Middle East analysts are trying to assess this new beast that has emerged out of Islamist dysfunction: ISIL or, as they like to call themselves, The Islamic State. The borders of this imagined “state” are vague because this cult does not recognize borders. Their aim is to melt all the boundaries established by the victorious powers of World War I, which dismantled the Ottoman Empire and parceled out the lands to newly minted countries (Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Palestine/Israel. Even Egypt and Morocco, which had identities long before the Ottoman Turks conquered the region, were assigned European managers until the end of World War II.
Islamists, from their emergence as the Muslim Brotherhood (1928), have bitterly resented the impotence and colonial status of the once proud Islamic Empire, and their self-appointed mandate was to restore the Caliphate. This aim was emotional and largely delusional, including their reverence for what they thought was the perfect society, the original Islam of the Prophet Mohammad.
The delusions included lack of knowledge about what early Islam really was like; what the modern world is really like (participatory governance, beginnings of gender equality, work ethic, the scientific and industrial revolutions); and how people with adherence to a medieval religion could compete, not to mention conquer, such a world. The Brotherhood and their spawn (Palestine Liberation Organization, Al Qaeda, and now ISIS and ISIL) could only do what classical anarchists have always done: wage a war of terror on civilians because they could not overwhelm modern police and armies. They destroy but cannot build. What sustains them is the notion that after they destroy the rest of the world, the brave new world of Islam will emerge triumphant.
So, what are we up against with the emergence of a very nasty Muslim group that has aspirations to statehood, followed by world conquest? There are ramifications of this cult’s actions that we must both understand and counter.
- Prognosis Long Term: A decade from now, they will not be around. In the interim, they are a dangerous nuisance which we must combat.
- Internationalization. Because they do not recognize borders, fighting them will require international cooperation, which is already happening. The crisis is even bringing alliances among the Saudis, Egyptians, and Emirates who are actually fighting ISIS in Tripoli. We will need joint intelligence, joint military action, and joint strategies, including attention to international travel.
- Passports. Those idealists who prefer privacy to security need to rethink. We are going to need passport control that will profile and be prepared to arrest any of our citizens who have gone to Syria or joined ISIL with the intention of returning home to take the war domestic. This danger is already recognized in Europe with a rash of terror acts, mostly against Jews, committed by returned terrorists. Airport security had better profile; our safety depends on it.
- Counterterrorism. Modern communications have provided for chat rooms and Islamist propaganda media that have succeeded in recruitment. We must be prepared to watch and respond with force to these Internet media when necessary. For counter-messages, we already have many, from movies to TV programs and even soap operas, all of which could be used effectively to promote our world view. Our culture is seductive.
- Inter-Muslim Relations. Ferocious cults such as Boka Haram and ISIS and ISIL, which fancy themselves as pure practitioners of the original Islam, are a nightmare to more moderate Muslims who may have been initially enthusiastic about this “fundamentalism.” They are having a hard lesson about what reconstructed original Islam really is. Decapitation, kidnapping schoolgirls for sex slavery, executing all those who do not practice “pure” Islam, were all parts of the original Muslim conquests during the earliest years. If Islam does not have a reformation, it will fail and die out as a modern religion. Muslims themselves will leave in droves.
The “Islamic State” thinks it can produce a modern state, but Arab ideologues (except for Qatar) may no longer finance them as they financed Al Qaeda. They bite the hand that once fed them.