It didn’t happen overnight, but the world woke up to the nightmare of ISIS in summer 2014. Before that ISIS was in the news, but not the way it wanted to be and only as an obscure offshoot of Al-Qaeda. So It changed that forever, when a gruesome video of barbaric murder of James Foley (an American journalist) spread over internet like wildfire. It introduced the world to an extremist group that was more brutal, violent and powerful than any other terrorist organisation. A group of terrorists who celebrated violence and mayhem, were now in control of large parts of Syria and Iraq. They still are, and for all we know it wont be easy to get rid of them.
Jessica Stern and J.M.Berger approached this subject with a profound clarity and academic neutrality. Starting from the rise of Zarqawi, the main force behind the ideology of ISIS, his ruthless tactics that inspired some sick minded terrorists and terrified the rest. A man so consumed by hatred and cruelty, that he was denounced as “too brutal” even by the AQ main command. The story gets darker and darker, till we reach the Syrian Civil war, the catastrophic tragedy that gave ISIS a free ground for recruitment and showing its capacity as a well organised militant group. The story is that of failure, betrayal and heavy costs of monstrous mistakes.
The two most significant aspects of ISIS’s tactics that this book covers in great detail, deal with its Cyber and Psychological warfare, a phenomena that exclusively belongs to ISIS.
ISIS used internet chat rooms and social media to spread its message across the globe, and the potency of message was grossly enhanced by its brutal tactics. It used shock as a technique, and told everyone that it wasn’t just any terrorist organisation, but one with a clear ideology of global dominance, and was prepared to go to any lengths for that. Its twitter posts had almost unfettered access to millions of users around the world, a method so effective that it threw strategists off their rockers.
By showing horrifying images of massacre and mayhem, it ensured that those with sick fetishes will rush into its fold. Its propaganda ceaselessly kept inspiring thousands. By frequently exposing people to savagery, they attenuated empathy in potential recruits, and significantly reduced their capacity to feel it. It enabled them to dehumanise ‘others’, to coalesce themselves into an alternate universe of Islamist Jihad, a religious extremist narrative, with such potency as to become immune to compassion or pity. It is by using this frequent exposure to violence as a technology to erode empathy among its followers, that ISIS has evolved as the most feared terrorist organisation in the world.
The authors did not blame Islam for this mess. It came as a pleasant reprieve from the usual rants that muslims and arabs are just inherently/genetically “bad”.Instead, They think that an extremist understanding of the doctrine of Jihad has been used as a justification, an instrument to recruit gullible muslim youngsters. And the religious community has terribly failed to present a strong counter narrative. Religion is not the only culprit, and not the only motivation but it still plays a critical role.
If religion wants to salvage its future, it must separate itself from politics and armed violence.
A recent poll said that more than 84% of muslims in Pakistan want Sharia law to be imposed in the country. Religious seminaries and Jihadist organisations have been active, with and without state approval for decades. Thanks to American training and Saudi money, the cancer of fundamentalism founded in 80s Pakistan is still devouring its inhabitants.
Isis is an incestuous child of Jihad politics and regional instability. It is the most horrific impulses of humanity, dressed in fanatic pretexts of religiosity that have been gutted of all nuance and complexity.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
– The Second Coming by W.B.Yeats