by offering a simple bargain: Murder a Jew, and you instantly become a hero.
Freelance Jihad: A.J. Caschetta, Washington Examiner, Aug. 11, 2016— Earlier this month, I fired a silver bullet at the heart of the "Lone Wolf" analysis…
Paradise, the New Muslim Utopia: Kamel Daoud, New York Times, Aug. 2, 2016— Future writing project: a topography of paradise in the medieval Muslim imagination.
The Destruction of Islamic State is a Strategic Mistake: Prof. Efraim Inbar, BESA, Aug. 2, 2016
Thwarted Canadian Terrorist Attack Still Raises Questions: Scott Newark, IPT, Aug. 15, 2016
Trump's Jihad Against Jihad Deserves Support: Tarek Fatah, Toronto Sun, Aug. 16, 2016
A Growing Trend: Brave Muslim Zionists: Noah Beck, Algemeiner, Aug. 15, 2016
Commentary, Aug. 15, 2016
In my last post, I discussed how Palestinian culture encourages suicidal youngsters to kill by offering a simple bargain: Murder a Jew, and you instantly become a hero. While the West has long turned a blind eye to this behavior, its refusal to look reality in the face is now coming back to haunt it. For today, the Islamic State is making the very same tempting offer to distraught Muslims in Western countries–murder a Westerner, and you can instantly become a hero instead of a failure.
It’s no accident that several recent terror attacks in Western countries have been carried out by people who apparently had histories of mental illness, including Nice, Orlando, and several attacks in Germany. Nor is it any accident that the Islamic State is cultivating such people. As with many other terrorist techniques pioneered by the Palestinians, ISIS has copied this one precisely because it proved successful–and not just as a means of recruiting assailants.
This tactic also serves two other important purposes. First, it encourages an already strong Western tendency to ignore the terrorists’ true aims. I discussed this with regard to the Palestinians in my previous post; a classic example concerning the Islamic State was Kenan Malik’s op-ed in the New York Times on Tuesday. “In the past, groups employing terrorism, such as the Irish Republican Army or the Palestine Liberation Organization, were driven by specific political aims: a united Ireland or an independent Palestine,” Malik wrote. “Jihadists are different. They have little or no explicit political aim but are driven by a visceral hatred of the West.”
In reality, Islamic State is quite open about its aims: It wants to destroy the West and establish a global Islamic caliphate. Indeed, being open about its goals is part of how it attracts new recruits, just as Palestinian organizations attract support by boasting of their efforts to destroy the Jewish state. But at the same time, both the Palestinians and ISIS would prefer that the West not take their goals too seriously since, if it did, it might stop supporting the Palestinians or actually get serious about destroying ISIS. The use of emotionally distressed recruits is an ideal way for terrorists to foster confusion about their aims because it makes it even easier for well-meaning Westerners to reassure themselves that Islamist death cults, which exploit such distress to turn people into killers, aren’t actually the problem. The real issue, they tell themselves, is mental health or social alienation.
Second, this tactic helps divide the West and turn it against itself, because it reinforces another existing tendency of many well-meaning Westerners–blaming the victim for having driven the attacker to such a dreadful deed. Westerners have been blaming Palestinian terror on Israel for years, and now, many are blaming themselves for ISIS. A classic example of this tendency emerged the day after deadly attacks killed 129 people at the Bataclan concert hall and other venues around Paris last November. Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz visited the 11th arrondissement, one of the neighborhoods where attacks took place and discovered that people “aren’t angry, at least not at the perpetrators.”
The terrorists are “stupid, but they aren’t evil,” a woman who works at one of the district’s theaters told him. “They are victims of a system that excluded them from society, that’s why they felt this doesn’t belong to them and they could attack. There are those who live here in alienation, and we are all to blame for this alienation.” Some of the others blamed French or American foreign policy. But “no one wanted to talk about Islamists or the Islamic State, even after it took responsibility for the attacks,” Pfeffer wrote. “It was hard to find anyone at this gathering who would say a bad word about the attackers.”
Using assailants with a history of mental or emotional problems is an ideal way for terrorists to reinforce this tendency as well, because it enables people to focus on the assailant’s distress, and society’s failure to deal with it, rather than on the evil intent of those who incited him to kill by telling him he would thereby become a hero instead of a loser. Yet both gambits are working for ISIS now precisely because Westerners were conditioned for decades to believe them by the way their own journalists, academics, and political leaders insistently treated Palestinian terror as Israel’s fault.
