A decade ago ISIS was on the front page of every major newspaper. Then Obama won and declared victory over Al Qaeda and it went away. ISIS, then Al Qaeda in Iraq, didn’t actually go away, but the administration and its media allies began pretending that it had.
They went on pretending until it began advancing in force on Baghdad.
Today the media deniers scramble to explain ISIS as an “Un-Islamic” organization. Erick Stakelbeck, author of multiple books on Islamic terrorism, including The Brotherhood: America’s Next Great Enemy and The Terrorist Next Door, takes on ISIS with his latest book, ISIS Exposed: Beheadings, Slavery, and the Hellish Reality of Radical Islam.
Stakelbeck’s experience with the domestic Islamic threat naturally turns the book’s focus toward the ISIS iceberg in America and Europe, from its foreign fighters, both immigrant and convert, traveling from Western airports into the teeth of the Jihad, to its social media operation, its propaganda and its plans.
Unlike the foreign policy experts sputtering incoherently about an Un-Islamic “nihilistic cult”, Stakelbeck places ISIS squarely within its origins as an Al Qaeda franchise with a line running back to the Muslim Brotherhood and within the larger context of the Jihad against the rest of the world; including America.
That’s why Stakelbeck starts with the flow of Somalis living in Minnesota traveling to join ISIS. It’s also why he concludes with a look at how ISIS represents a threat to Europe and America.
While the current round of fighting may be taking place in Iraq and Syria, Jihadist groups have a history of using Western countries as staging platforms for taking over Middle Eastern countries, the Ayatollah Khomeini hung out in Paris, the Muslim Brotherhood is embedded in London and Washington, and as Stackelbeck points out, “Some 60 percent of foreign fighters in Syria follow a Dearborn, Michigan-based Imam named Sheikh Ahmad Jibril on Twitter.”
The Caliphate serves to rally Jihadists to its black flag and while they may burn their passports, their final endgame is here, as an ISIS spokesmanrecently warned, “We – with Allah’s help – want Paris, before Rome and Islamic Iberia and after we blow up the White House, Big Ben, and the Eiffel Tower.”
Such statements are not irrational. As Stakelbeck points out, one of the things that makes ISIS different from other Islamic terrorist groups is the scope of its expansionism. Unlike Hamas or the Taliban who have never been able to outgrow the limits of their tribal alliances or punch through the territory of a stronger enemy, ISIS has been able to survive by expanding, living off the land and then moving on.
Like Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, ISIS is hoping to outrace its structural problems and tactical vulnerabilities through a constant flow of new conquests, new wealth and new slaves.
The secret of ISIS is its absolute confidence. Unlike other terrorist groups it makes no compromises. Instead it uses social media to market its brutality and its atrocities as proof of its uncompromising vision. For many Muslims around the world, including in the United States, this attitude establishes its legitimacy. It does not have an underhanded circuitous roadmap to a Caliphate. It is the Caliphate.
The butchers of ISIS are not oppressed. They are upwardly mobile. Stakelbeck describes them as middle class. They’re not looking for jobs, they have advanced degrees. What they want is power. The Islamic calls for justice so ubiquitous to ISIS and other Jihadist groups are really demands for a new social order replicating the Islamic Supremacist slave societies of the defunct Caliphates.
These societies seek to replicate the Saudi or Qatari model on a larger scale, in which a prosperous Muslim population serves as the upper class with an infidel slave underclass beneath it supplying everything from manual and domestic labor, to sexual exploitation, without the need for vast reserves of oil to finance this master faith lifestyle, a resource that most Muslim countries do not have.
It is not the Muslim underclass that is most attracted to this imperial vision, but the Muslim upper classes, particularly those in the West or who have regular contact, physical or cultural, with the West.
That’s why, as ISIS Exposed shows, the Islamic State markets itself most effectively through pop culture and social media aimed at Muslim consumers who have social media access. ISIS can be seen as a niche product. Its atrocities may alienate ten or a hundred people, but as long as they strongly appeal to one or two here and there, then the Islamic State can continue filling its ranks with new recruits.
Most significantly ISIS has made itself into an inescapable issue for Muslims and the West. It has shown both Muslims and non-Muslims the roots of Islam and asked them to choose which kind of society they want. The choice is an ongoing process as ISIS atrocities and attacks place deep stresses on a society.
ISIS is not un-Islamic; it is absolutely Islamic in a way that no Islamic country or group is able to be because it combines the worst elements of the Islamic totalitarian state and the Islamic terrorist group. Its closest analogues are Iran and Saudi Arabia, which combine statehood with state sponsorship of terrorists. If ISIS succeeds, it will become the third great terrorist superpower of the Middle East.
Because Erick Stakelbeck understands the real nature of the ISIS threat, he is able to offer real suggestions for dealing with it, including barring ISIS Jihadists from reentering the United States, cracking down on Muslim “allies” that are covertly and not so covertly aiding ISIS while avoiding the error of viewing Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood as allies against ISIS.
ISIS is one element of a global Islamic conflict and in the long term its major contribution to the evolution of that conflict may be its influence on current and future Islamic terrorist groups. The Jihad is an evolving ecology of tactics and ideas. ISIS has revised the terms of what an Islamic terrorist group can do. Even if it is defeated, others will follow in its brutal totalitarian footsteps.
There are two possible responses to it.
The first is the one championed by Obama and most politicians. It declares that ISIS is an aberration that has nothing to do with Islam and allies with other Islamic terrorists, including Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, against it, without caring about their agendas and the long term consequences.
The second is proposed by Stakelbeck in ISIS Exposed. Erick Stakelbeck calls for educating Americans about Jihadism and revising immigration law. He warns about the need to militarily destroy ISIS, but remains aware that destroying a single example of the Islamic Caliphate impulse will not make us safe.
That is where Stakelbeck parts ways from the analysis offered by most conventional commentators by refusing to view ISIS as an isolated phenomenon that can be taken apart individually. In ISIS Exposed, the Islamic State is an important development, but it is neither the beginning nor the end of the Jihad.
It is important to understand what the development of ISIS means, and ISIS Exposed does that, but it’s also important to recognize that ISIS represents yet another battle in the clash of civilizations, not the war, and ISIS Exposeddoes that too.
Exposing ISIS is about more than pulling back the curtain on the atrocities of one organization, it’s about exposing the ideology from which such horrors spring. It will be useless to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, only to one day end up fighting it and its successors in the streets of Paris, Rome and New York City.