“…ISIS are quite, quite brilliant…”
As I write, there has been yet another terrorist attack. Yet again a van as rammed into a crowd. Where it happened doesn’t matter. You could be reading this at any time in the near future and history will no doubt repeat itself somewhere else. Van-ramming is now the weapon of choice for ISIS though we’ve also seen it used by White supremicists (i.e. Charlottesville) in recent days. But perhaps when you’re reading this some other attack may have occurred. we live in disturbing days.
I will be immediately controversial and say that ISIS are quite, quite brilliant. Do not mistake this for admiration (nor approval of what they stand for). It’s actually a declaration of how frighteningly dangerous they are. Despite the rallying calls that they are in their dying days with the ‘caliphate’ on the point of collapse, their major strongholds in the Middle East all but recaptured and reports of members leaving in their droves every day, ISIS remain a danger which will be felt long after they cease to exist as a coherent group.
It is not inappropriate to make comparisons with that other great danger of the last century – Hitler – although the use of this figure is a double-edged sword for there is a man on the other side of the ISIS coin to whom such references could also be made. But for now, I’ll apply what we know of Hitler to ISIS.
The leader of the Nazi party continues to be studied today for good reason. His speeches were brilliant, his theories equally so. His tactics were superb. He went from being a dangerous extremist, imprisoned for his beliefs in a country semi-unfairly punished for the First World War (modern historians acknowledge that the power struggle in Europe was a much more complex affair than the oft-told tale of’ Germans as bad and everyone else as good’ touted in schools in the West) and became the country’s leader, unifying the people into an efficient fighting machine and bringing at least a form of (temporary) prosperity and hope to the German nation.
Such was the brilliance of the man that it has been argued that many of the atrocities committed in his name were done so without his explicit knowledge or orders but simply because leaders lower down the chain believed that this was what the Führer would want. Again, let it not be misunderstood as an attempt to apologise for the man and excuse him. There is no doubt that overall the holocaust and other atrocities were all part of his master plan. But the ideology of Hitler was much, much bigger than the man himself. Indeed, even today, Nazi groups exist everywhere and he continues to be revered.
What is important here is that Hitler was not an uneducated thug. He would have been easy to remove, a blip in history’s landscape, had he been so. He was an articulate, controlling, clever man who pushed all the right buttons at the right time. The result was a horror much greater than any one man could achieve on his own.
“Long after the final tenuous grip of ISIS in the Middle East has been lost, these attacks will continue and ISIS will, in an ethereal,virtual and spiritual form, continue to exist throughout the world”
The real danger of ISIS
In a similar way, ISIS is much bigger than the group itself. Indeed, I have deliberately used the popular name ISIS instead of the wealth of other names used in the press (‘Islamic State’ etc.) because it is the name which is more dangerous than the entity.
Like Hitler, ISIS is no thuggish movement. Unlike groups such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda which were fundamentally controlling organisations and were politically minded, ISIS presents a theological ideology which is well-thought out and attractive to disenfranchised Muslims. While Bin Laden and his associates wore a thin veneer of Islam to justify their means, the truth was that such groups were really held together by mercenaries who looked for power, money and prestige. There is much of the same with ISIS of course, but at the top is an ideology which is well promoted and seductive to the vulnerable.
Before I am accused of laying this at the foot of the door of Muslims, I will also point out that there is an equally dangerous ideology slowly growing in the West which will, given the right feeding and growth, develop into a counter-terror driving against Muslims. That is a subject for another post on another day but I will pick up on this area soon enough. For now though, let it be said that this article is not accusing the vast majority of Muslims who are decent, law-abiding citizens every bit as horrified by terrorism as those of us who are not Muslims.
However, perhaps the greatest tactic employed by ISIS which makes them so insidious is the latest ploy of using the internet to invite all people to take up their ideology and wage war against the West. It is brilliant and truly frightening. Now anyone can be a member of their organisation without ever meeting or even corresponding with a member of ISIS. I am not even a Muslim and yet, today, I could read some propaganda, convert to an extreme form of Islam, hire a van and kill a load of people. I don’t need to have been a Muslim beforehand, I don’t need to know how to shoot a gun or make a bomb. I simply have to believe the ideology and be prepared to die or live the rest of my life in prison. Many a serial killer has made just that decision for infamy alone without the need for deep ideological belief. Of course, I could convert to some extreme form of Christianity or even Atheism and also go out and kill people, but the focus here is on Islamic terrorism.