Some Westerners, like the young Parisians interviewed by Pfeffer, have so internalized this attitude that they simply transfer it to their own countries; asserting that their society, too, must be to blame for the attacks against it. Others, like Malik, perform a kind of inversion: Indoctrinated to believe that terror is the victim’s fault, yet unable to believe their own societies evil enough to merit such attacks, they resolve the dilemma by asserting that unlike Palestinian violence–which Malik deems “rational” and “governed by certain norms”– jihadist violence must be senseless than rather than purposeful. “It is the arbitrariness of jihadist violence and its disregard for moral bounds that make it terrifying,” he proclaimed (he evidently thinks murdering random civilians in Israel is well within moral bounds).
But whichever approach they choose, the one thing people like Malik and those young Parisians aren’t doing is putting the blame where it belongs: on the terrorist leaders who groom perpetrators to commit mass murder by indoctrinating them to believe that the road to glory runs through killing others. Terror can never be defeated until Westerners recognizes the crucial role played by this glorification of murder. And that won’t happen as long as the West keeps giving it a pass among the Palestinians, for they are the ones who pioneered this culture of death and inspired all the subsequent copycats.
Prof. Steven R. David
BESA, Aug. 11, 2016
Prof. Efraim Inbar recently argued (August 2, “Destruction of Islamic State is a Strategic Mistake,” BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 353) that although the West should attempt to weaken Islamic State (IS), it should refrain from seeking its destruction. According to Inbar, IS does not pose much of a threat to the West. Its armed forces are too feeble to defeat determined opposition. Terrorist attacks done in its name are carried out by “lone wolves” with little or no connection to the group. Moreover, IS does the West a service by attracting would-be terrorists, making it easier for intelligence services to identify those who are not killed in battle.
An IS without territory, Inbar claims, would focus its efforts on promoting terrorism throughout the world, indirectly strengthening the hand of Assad and his Iranian benefactors. In Inbar’s view, the brutality of IS should not obscure that its presence allows “bad guys to kill bad guys,” ultimately serving Western interests. Therefore, the best policy is to contain IS, but keep its caliphate alive.
Inbar deserves credit for his provocative and original analysis. But he is wrong. The existence of IS hurts the West in many ways, making its elimination an urgent priority. The principal threat to the West from IS stems from its support of international terrorism, and this threat is made much worse by the existence of its caliphate. Many terrorists thought to be “lone wolves,” it was later determined, had close ties to IS. Rather than acting on their own or simply being inspired by IS, they were trained, equipped, or directed by operatives of IS acting from its capital of Raqqa.
It stands to reason that directing a terrorist network is easier when territory is held than when activities must be conducted in the shadows of hostile states. It is far easier to train recruits, prepare false documents, and plan attacks in one’s own country, free from the fear of police surveillance. It is noteworthy that much of the planning and training for the 9/11 attacks was carried out in the welcoming land of Afghanistan. In response, the US toppled the Taliban government and installed an occupying force to ensure that its territory would never again be used to plot against American soil. The same logic should be applied to the caliphate of IS, which regularly plans and directs terrorist attacks against the West and much of the rest of the world.
The caliphate also hurts Western interests by serving as an inspiration for terrorist acts. Inbar assumes that IS attracts individuals already bent on terrorism, but ignores that IS’s very existence inspires terrorists. Why has IS eclipsed Al-Qaeda as the principal threat to the West and worldwide stability? In large measure, it is because of the restoration of the caliphate. Al Qaeda reserved the prospect of such restoration for some distant, unknown future. IS appeals to those who are energized by the notion that the caliphate has now been established. So long as the caliphate endures, so too will the appeal of IS. IS is also more attractive than Al Qaeda because of its slick media campaigns. The videos it posts of its military actions and horrific acts have attracted volunteers from throughout the world. IS’s use of social networking media would not be nearly as effective if it did not have the freedom of its own territory in which to film whatever it chooses.
Most important, the persistence of IS is unacceptable because it demonstrates the impotence of the West. In the heart of the Middle East, IS thumbs its nose at the world, killing hundreds of innocents while destabilizing a critical region. What does this say about the West’s ability to protect its own? With each terrorist outrage and triumphant claim of responsibility from IS, the West’s credibility shrinks. If a collection of the world’s most powerful states cannot eliminate an ongoing threat to its interests perpetuated by maybe 30,000 fanatics armed with little more than pick-up trucks, the ability of the West to ensure the security of its own countries – to say nothing of creating a liberal world order – is called into question.
