Sunday, September 21, 2014

ISIS - It's all about the Violence!

ISIS in action
The Practice of Terror

ISIS or ISIL is not really about ideology or about Islam.  It's all about the violence.

The guillotine operators of the French Revolution were the direct ancestors of the the ISIS swordsmen.  The practice of terrorism creates terrorists in much the same way that the practice of tennis creates tennis players.  There is an endless vicious loop with regard to the generation of fanaticism and violence.

Eric Hoffer
1902 - 1983
Eric Hoffer, the great longshoreman and philosopher, is too often forgotten in the 21st century.  Writing in 1951 in his classic work, The True Believer, Hoffer got right to the heart of the ISIS threat that confronts us today.  Hoffer wrote these prophetic words...

"It is probably true that violence breeds fanaticism as that fanaticism begets violence.  It is often impossible to tell which came first,  Both those who employ violence and those subject to it are likely to develop a fanatical state of mind.  Ferrero says of the terrorists of the French Revolution that the more blood they "'shed the more they needed to believe in their principles as absolutes.  Only the absolute might absolve them in their own eyes and sustain their desperate energy.  (They) did not spill all that blood because they believed in popular sovereignty as a religious truth; they tried to believe in popular sovereignty as a religious truth because their fear made them spill so much blood.'  The practice of terror serves the true believer not only to cow and crush his opponents  but also to invigorate and intensify his own faith."

The True Believer, Eric Hoffer,

Ronald Reagan awarded Hoffer the Presidential medal of Freedom just before his death in 1983.

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Chance Heath said...

I found this post to be great! But I wanted to offer a contrasting opinion to one particular line in your post.

I think that there's no challenging that ISIS is spread with violence. In fact, some of the most ruthless type of violence we've seen from "armies" in modern times. It harks back to the likes of Genghis Khan. They'll enter a town and kill anyone who has any association with positions of power.

But regardless of their tactics and use of terror, surely they have an "ideology"! I'd argue that violence is simply used to spread their ideology.

It really comes down to Sunnis and Shiites. This illustration I think really shows the oddity of that balance in the Middle East post-2003. ISIS wants to build a Sunni state that transcends arbitrary colonial borders. To a certain extent, I can't blame them for having that desire. But there's another huge awkward thing here. As much as we don't want ISIS to succeed, we also don't want there to be a Shiite Axis from Iran to the Mediterranean. we (the US) have a distinct geopolitical incentive to keep this axis from being there, but we also want to maintain control over Iraq.

This axis is a great thing for the world’s largest Shia nation, Iran (wow, finally the US and Iran agree on something. Loathing ISIS), and it scares the hell out of the region’s most powerful Sunni nation, Saudi Arabia. That's why 'magically' ISIS is quietly getting support from Sunni nations in the region, looking to end this 'axis'.

It's very muddy and I dove in deep on the specifics of the conflict, but my main point is, their "ideology" is forming a Sunni Islamic state and violence is a tool to achieve that.

Commander Kelly said...


ISIS is certainly receiving support from the "Magic kingdom" (Saudi Arabia) as you state. Terrorism that is well-funded is an enormous problem for the West.

In Syria you have Assad poisoning children and civilians on one hand and ISIS beheading journalists and aid workers on the other. We seem to be between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The whole question, constantly posed by the media of "boots on the ground" largely misses the point. IT IS REALLY SLIPPERS ON THE GROUND THAT WE NEED! By that I mean far more human real time intelligence throughout the middle east. Satellite photos and cell phone records will not cut the mustard. We really need Laura of Arabia!