ISIS, the terrorist organization also known as DASH, the Islamic State and ISIL, is far more dangerous than we thought. The attacks in Paris and San Bernardino are just the beginning of this organization’s threat to the entire world.
The nature of ISIS and the scope of the organization’s ambitions are what make it far more dangerous than we previously believed. Unfortunately, there are also a number of popular misconceptions about ISIS that have fueled its rise and increased its influence.
Since words matter, I shall use the name ISIS because it is the popular American term for the group. I also do not want to fall into the trap of some intellectuals and serve ISIS’s evil cause by spreading the false and horrendous notions that it somehow represents Islam or Islamic civilization. They do this by using the term Islamic State, which legitimizes ISIS by making it sound like a government based upon religious law rather than a gang of murderers.
What We Get Wrong about ISIS and Why That Matters
A few of the most dangerous misconceptions that we have about ISIS include:
- ISIS is a religious organization. Actually, ISIS is a political organization. Its primary goal is political: to overthrow all established governments and replace them with its political system. That political system seems to be based upon a very crude and shallow misinterpretation of Islamic law and history, yet it is not automatically Islamic.
- ISIS’s primary enemy is America. Wrong. ISIS wages war on everybody and every organization that does not share its values or goals. America is a major target because it is the largest country espousing a political system—democracy—and philosophy—secularism that ISIS disagrees with.
- Organizations like ISIS can be stopped by reforming or modernizing Islam. This is false because ISIS does not represent the mainstream of Islam and because ISIS is a political organization with political goals. Changing Islam or debating theology with Muslims will do nothing to hinder ISIS.
- ISIS is an archaic organization espousing barbaric beliefs and seeking primitive goals. Wrong. ISIS is a thoroughly modern organization; it makes use of the latest technology, and its leaders seem have a very good grasp of modern military strategy, media, propaganda, tactics and politics.
- ISIS is waging religious warfare. Actually, ISIS is waging political warfare for political goals, in which many if not most of its fighters are motivated by religion. Therefore ISIS’s religion can be seen more as a propaganda tool designed to facilitate its war effort rather than as its primary motivation.
These misconceptions make it hard and sometimes impossible to fight ISIS. One big mistake Americans make is to look at ISIS’s religion which is incoherent and childish and not at its politics, which are frightening. Another is to think that ISIS is somehow an Islamic problem. ISIS is a modern phenomenon rooted in modern civilization and its problems and is a threat to the whole world, not just to Muslims.
What We Need to Know about ISIS
Here are a few frightening facts we should understand about ISIS.
- The political system ISIS wants to impose is an absolute monarchy with its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as Caliph, or Islamic emperor of the world. The idea is that only a Caliph can enforce Islamic law. This means the term Islamofascism is untrue; even though ISIS is an authoritarian and perhaps totalitarian organization, it is not promulgating fascism.
- ISIS’s primary enemy is democracy. Like the Communists and the Nazis, ISIS wants to destroy democracy, which is the main political system opposed to it. It has even stated that voting in elections is a sin.
- Like the Communists and the Nazis, ISIS does not share our concept of human rights. Its political agenda includes the revival of slavery and the end of basic human rights for women, non-Muslims and everyone but ISIS soldiers.
- Violence is ISIS’s primary weapon. It is the violence of its war that attracts people to ISIS, not necessarily its belief system. The Paris attackers were secular individuals who apparently did not live an Islamic lifestyle; two of them actually ran a bar and liked to drink. This is very dangerous because it means that it would be entirely possible for a non-Muslim to carry out attacks in the name of ISIS.
- There is a pathology of behavior behind ISIS that is thoroughly modern but not unique to that organization or Muslims. Basically, ISIS promulgates a simple-minded fundamentalism in which its followers are the good guys whose goal is to wage war on the bad guys, namely everybody else. ISIS’s followers see the world as a giant video game and themselves as video game heroes whose duty it is to destroy the enemy. Therefore the real inspiration of young ISIS soldiers could be Call of Duty rather than the Koran.
- Violence is much of ISIS’s appeal. Bored young people are drawn to it because of the action it promises not because of its beliefs. This is very similar to the appeal of Communism and fascism in the 20th
- The truly frightening thing about this pathology is that it can be adapted to a wide variety of belief systems, including Marxism, racism and even Christianity. Recent terror attacks in the United States, such as Dylan Roof’s murder of African-American worshippers and Robert Lewis Dear’s assault on the Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs, have strong similarities to ISIS assaults, yet those individuals were not motivated by ISIS’s beliefs. Interestingly enough, Roof also seems to have been inspired by video games as much as by racism.
- ISIS has adapted many of its tactics from other groups. Its guerilla warfare tactics seem to come from the playbook of Maoist guerillas like Pol Pot, while as Baylor University professor Philip Jenkins has pointed out, its “lone wolf attacker” strategy comes from the American neo-Nazi movement of the 1980s and 1990s. They were apparently transmitted to ISIS and other Islamic groups by Al-Qaeda thinker Anwar al-Awlaki, an American who had lived in the United States in the 1990s.
- ISIS could form a template that other groups could adopt and non-Islamic terrorist organizations could utilize. It is not hard to imagine a Christian ISIS, whose leaders claim to be motivated by the Bible and whose members were killing in the name of Jesus or a Marxist ISIS killing in the name of the revolution. One strong possibility is that megalomaniacal leaders could adapt ISIS’s methodology to promote their own causes.
- ISIS’s major goal outside of its borders is disruption. ISIS’s methods are similar to those of companies like Amazon and Apple, which use new technologiesto disrupt industries to expand their businesses. ISIS uses terror attacks to disrupt regions in order to clear the way for the expansion of its political system. Like Amazon, ISIS is prepared to take massive losses to clear the way for its expansion.
- One way ISIS creates and spreads disruption is to create conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims and between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The San Bernardino attack was designed to turn Americans against Muslims. Sadly enough, that ignorant fool, Donald Trump, has fallen for the gambit like the sucker he is. This also means that much of the critique of Islamic extremism being made by secular and Christian intellectuals is actually serving ISIS’s cause.
As you can see, ISIS could be the first of a wave of increasingly destructive and disruptive next generation terror organizations. Therefore new political structures and methods will be needed to fight it and its successors.