The collapse of IS will not, as Inbar suggests, create a terrorist diaspora. Rather, it will demonstrate the bankruptcy of IS’s ideas, much as the end of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did much to undermine their respective ideologies. Nor will the end of IS result in the victory of Assad and his Iranian backers. Assad (and Iran) have many other foes throughout the Middle East, all of whom are far more palatable than the brutes of IS. It is far better to align with them than to make common cause with IS, even indirectly. There are valid disagreements about how best to eliminate IS. It is not easy to determine, for example, whether it would be better to rely on indigenous actors or Western intervention. If the West does intervene, the scale and nature of that intervention is and should be the subject of debate. What is clear, however, is that the West and the broader international community would be much better off if IS, and the horrific activities it spawns, were wiped off the face of the earth.
Washington Examiner, Aug. 11, 2016
Earlier this month, I fired a silver bullet at the heart of the "Lone Wolf" analysis, a flawed paradigm depicting every jihadist without demonstrable ties to a terrorist organization as an unfathomable mystery whose motives we may never know. Since then I have been inundated with inquiries about a replacement.
If we reject the term "lone wolves," some asked, what shall we call them? In a succinct message, Daniel Pipes offered a wonderful replacement: "freelancers."
It's a suitable enough fit based solely on the association with writers or photographers who work without contractual obligations to any particular publication. But the term's etymology in the language of warfare makes it perfect. The word "lance" comes from the Latin lancea, which is a Roman light spear. "Lance" became a nearly universal word in Western Europe, adopted by both Romance (lanca, lanza) and Teutonic (lans, lanze) languages. The legendary warrior Sir Lancelot gets his name from the weapon. In the Middle Ages, spears got bigger, and in medieval warfare the term "lancer" came to denote a horse-mounted spearman. In an era when kings and feudal lords owned the means of conducting war, the Italian condottiere (like Francesco Sforza and Federigo da Montefeltro) broke the mold by selling their martial skills to the highest bidder. Today we call them mercenaries.
Global jihadism has become more dispersed, with greater freedom among combatants. The English-speaking world also had warriors who owned the means of conducting warfare. Indentured to none and able to fight for any cause and in any army, they were called "free lancers." Like medieval warfare, the global jihad movement has evolved. Once dominated by hierarchical structures with centralized power, it has become a more dispersed phenomenon with less control over, and greater freedom among, combatants. A pivotal point came with the defeat of the Taliban and dispersal of al Qaeda in 2001.
Osama bin Laden once ruled as the uncontested commander of the most significant jihad organization. Under him, a Shura council oversaw the activities of four committees (Special Operations, Military, Public Relations and Finance), which in turn supervised untold numbers of independent cells. After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, al Qaeda no longer controlled the means of conducting jihad. The training that once occurred in specialized camps located in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Sudan ceased. Bin Laden struggled to maintain his position atop the chain of command. But even at its peak of power, al Qaeda associated with freelancers. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed purportedly cooperated with al Qaeda for years before swearing bay'a (allegiance) to bin Laden. His nephew Ramzi Yousef fought for the cause without ever swearing allegiance to anyone. The debate still rages over whether Abu Zubayda was a member of al Qaeda or a free-lance jihad financier.
Likewise, the Palestinian jihad against Israel was once dominated by organizations like the PLO, PIJ, Hamas, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and others. During the deadliest period of the "second intifada," the proliferation of organizations meant that recruiters, handlers and dispatchers were ubiquitous, and freelancers were rare. And while those organizations show no signs of going away, the current so-called "Knife Intifada" has brought about a tactical shift. Kitchen knives and even screwdrivers are the tools of freelance jihad in Israel. When these are unavailable, an opportunistic freelancer can always deploy cars, trucks even bulldozers as weapons.
Today's jihadist often works without ties to an organizational hierarchy. In the late 20th century, jihad terrorism was conducted primarily by organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and al Qaeda. The attacks were meticulously planned over the course of months and even years. In the 21st century, it is beginning to look like jihad terrorism might become dominated by freelancers whose attacks may be near-spontaneous strikes requiring little planning.
The term "freelancer" captures precisely the entrepreneurial spirit of today's jihadist who works without ties to an organizational hierarchy but follows the same pattern concerning targets, tactics and goals. Economically, freelancers represent the cheapest form of jihad. Operationally, they are less likely than "members" to attract the attention of law enforcement officials. "Training" can be conducted online. Even if they have "no direct links" to an organization's leadership and have never set foot in Syria or Iraq, American and European Muslims who conduct attacks in the name of the Islamic State or al Qaeda, or "in defense of Muslims," are just as much a part of the movement as anyone fighting in Aleppo or Sana'a. They are not lone wolves and their motives are not unknowable. They are freelancers in the global jihad.
New York Times, Aug. 2, 2016
Future writing project: a topography of paradise in the medieval Muslim imagination. But not only medieval, for among Muslims today paradise is also at the center of political discourse, sermons and the contemporary imagination. Paradise as a goal for the individual or the group has gradually replaced the dreams of development, stability and wealth promised by postwar decolonization in the so-called Arab world. These days, one imagines happy tomorrows only after death, not before.
