Monday, April 06, 2015

Steve Negus Reports on the Islamic State

Islamic State Jihadists in Tikrit
New York Times

Steve Negus provides a useful review of three recent books on the Islamic State in his article "'ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,' and More" (New York Times, April 1, 2015), but I'll just quote a couple of passages that I deem important. Consider this:
A masked militant with a drawn knife, preparing to slaughter a helpless captive: This is how the group that was to become the Islamic State, more commonly known as ISIS, grabbed the world's attention in 2004. The Islamic State has renamed and reinvented itself many times since then, but it still makes such scenes a staple of its propaganda.

"One who previously engaged in jihad knows that it is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, deterrence and massacring," Abu Bakr Naji wrote in "The Management of Savagery," the group's key theoretical work.
I know about Abu Bakr Naji and his magnum opus, The Management of Savagery, and I've occasionally posted on it on this blog. Basically, the book is a guide for "manufactured heroism" - jihadis create chaos, then make relentless effort to provide stability and services aimed at creating grateful dependency among those who've survived the chaos. Negus comments on this strategy:
The phrase "management of savagery," which could be read as how to exploit terror, actually refers to something else: how to break down "apostate" regimes so that Muslim regions fall into a state of "savagery," and then build a new order on top. The cruelty and the willingness to make enemies are necessary elements in both the breaking down and the building up, but they are only part of the equation.

[Jessica] Stern, a lecturer on terrorism at Harvard, and [J. M.] Berger, a nonresident fellow with the Brookings Institution, dissect the Islamic State's messaging in some detail, showing how the cruelty is aimed at recruiting a very specific demographic, "angry, maladjusted young men" attracted to a total war against unbelief. The Islamic State also chooses its foes and battles so that it appears to be fulfilling Islamic End Times prophecies. Only a tiny percentage of the world's Muslims may be receptive to such a message, but the Islamic State's social media tactics reach so large an audience that the payoff is huge: Nearly 20,000 foreign volunteers have come to join jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, according to one study cited by Stern and Berger.
Read that last paragraph in conjunction with Graeme Wood's report on the Islamic State, a long article that I've previously blogged on, and consider the size of Islam, perhaps a billion and a half individuals. Even if only five percent of that number are drawn by the Islamic State's brutality, that's 75 million radicals willing to fight for the Islamic State. But perhaps that's too pessimistic - maybe only one percent are radicals. Perhaps there are only fifteen million radicals. And at a half percent? At a half percent, there are only seven million and five hundred thousand radicals.

I say "only" in ironic jest, for 7.5 million radicalized young men constitutes a force to be reckoned with.



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