What’s more, although this has not yet been utilised, I think it is only a matter of time before we see the next, most awful, step of the van-ramming technique. So far, we have only seen such acts taking place in major cities or where major events are taking place. But these acts could happen almost anywhere. In my local town there is a street carnival every year. a van ram-raid there would be every bit as effective in killing and maiming as it would in London, Nice or anywhere else. Indeed, in the same town any Friday or Saturday night there are enough people drinking on the streets that you could probably kill many on just an ordinary evening. We are, I am convinced, only one step away from the ultimate terror – where acts could be committed anywhere, any time, by any person. And the police and anti-terrorist organisations would be completely unaware of both the plan and the persons involved. I am mystified quite why this has not yet started happening. It is only a matter of time though, I feel.
Long after the final tenuous grip of ISIS in the Middle East has been lost, these attacks will continue and ISIS will, in an ethereal,virtual and spiritual form, continue to exist throughout the world with a larger membership than formally recognised at present.
“…if your God is so weak he needs you to ‘defend his name’ by slaughtering innocents, then you really don’t believe in God at all…”
How to kill ISIS
With all this in mind then, it is imperative that all those who stand against ISIS – the non-Muslim West and, it is very important to say, the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world – do everything we can to bring this group (and others like it) to an end. While government forces and armies continue to wage war on the ground and through information-seeking to find smaller groups planning large-scale attacks, the greater war can be fought by all of us in three vital ways:
- We name ISIS and all terrorists for what they really are: Murderers. ISIS thrives on publicity. Take away that publicity and you remove the fuel for their fire. Instead, give a level playing field to all those who kill others for ideological reasons. It is well known that actually the majority of terrorist attacks in America and Europe are NOT Islamic in origin but come from a wealth of beliefs, political and religious including, notably, Christianity. Yet the media and police forces rarely refer to such acts as ‘terrorist’ or give them much credence. Make all acts of violence against non-combatants taking place in non-war-zones acts of murder not terrorism. Dismiss the names of the organisations or belief systems these acts are perpetrated in and name the culprits as murderers. This would have an immediate effect on many who might consider going down ‘in a blaze of glory’ if they know their cause will receive no air space.
- Refer to religious terrorists – ISIS in particular – as atheists. This is a key tactic but one which needs determined effort to implement. There are two reasons for using this tactic. The first is that one of the important aspects of ISIS attacking the West is to drive a wedge between non-Muslim and Muslims. By making us all hate Muslims, it sends Muslims over to the side of ISIS who believe, and wish, for all Muslims to join them in the Caliphate and leave the decadent West behind. By removing the religious connotations, you remove the wedge which ISIS wishes to drive between people. The second is that to call an ISIS member an atheist would be the ultimate insult but also, I believe, calling the truth. Just as I believe extremist Christians to be atheists, so I believe the same of all extremist religious cults. The logic is simple – if your God is so weak he needs you to ‘defend his name’ by slaughtering innocents, then you really don’t believe in God at all. A God which is so pathetic that he can’t do his own killing but needs human hands to exact vengeance or judgement or whatever, is no God at all. Such a God is just an excuse to commit murder. So call it as it is.
The third tactic is the hardest one and, in some ways, possibly the cruellest to carry out.
Peter Frankopan’s excellent history book ‘The Silk Roads’ is a wonderfully refreshing book which gives new insight into world history without having to resort to conspiracy theories, obscure, ambiguous sources or twist facts hard to develop interpretation. Instead he merely throws the known facts into a new light by removing the America/Britain.Euro-centric assumptions and placing Asia at the centre of world events instead.
When seen through this lens, it becomes more obvious that the whole of 20th century history has been shaped by oil. From the initial findings in Persia, to the hunt for supremacy over the Middle East, to the mishandling by the British, and then Americans, of an impossible situation with warring Islamic countries which led to the intense (and rightful) distrust of America in particular by the Arab lands.