“Paradise decks itself in delights,” an editorial writer mused in an Algerian Islamist newspaper during the most recent Ramadan, the month of fasting. The declaration was followed by descriptions of the charms, the delights, the joys that await the faithful after death. This fantasy of paradise, amply depicted as a place of pleasures, with sex and wine, golden adornments and silk apparel, is the opposite of earthly life — and of the frustrations experienced in Arab countries afflicted by economic failures, wars and bloody dictatorships.
Firdaus (a remote ancestor of the word “paradise,” derived from the Persian) was promised by the Quran and has been abundantly described in religious literature for centuries. But in recent years, paradise has also become the country dreamed of by the poor, the unemployed, the believer — and the jihadist, thanks to certain religious elites who promote it as a means of recruitment. This is a fascinating renewal of the concept of happiness that was dominant a half-century ago. Back then, the countries of the Maghreb and the Middle East — born out of decolonization often violently wrested from occupying forces that had imposed on them war, poverty and misery — advocated for a vision of the future based on independence, egalitarianism, development, wealth creation, justice and coexistence.
That vision of utopia within human reach, which was taken up by the socialist or communist elites and even some monarchies, was a shared political dream, and it gave legitimacy to those new regimes in the eyes of both their own peoples and foreign governments. Decolonization was the era of grand slogans about the advancement of peoples and modernization through massive infrastructure projects. But that dream has aged badly, because of the bloody-mindedness of those authoritarian regimes and the political failures of the left in the Arab world. Today, one has to be a Muslim – by faith, culture or place of residence – in order to experience the full weight of the new post-mortem utopia of the Islamosphere circulating on the internet and the media. It conditions people’s imaginations, political speech, coffee-shop daydreams and the desperation of the younger generations. Paradise has come back into fashion, described in mind-boggling detail by preachers, imams and Islamist fantasy literature.
Its main selling point: women, who are promised in vast numbers as a reward for the righteous. The women of paradise, the houris, are beautiful, submissive, languorous virgins. The idea of them feeds a barely believable form of erotico-Islamism that drives jihadists and gets other men to fantasize about escaping the sexual misery of everyday life. Suicide bombers or misogynists, they share the same dream. What about the women allowed into the eternal garden? If men can have dozens of virgins, what of the women, especially considering the machismo of those earthbound dream-makers? The preachers’ responses can be amusing: The woman’s heavenly reward is to be her husband’s happy wife throughout eternity, the two of them destined to enjoy perpetual conjugal felicity, at the symbolic age of 33 and in good health. And if the woman is divorced? A preacher replies that she will be remarried to a dead man who was also divorced.
Curiously, this dream of a Muslim paradise finds itself confronted with another dream at once antagonistic and similar: the West. Generating passion or hatred for the Muslim believer and the jihadist alike, the West and its indulgences represent another facet of the post-mortem Muslim paradise. One dreams of going there, whether as migrant or as martyr. One dreams of going to the West and of living and dying there, or of subjugating and destroying it. The new Muslim utopia weighs heavily on today’s Arab world. What motivates the masses, gives sense to their despair, lightens the weight of the world and compensates for sorrow no longer is the promise of a rich and happy country, as was the case after decolonization; it’s a vision of paradise in the afterlife. But this fantasy of eternal bliss also causes uneasiness: For however much one wishes to ignore this, the fact remains that in order to get to heaven, one first has to die.
The Destruction of Islamic State is a Strategic Mistake: Prof. Efraim Inbar, BESA, Aug. 2, 2016—US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently gathered defense ministers from allied nations to plan what officials hope will be the decisive stage in the campaign to eradicate the Islamic State (IS) organization. This is a strategic mistake.
Thwarted Canadian Terrorist Attack Still Raises Questions: Scott Newark, IPT, Aug. 15, 2016—Last week's successful prevention of a terrorist attack merits Canadians' appreciation for the effective work of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Ontario Provincial Police and local police.
Trump's Jihad Against Jihad Deserves Support: Tarek Fatah, Toronto Sun, Aug. 16, 2016—It didn't take long for critics of Donald Trump to cry foul when the Republican presidential candidate announced his plans to "temporarily suspend immigration from some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting [Islamic] terrorism."
A Growing Trend: Brave Muslim Zionists: Noah Beck, Algemeiner, Aug. 15, 2016—Muslims and Arabs who openly identify as Zionists are growing in number – powered by the freer flow of information and ideas made possible by social media and the search for answers in the wake of the Arab Spring and Islamist terror.