Western Muslims: First Line of Defense or Part of the Problem?
Many pundits have opined that the Islamic State made a terrible mistake by opening up an overseas front in blowing up a Russian airliner and conducting urban attacks in Europe. By western standards, making unnecessary enemies is bad strategy; by jihadist standards, it makes perfect sense. We continually make the mistake of mirror imaging our adversaries. The mindset of the Islamic State’s strategic planners is so alien to many westerners that thinking like them requires a shower afterwards. However, there is a sick logic to what they are doing.
The Islamic State has had fifteen months to consolidate a sanctuary from which to pursue its objectives. Western thinkers and planners have assumed that the objective of the jihadist entity is to control territory; that is a bad read. Control of territory is merely a means to an end. Their objective is a world-wide war between their brand of Islam and everyone else; and the events of the last few weeks have furthered that goal. The creed of the Islamic state is that, “you are either for us or against us”. When George W. Bush said that, he was stating a principle. When Caliph al Baghdadi says it, it is a death threat. Muslims in the west must choose.
The Islamic State views the unassimilated populations of Muslim communities in places like Paris, London, Dearborn, and Nashville a potential battlegrounds on the frontlines of jihad. If they can radicalize the Muslims who now consider themselves to be moderate, they will have created pockets of urban resistance in the camp of the “Crusaders”. This will force the Americans, Russians, and Europeans to fight both at home and in the land of the Koran. This approach, called “vexation operations”, is beginning to work. As the Americans, Europeans, and Russians crack down on Muslims and Muslim residents, the Islamists believe that Muslims in those lands will be forced to resort to resistance. That resistance may be suicidal, but the wretches caught up in it will become inadvertent martyrs. In the world view of ISIS, this makes perfect sense.
ISIS believes that it will prevail in in a stand up confrontation with the west by making an attritional war so bloody that Crusader powers will leave the Middle East. So far, the American reluctance to intervene with combat forces on the ground has validated that belief. The Islamic State has showed enough resilience that it can shrug off the mere use of airpower by Americans, Europeans, and moderate Arab States; the Russians do not appear to be making much of an impression either. Some western analysts became convinced that the Islamic State is only interested in building an extended caliphate in traditionally Muslim lands and has abandoned Osama bin Laden’s vision of taking jihad to Europe, America, and Russia. In fact, ISIS has never refuted bin Laden; it does reject the approach of Bin Laden’s al Qaeda successors of not taking and holding ground, but the lack of attacks on the west outside of Syria and Iraq before October probably represents mere Jihadist prioritization. Having secured an operational and economic sanctuary, the ISIS planners in Raqqa now have the resources to do their form of power projection overseas.
This does not mean that ISIS strategy is correct, but it is their view that forcing the Europeans and Russians to devote more resources to homeland security means less that they will be able to devote to the Middle East. Once the west is factored out, ISIS can devote its energies to deal with the real enemy as it sees things; that being the Shiite apostates led by Iran. American intelligence analysts and pundits who insist that we are a harder target, and thus immune, are wrong. The Islamic State has simply not gotten around to us yet. We are in the pecking order, we just haven’t been pecked yet.
As with any insurgency, the kind of urban guerilla war that the Islamic state is trying to foment in Europe and the United States does not need the support of a majority of any Muslim community, it merely needs its passive non-interference in the activities of the insurgent cadres. The French government should not be shutting down the mosques preaching radical revolution in that country; the Muslim community should be doing it.
The Muslim populations of Europe, Russia, and the United States must make a decision. If they are not willing to police themselves, report the activities of people they know to be Islamic extremists, and actively discourage extremist activity; they will be viewed as part of the problem. If that happens, the Islamists trying to foment urban insurgency will accomplish their goal of causing retaliation against Muslim communities. There were people in San Bernadino who knew that something was badly wrong with the rogue couple who committed the massacre. The failure of those Muslims to act merely feeds the prejudice of those who already distrust the Muslim community.
Our Muslim neighbors must answer the question that both Bush and al Baghdadi have posed to them; “who are you with?” There is no middle ground.