Islamic State and the ‘management of savagery’

November 17, 2015
Islamic State militants lead what are said to be Ethiopian Christians along a beach in Wilayat Barqa, in this still image from an undated video made available on a social media website on April 19, 2015. The video purportedly made by Islamic State and posted on social media sites on Sunday appeared to show militants shooting and beheading about 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Reuters was not able to verify the authenticity of the video but the killings resemble past violence carried out by Islamic State, an ultra-hardline group which has expanded its reach from strongholds in Iraq and Syria to conflict-ridden Libya. Libyan officials were not immediately available for comment. Ethiopia said it had not been able to verify whether the people shown in the video were its citizens. REUTERS/Social Media Website via Reuters TV ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY VIDEO. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.  - RTR4XX9A

Islamic State militants lead what are said to be Ethiopian Christians along a beach in Wilayat Barqa, in this still from an undated video, released April 19, 2015. REUTERS/Social Media Website via Reuters TV

Daesh, the Arabic acronym for Islamic State, can be viewed as the most disruptive start-up ever devised. It uses modern technology to spread its message, radicalizing people in a matter of weeks rather than months or years. It also enables its recruits and acolytes to organize unprecedented attacks through undecryptable communications.

Yet this new technology, and the changes in the way digital information flows, also offer an opportunity to defeat Daesh. The rise of smartphones has created new trustworthy sources of information and forged pathways that can disrupt radicalization. The innovative ways to organize and get information can help reveal the bankruptcy and incoherence of extremist positions — if the right resources can be created.

Otherwise, even if an atom bomb is dropped on Raqqa, Syria, the capital of Daesh’s reputed “caliphate,” the group’s ideology and terror network will continue online. While al Qaeda lurks in the wings to take up its mantle.

To defeat Daesh, key questions about what it really wants and who Islamic the group really is must first be answered.

This might seem complex because religions encompass a range of interpretations. Yet every religious community has specific criteria for membership.

Daesh is often labeled as Sunni. In Arabic, the full term for Sunni is “ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʻah,” or the people of the practice of the Prophet Mohammad (Sunnah) and the consensus of the Muslim community.

Islamic State billboards are seen along a street in Raqqa, eastern Syria, which is controlled by the Islamic State, October 29, 2014. The billboard (R) reads:  "We will win despite the global coalition". REUTERS/Nour Fourat  (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT MILITARY) - RTR4C21W

Islamic State billboards line a street in Raqqa, eastern Syria, which is controlled by the militants. The billboard (R) reads: “We will win despite the global coalition.” October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Nour Fourat

Islamic law is an effort to discern the “will of God,” also known as sharia. For the first three generations of Muslims, this was straightforward because the prophet directly stated they would be on the “right” path.

Over time, however, as Islam spread from Casablanca to Kazakhstan, it grew more complicated. Scholars formalized the process of determining sharia by looking at the links between the eternal Koran and the temporal Sunnah and applying them to contemporary issues.

A wide range of interpretations arose based on different collections of axioms. These were gradually codified into four schools of thought, though each viewed the others as offering acceptable interpretations. It all built on a saying of the prophet that his community would not unite on an error, which led to a juristic axiom known as “ijmā” (from “jamāʻah”) — consensus of the jurists.

Around 1000 AD, each school based its “strongest” and “relied-upon” positions on a consensus of the major scholars in its respective school, after checking and cross-checking all the available evidence.

Yet, just as it is clear that Daesh is not Shi’ite because it rejects key elements of Shi’ite Islam — and actually hates Shi’ites with a passion — its views are not within Sunni orthodoxy. This is not to say that Daesh is not Muslim according to Sunni orthodoxy. For most Muslims, their religion is a matter of belief and not actions. Even murderers or pedophiles, for example, are still regarded as Muslims — though they commit terrible crimes and are awful human beings.

Yet Daesh goes one step beyond: It declares those who disagree with its views as non-Muslim. It labels them heretics based on their actions, not their beliefs. Muslims who do not follow the views Daesh professes are its main targets — and most frequently its key victims.

Displaced Sunni people, who fled the violence in the city of Ramadi, arrive at the outskirts of Baghdad, April 17, 2015. Iraqi security forces fought Islamic State militants at the gates of the western city of Ramadi on Friday, and local authorities warned it was in danger of falling unless reinforcements arrived soon. REUTERS/Stringer      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTR4XS4A

Displaced Sunni people, who fled the violence in Ramadi, arrive at the outskirts of Baghdad, April 17, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Daesh particularly targets refugees. They are most despised because they are fleeing from its professed utopia. So, Daesh welcomes calls in Europe to close borders because it feeds into its agenda. It also sees overflowing refugee camps as ideal sources of future recruits because it seeks to serve as their primary source of employment, much as Hamas does in Gaza.

