It will take more than right-wing nincompoopery to challenge a powerhouse religious terror-mongering state like ISIS
Washingtonpost.com caption: National security correspondent Greg Miller discusses the impact of three terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait after an Islamic State leader called to make the month of Ramadan a time of "calamity for the infidels." Watch the clip here.
"The jihadists of ISIS may be terrorists -- to use an imprecise, catch-all term -- but as [author Abdel Bari] Atwan explains, they are both well paid and disciplined, and the atrocities they commit and upload on the Internet are part of a coherent strategy."
-- Malise Ruthven, in "Inside the Islamic State,"
in the July 9 New York Review of Books
in the July 9 New York Review of Books
Same-day terror attacks on three continents?
ISIS claims to be behind deadly Tunisia attackAnd so, apparently, another coup for ISIS. Which sent me back to "Inside the Islamic State," an essay by Malis Ruthven in the July 9 New York Review of Books taking off from the book Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate by Abdel Bari Atwan (to be published by University of California Press in September), "based on visits to the Turkish-Syrian border, online interviews with jihadists, and the access to leaders he enjoys as one of the Arab world’s most respected journalists." Ruthven describes the "convincing picture" drawn by Atwan of ISIS, with its network of interconnections spread far, wide, and deep, as "a well-run organization that combines bureaucratic efficiency and military expertise with a sophisticated use of information technology."
By Liz Sly
BEIRUT — Assailants beheaded, bombed and gunned down victims on three continents Friday, killing more than 60 people and raising fears that a global surge of terror strikes could be imminent.
There was initially no reason to believe the disparate attacks — at a factory in France, a beach resort in Tunisia and a mosque in Kuwait — were connected.
But then the Islamic State asserted responsibility for two of them, first the bombing in Kuwait in which 25 died and later, in a separate statement, the assault on the beach in Tunisia, which killed 39.
The second statement contained a warning that more attacks soon will follow: “Let them wait for the glad tidings of what will harm them in the coming days, Allah permitting,” it said, referring to the “apostates” who had been the target of the assault.
The three incidents followed an appeal Tuesday from the Islamic State’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, for Muslims to mark the holy month of Ramadan by carrying out acts of “jihad,” or holy war. . . .
Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s official successor as leader of “al-Qa‘ida central,” looks increasingly irrelevant. Bin Laden’s true successor is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy caliph of ISIS, the so-called Islamic State. As “Commander of the Faithful” in that nascent state he poses a far more formidable threat to the West and to Middle Eastern regimes—including the Saudi kingdom—that are sustained by Western arms than bin Laden did from his Afghan cave or hideout in Pakistan.Not that this "country" is any less ruthless than we have come to know -- if anything it's more so, as we come to understand that all the ruthlessness and terror is deliberate, conceived and acted out with a careful view to the impact it will have on friends, enemies, and perhaps most important those in between. "Far from being an undisciplined orgy of sadism," Ruthven writes, "ISIS terror is a systematically applied policy that follows the ideas put forward in jihadist literature," and he duly takes us through that.
One of the primary forces driving this transformation, according to Atwan, is the digital expertise demonstrated by the ISIS operatives, who have a commanding presence in social media. A second is that ISIS controls a swath of territory almost as large as Britain, lying between eastern Syria and western Iraq. As Jürgen Todenhöfer, who spent ten days in ISIS-controlled areas in both Iraq and Syria, stated categorically in January: “We have to understand that ISIS is a country now.”
I wish I could neatly summarize what took Atwan a book to set out and Ruthven a lengthy NYRB essay to encapsule. "Atwan explains," for example,
how the Islamic State’s media department employs an army of journalists, photographers, and editors to produce slick videos with high production values that are disseminated on the Internet without their source being detected. Activists use “virtual private networks” that conceal a user’s IP address, in conjunction with browsers—including one originally developed for US Navy intelligence—that enable the viewer to access the “dark Internet,” the anonymous zone frequented by child pornographers and other criminals.Unfortunately the subject as laid out even by Ruthven, is too long and complex for reasonable representation in a few sentences. Which also means that the case is beyond both the attention span and interest level of right-wing foreign-policy ideologues who are looking for arguments that, in a couple of sentences, press their ideological hot buttons. The process reminds me of nothing as much as the way we're always told that TV and movie projects to studio execs whose principal qualification is total ignorance of and lack of curiosity about the world around them.
"The obvious question that arises," Ruthven writes, "is, where will all of this end?" And the answer appears to be even scarier than one might have thought, because Baghdadi seems to be positioning ISIS as a rival in the Sunni world to what Atwan describes as the Saudi kingdom's "quasi-caliphal claim to lead the Muslim world as 'Guardian of the Two Holy Shrines' (Mecca and Medina)." ISIS, he points out, makes much of "the royal family’s love of luxury and acceptance of corruption which, it claims, renders its members ideologically and morally unfit for the task."
"By appropriating Wahhabism’s iconoclastic rhetoric," Ruthven begins his wind-up, "along with its anti-Shia theology, ISIS challenges the legitimacy of the Saudi rulers as guardians of Islam's holy places far more effectively than any republican movement." He began this piece with a vision conjured in The Guardian in November 2001 (i.e., two months after 9/11) by novelist James Buchan, a former Middle East correspondent: "the triumphant entry into Mecca of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist." Now, Ruthven writes, "with Iraq and Syria falling apart and the US caught between conflicting impulses (fighting alongside Iran in Iraq while opposing it in Syria), it may only be a matter of time before the nightmare imagined by James Buchan becomes a reality."