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Who Is (Who Are) the Islamic State (18)

March 22, 2016

The jist:  ISIS is mainly about political control of territory, with religious belief as a contributing factor.  So, it both is and is not a matter of religion.  Best not overgeneralize or oversimplify.

Joshua Holland, “Here’s What a Man Who Studied Every Suicide Attack in the World Says About ISIS’ Motives,” The Nation, 3-22-16.

Holland reports what was said on his radio show, recently, by Robert Pape, founder of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago. Pape’s group has analyzed 4600 suicide attacks that have taken place since 1980.

“According to Pape’s research, underlying the outward expressions of religious fervor, ISIS’s goals, like those of most terrorist groups, are distinctly earthly:

What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion, but a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon and the West Bank in the 80s and 90s, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and up through the Paris suicide attacks we’ve just experienced in the last days, military intervention—and specifically when the military intervention is occupying territory—that’s what prompts suicide terrorism more than anything else.

Al Qaeda emerged from Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and ISIS from US invasion of Iraq.

While religious fervor and theology are effective tools used by some groups, e.g. to gain recruits and to motivate suicide bombers, there have also been many attacks carried out by secular groups. So while ISIS is religiously oriented in its fight for a caliphate, an Islamic state, its major goal is to gain and maintain territory, and many of its military leaders are secular.

In order to maintain its territory, which has been eroded by 10% during the past year, ISIS must motivate European nations and the US to withdraw their forces. Terrorist attacks in Paris, Ankara, and Brussels (and potentially elsewhere) are designed to get those nations to overreact in two ways. One is by oppressing their Muslim minorities, producing radicalization; and two is by committing large ground armies to Syria and Iraq, driving up the costs of an engagement that is increasingly troublesome at home and futile abroad.

{Table of Contents of this ISIS episode.}

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