The fatwas issued by Daesh draw on elements of Sunni Islam. In common with extremists of all stripes, however, the group cherry picks its sources and evidence to create desired outcomes.

Understanding these desires, and how Daesh plans to satisfy them, is necessary to defeat it.

Daesh wants a state that is as large as possible in order to prepare for the apocalyptic battle between the forces of the anti-Christ and the messiah (mahdi), who they believe will be aided by Jesus’ return from heaven.

It does not view its own actions as evil, but rather as necessary to achieve its goals. Members of Daesh are willing to kill, or even die, for their community. Yet this is triggered by narcissism, not altruism. Their seminal strategic work, for example, is called the “management of savagery.” It outlines how to increase savagery in areas outside their control and then take over as the areas dissolve into chaos.

Its members are not looking to win hearts and minds. Instead, they prey on Muslims who feel alienated from their society and seek to increase their oppression, as well as inflame broader sectarian and ethnic divisions. This creates an “addressable market” for the group to radicalize and transform into ardent true believers.

An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015 purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim told Reuters the images did appear to show the destruction of the ancient Baal Shamin temple and correlated with descriptions given by residents of the explosion detonated there on Sunday. Five photos were distributed on social media showing explosives being carried inside, being planted around the walls of the temple, a large blast and then rubble. The arabic script seen along the bottom edge of the photograph reads, "The moment of the explosion of the Baal Shamin pagan temple in the city of Tadmour".     REUTERS/Social Media  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. - RTX1PPT1

An image distributed by Islamic State on August 25, 2015 purports to show the destruction of a Roman temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. REUTERS/Social Media

Daesh is intent on eliminating all gray areas: You are either with us or against us. It is being helped in this by those who call for authoritarian or oppressive actions in response to its heinous acts.

To defeat Daesh decisively, it is essential that its opponents steadfastly defend their freedoms and discredit Daesh’s ideology by disrupting its efforts to radicalize disaffected or disempowered individuals who lack the religious education to stand up to its well-honed pitch.

The “war on terror” has been a failure. The enemy is now stronger and more numerous than ever, despite the huge cost and civilian casualties. The enemy must be understood. New and more effective strategies must be employed to address the root of the problem — not just its symptoms — to be successful and not fall victim to growing fear.

9 comments

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Republicans,that include the candidates and governors are playing again into the ideology and tactics of Daesh in deniing sanctuary to fleeing refugees, and damaging Christianity in refusing Muslims the same protections.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

I agree with this author to a point. Yes, the civilized world needs to understand ISIS and its desires in order to beat them in the long run. However, these monsters understand no reason or negotiation–they are not real Islam, they are simply warriors of Satan and should be pushed back into the hell from which they emerged.

Posted by PNees | Report as abusive

I suppose I would be far too radical to suggest that Muhammed possibly had psychological issues to spend years talking to a celestial angle..?

Why do so many smart people believe in dumb things…that is the real question ?

ps ..that goes for all faith based beliefs.Science is the only realism.

Posted by wondering_too | Report as abusive

I say lets drop a high altitude nuclear weapon over Raqqa which will disable all transport and communication which will put Daesh in the correct time period of their believes. Than let the civilians get out and let the carnage begin. Slava to Russia and Vladimir the Righteous.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Emad, I enjoyed the op-ed. Thank you for putting that together.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

“Daesh wants a state that is as large as possible in order to prepare for the apocalyptic battle between the forces of the anti-Christ and the messiah (mahdi), who they believe will be aided by Jesus’ return from heaven.”

This is an exclusive Shi’iates belief and Daesh is 180 degrees opposite of that. Daesh wants to run an Islamic state as vast as possible and ultimately attack christian territories and other territories which they regard as infidels.

Posted by NimRock | Report as abusive

I am sick and tired of looking at these pictures. Western media provides more publicity to these “Islamic State” bastards than they ever hoped for…

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

Just watched the RuAF airstrikes on ISIS oil terminals and smuggling tanker trucks ,looks like no Christmas bonuses for ISIS and no gas for those Toyota ISIS pickups. Mobility is over now the radius of action is limited to 5 km. The world will be able to learn how to switch to clean energy transportation by watching the Aloha Snakbarians closely.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Oil is just the start. Freeze all Saudi assets. Saudi Arabia is a terrible ally, and is in fact a state terror sponsor. Burn them.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive