In less than a month, the world has been shaken out of optimism that it is winning the war on terrorism. We have witnessed a dramatic increase in terrorist attacks. Daesh, thought by President Obama just last month to be “contained” to Iraq and Syria, has clearly become a global threat, claiming credit for four heinous attacks — crashing a plane in Egypt, suicide bombings in Lebanon, mass killings at six locations in Paris, and massacre at an administrative center for the disabled in San Bernadino, California.
Also known as the Islamic State, Daesh has also demonstrated it has a presence in Belgium, Germany, England, Turkey, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Several times in the 14 years since the 9/11 attacks, Islamic terrorism has been perceived as almost crushed, “on the ropes,” decimated because the visible leadership has been killed. But it keeps regenerating itself. This can be attributed to the frustrations and failures of nation-states in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan; the alienation that young Muslim men feel from mainstream society in Europe, and to a far lesser extent America; and the temptations of a fundamentalist ideology that denies the humanity of “infidels.”
How do you wage war against an ideology?
Two rival gangster organizations, Al Qaeda and Daesh, seem to be in competition for the title of the world’s premier terrorist group, engaged in “lethal oneupsmanship.”
For about 43 years, from 1948 to 1991, the world experienced a dangerous “Cold War” between capitalism and communism, primarily between two superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. That anxiety-producing paradigm has since been replaced by the war on terrorism, which could last as long or longer. It’s clearly a generational or two-generation struggle.
In the last couple of weeks, Daesh 1) coordinated multiple attacks in Paris, killing at least 130 innocent civilians, and wounding hundreds of others; 2) inspired suicide bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, killing hundreds; 3) planted a bomb on a Russian airliner en route from Egypt to St. Petersburg, Russia, killing more than 200. 4) expanded into Afghanistan, where it has captured schools and is propagandizing children with stories of violent jihad, showing videos of beheadings.
Al Qaeda now claims credit for storming a Radisson Blu hotel in the West African nation of Mali, seizing dozens of hostages and killing an untold number. In January, 2015, it claimed credit for slaughtering the staff of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Al Qaeda affiliates have a presence in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt.
According to the LA Times, FBI director James B. Comey “has warned that Islamic State, an organization that was added to the agency’s list of foreign terrorist groups only last year, is now in virtually every state.”
“This is sort of the new normal,” Comey said in July after announcing the arrests of 10 people believed linked to Islamic State plots, including some suspected of planning attacks to coincide with the July 4 holiday…
Comey has said that as many as 900 investigations are underway into suspected terrorist-related plots, and officials say the majority involve Islamic State.
Al Qaeda claims a less extreme approach than Daesh. It released Muslim hostages from the Radisson Blu (though it didn’t seem to be bothered by killing Muslims on 9/11). Daesh doesn’t seem to make distinctions between Muslim and Christian victims.
The structure of the two terrorist organizations is different, says Audrey Kurth Cronin, professor at George Mason University and author of “How Terrorism Ends: Understanding The Decline And Demise Of Terrorist Campaigns.”
In an interview with NPR, she observed:
“al-Qaida structure made it a little bit easier for us to take out their leaders and to have a big impact on their ability to be operational, whereas ISIS holds territory, controls lines of communication, has remarkable military assets and has been successful in mobilizing foreign fighters from many other countries. So it’s really a different animal in the way that it is now.
She also noted the apocalyptic philosophy of DAESH, which frighteningly parallels the apocalyptic philosophy of some fundamentalist Christians. They both support the idea of a clash of civilizations, and seem to hope for the world coming to an end soon:
“You have to see where ISIS finds its argument for its existence. Their slick, glossy magazine is called “Dabiq.” And Dabiq is a small town in northeast Syria. And Dabiq is a place where they argue that they’re going to be meeting the armies of Rome in an apocalyptic battle. ISIS – one of the reasons why it has the horrendous violence that it has is that they believe that the apocalypse is near. And if we have a large number of Western troops on the ground, that can feed right into their narrative.”
- “How Terrorism Ends: Understanding The Decline And Demise Of Terrorist Campaigns.”
- Here’s How to Fight the Islamic State, According to Military Leaders