no plasters for isis

usa is bombing isis fighters. the european union is declaring humanitarian support. good news! …or is it?

personally i feel like this show of action, while a diplomatic sign in itself, is a plaster-solution to an open fracture. when the bone is sticking out, you do not use a simple patch; i do not need to be a medical student to understand that. counter measures have to fit the relation of the problem. now let’s review isis.

what public discourse seems to overlook is two things: one. isis is not a mob of irrational psychopaths. they are brutal in their approach. but not irrational. irrationality means not to have a goal and not being ‘rational’ about getting there. isis have both a goal and are so far quite successful in getting there. but more than that, they proclaim a higher goal to life for their fighters and an ideological justification to their claim. this ideological force of combining people’s frustrations spanning from anger about ‘western’ intermingling in arab internal affairs, economic desperation and political suppression over the last decades is their biggest power and success. they seem to have the capability to rally people behind them from all layers of society as well as offering an easy way to not just express their frustration but also have a simple, goal directed, and well presented solution to all misfortunes in their lives: fight for the higher goal of an islamic state and if you die on the way you are a hero! easy. simple. and effective. the pr-strategy of isis can be taken as a best-case-example in successful marketing:

1) create a demand. what is the demand? revenge! revenge against what? against whatever you want to take revenge against!

2) satisfy the demand. check. an easy solution: join isis. give your life a sense by dedicating it to something that is bigger than yourself.

and 3), for the political twist to it, use propaganda showing that you are successfully on the way to reach the goal you are proclaiming.

two. isis did not start fighting just two month ago when taking over mosul. the islamic state of syria and iraq (isis) started in syria three years ago, to say the least. and even though there is people dying on the way and not every single one has a training in military practice over the entirety of the three years, there is one vital lesson they have learned collectively: the international community hesitates. here and there they have been targeted, here and there they have been attacked. but the international community is not willing to use the assets and capabilities necessary to finally destroy the isis as a group, as long as they do not post a threat to their immediate interests or security. the many talks of exported-western-terrorists and the threat of them returning is a nice headline for the media but too little a threat to deploy massive forces. instead it leads to different conclusions than “destroying isis”, such as controlling traveling, checking passports and ideology of their own citizen and sharpen border control. internal measures. not external ones. keep them out. not destroy the source.

so, yes, the recent air response of the united states is a sign. but diplomatic signaling only works between states. a non-state actor, who leads an all-or-nothing approach, i am afraid, will not be deterred by ‘mindful suggestions’, even if they are written in blood.

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2 Responses to no plasters for isis

  1. Matthias says:

    A very nice observation of the current situation regarding IS, however I don’t agree on your last paragraph. Diplomacy can also work between state and non-state actors. Also it is not quite clear yet if the IS will undergo a maturing process.

    • i was waiting on someone to pick up on that! it is the old question; can one deter non-state actors? my argument, let me extend on it, is that the deterrence potential depends on the composition and self-understanding or ‘kind’ of the non-state-actor. what i was trying to capture in the comment on the isis’s ‘all or nothing approach’ is that they belong, in my personal assessment (but please, prove me wrong!), to the ‘kind’ of group that does not value the variable ‘survival (of the group)’ to the extent that a state or other non-state-actors (for example sectarian ethnic minorities) do. and when ‘survival’ does not become the first and foremost priority of a group, several consequences follow: 1) their strategies are more radical and outright risking the life of their own people (as a ‘necessary sacrifice to the bigger cause’ so to say). this level of how much sacrifice is too much sacrifice depends on the group. in my assessment of isis, as already mentioned, i believe them to be radical enough to go to the extent of sacrificing the entire group to their cause (or at least i judge from their attitude and behavior now that this is their current understanding of themselves; once they would be losing significant support and people this view might change). and 2) if the human sacrifice is considered worth the risk, any deterrence, which is taken by the means of inflicting so much harm on the group body (hence killing its parts) as possible in order to convince them towards a different behavior, will be unsuccessful as long as they do not reach the threshold of ‘pain’ (loss of live) that the group is willing to suffer – which is, in an all-or-nothing attitude quite hard to accomplish.

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