What ISIS Is, and What It Wants

NAPLES, ITALY - 2015/09/14: The unpaid workers from Consorzio Unico di Bacino show a black ISIS flag during a provocative pro
NAPLES, ITALY - 2015/09/14: The unpaid workers from Consorzio Unico di Bacino show a black ISIS flag during a provocative protest in Naples. The group of employees from Consorzio Unico di Bacino, a company that deals with the waste, stage a protest because of unpaid wages. (Photo by Salvatore Esposito/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The following are axioms drawn from The Management of Chaos-Savagery (Idarat at-Tawahoush, required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir), and from the February 2015 editorial in Dabiq (online ISIS publication), on "The Extinction of the Gray Zone." ISIS's actions have been, and likely will continue to be, consistent with these axioms:

  • Work to expose the weakness of the so-called Great Powers by pushing them to abandon the media psychological war and war by proxy until they fight directly.
  • Draw these powers into military conflict. Seek the confrontations that will bring them to fight in our regions on our terms.
  • Diversify the strikes and attack soft targets - tourist areas, eating places, places of entertainment, sports events, and so forth -- that cannot possibly be defended everywhere. Disperse the infidels' resources and drain them to the greatest extent possible, and so undermine people's faith in the ability of their governments to provide security, most basic of all state functions.
  • Target the young, and especially the disaffected, who tend to rebel against authority, are eager for self-sacrifice and are filled with idealism; and let inert organizations and their leaders foolishly preach moderation.
  • Motivate the masses to fly to regions that we manage, by eliminating the "Gray Zone" between the true believer and the infidel, which most people, including most Muslims, currently inhabit. Use so-called "terror attacks" to help Muslims realize that non-Muslims hate Islam and want to harm all who practice it, to show that peacefulness gains Muslims nothing but pain.
  • Use social media to inspire sympathizers abroad to violence. Communicate the message: Do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.
  • Pay attention to what works to hold the interest of people, especially youth, in the lands of the Infidel [e.g., television ratings, box office receipts, music and video charts], and use what works as templates to carry our righteous messages and calls to action under the black banner.

ISIS is a revolution, like other revolutions before, with a new-old mission of salvation

There are striking historical parallels between past revolutionary movements and the rise of Islamic State. The French Revolution suffered through internal factionalism and fighting, "the Terror" was introduced as a political tactic, the realms of the revolution were invaded by a fractious coalition of outside powers, yet the revolution survived, transformed, and emerged as the Empire.

The failure and aftermath of the 1848 revolutions that swept Europe is somewhat suggestive of what happened with the Arab Spring, when participatory democracy had not yet sufficiently developed the underlying values and institutions -- free press, independent judiciary, tolerance of minorities, etc. -- needed to make popular choice and elections more than a tyranny of the majority, as with ancient Athens and post-Saddam Iraq.

The rise of al-Qaeda in the late 20th century is reminiscent of the rise of anarchism in the late 19th century. The present dwindling of AQ relative to ISIS is similar to the co-opting and near annihilation of the anarchists by the Bolsheviks, who knew much better how to manage a shared political ambition through military and territorial administration. And there are lessons to be learned from the experience of the Nazis as well: The National Socialist movement had genuine appeal as it asked for self-sacrifice in a glorious mission of radical, world historical change that rejects all prior international norms governing the relations between peoples and nations.

A detailed look at the deeper historical parallels with previous revolutions highlights what is new and what is old in Islamic State's sacred mission, and what doesn't work and what might work to stop it.....

Read that here.