The real power of ISIS

Scott Atran writes: As U.S. troops and their allies stage commando raids to rescue prisoners slated for slaughter by the so-called Islamic State, and the Russians mount bombing raids to bolster the dictatorship of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it’s easy amid the kinetics to lose sight of a central and potentially determining fact about the fight against ISIS (or ISIL, or Daesh): This is, fundamentally, a war of ideas that the West has virtually no idea how to wage, and that is a major reason anti-ISIS policies have been such abysmal failures.

It’s not as if the core approach of ISIS is a mystery. Required reading for the emirs of the Islamic State is Abu Bakr Baji’s The Management of Savagery, a detailed manifesto, published a decade ago, looking at the West’s debilities and the potential strengths of a rising, ruthless caliphate. One typical maxim: “Work to expose the weakness of America’s centralized power by pushing it to abandon the media psychological war and the war by proxy until it fights directly.” That is, suck U.S. troops into the fight.

In the meantime ISIS is reaching out, especially in Africa but also in Central Asia and wherever a state of “chaos” or “savagery” (at-tawahoush) exists, to fill the void. It is establishing its caliphate as a global archipelago where “volcanoes of jihad” erupt, so that it may survive even if its current core base between the Euphrates River in Syria (Raqqa) and the Tigris in Iraq (Mosul) is seriously degraded. Libya is a prime target as the gateway to a continent in chaos, where ISIS is investing heavily. Over 700 Saudi fighters have gone there in recent months, according to evidence Saudi leaders presented to me in August. [Continue reading…]

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