While I maintain that the danger of ISIS is their well-constructed ideology, their political thinking has been no less intelligent. The areas ISIS have controlled have been to put oil into their hands because they know as well as the Western governments do that he who has oil has the world.
So, my third tactic is this:
Remove the need for oil.
There is only one real reason that we have not replaced fossil fuels with renewables like solar, wind and sea and that is that our entire economic systems are built around the assumption that oil is the kingpin. The technology has been in place to make renewables the only necessary source of power for at least a decade and, gradually, the private consumer market is pushing these sources into play regardless. It is now a common sight to see people driving hybrid electric/petrol cars and fully electric vehicles are on the verge of becoming the vehicles of choice.
Once you remove oil from the equation, global politics shifts. The Middle East will no longer be anyone’s concern. America and its allies will no longer meddle in the affairs of the Muslim lands and, instead, from Palestine through to Pakistan, the warring factions will be left to their own to get on with sorting their divisions. Except that then oil will have ceased to be a trading chip. This is why I think this could be the cruellest tactic because the danger is that those in power in the Middle East will bury their heads and fail to keep up with the shift in renewable energy. Places like Saudi Arabia could literally go from riches to rags unless they shift and reinvest in new technology. What is for certain though is that no one will be interested in their land resources and so no one will care who controls what in that region. Effectively the Muslim lands will truly belong to the Muslims again.
Once that happens, the current dominance in so-called ‘Islamic terrorism’ would end. Without oil, groups like ISIS have no bargaining chip, no power and no sustainability. I have no doubt that there will continue to be great trouble as warring factions continue to fight over turf, but the world will no longer be involved and frankly, the internal fights will lack ‘bite’.
“Whoever they decide to follow, whatever ideology they take up, it is in our hands. We can be heroes or villains: the choice is ours.”
Why we won’t do any of this
These three aims may seem simplistic and possibly not feasible but I disagree. The democratisation of news media means that the first two points can be taken up by any and all of us and the traditional media will eventually follow suit if enough of us do. The third is already occurring. But slowly – deliberately so.
Ultimately, it is in the interests of the West to keep ISIS or at least give space for ‘son of ISIS’ to grow (ISIS is, itself, the offspring of Bin Laden’s legacy). The usual reason given is the arms trade which takes place and, of course, this is true. But there’s a deeper reason:
We all need an enemy to fight.
For the first 50 years of the 20th century it was the Germans and their allies we hated. Then it was Russia and its communist allies until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 80s. Bin Laden came just in the nick of time to give the Western world a new focus in who to hate. None of us had really thought about the Muslims before in this way. We were keen to take up this strange new enemy and revile them regardless of the real truth.
Without an enemy who is distant to us, we have no choice but to turn on ourselves because, in the end, we all want someone to hate. Governments recognise this. While they are fighting the so-called evils of ‘Islamicism’ our governments can appear as heroes (note the way most mainstream media is currently portraying ISIS as in the last throes of existence and proclaiming victory for the ‘free West’). Without an enemy, our people turn on our governments and start to ask uncomfortable questions. Governments do best in terms of popularity when they are fighting a recognisable and easily identifiable enemy.
So ISIS, in whatever form it will now morph into, will continue on and our governments will continue to spout damning rhetoric with smiles on their faces. I can predict already where the new form of terrorism will emerge. We are breeding, right now, a child generation to hate us and despise everything the West stands for. You’ll find them in all the refugee camps dotted around Europe. These are the children who needed our help and turned to us in despair and wanted some humanity and comfort. Instead we rejected and ignored them and, when forced to deal with them, did so with disgust which has been barely hidden.
One day these boys and girls will be men and women who will have lived their whole remembered lives spat at and distanced from whatever societies they are allowed to settle in. Whoever they decide to follow, whatever ideology they take up, it is in our hands. We can be heroes or villains: the choice is ours.
This is the first of a series of political and religio-sociological essays intended to provoke thought and discussion. If you liked this article then please share on your own social media (tag me on twitter with @DKenPowell ). Thank you!
Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org