"Last Saturday during the Democrats' presidential debate, aphasia first struck socialist Senator Sanders, who played down the terror threat, preferring to talk about the economy; while the favorite Hillary Clinton confirmed that in her view, religion has nothing to do with the current war. ISIS is a political, cultural and military movement that uses terrorism and war rooted in a radical interpretation of Islam. An enemy of modernity, ISIS proclaims an Islamism that dates back to pre-colonial times, fascinates young people with its anti-democratic creed, and advocates a world in which individuals, both male and female, believers or not, have their destinies marked out from birth. Failing to understand this or being overcome with caution prevents us from making progress against the terrorists: ISIS is a political army of Islamists, so religion not only involved - it is critical to any analysis."
The night of urban warfare unleashed on Paris by ISIS signals a change in strategy by the terrorists of the Caliphate and will lead to irreversible change in European policy and the war in Iraq and Syria. It calls for a better understanding on the part of the public and leadership to gain a better grasp of the enemy we face which, up to now, we have badly misunderstood. Given the lack of rational analysis which is free of propaganda, rabid populism and naive sentimentality, we will remain at the mercy of violence.
Friday’s attack was the bloodiest armed action in France since the war ended in 1945 and was wisely referred to by Pope Francis as "World War III." ISIS, according to the Financial Times, derives $1.5 billion a day from its oil-field exporting blitz. Before the 129 killed in Paris, they struck in Ankara, Turkey on October 10, leaving over 100 dead; they blew up a Russian civilian airliner over Sinai on October 31 in the worst disaster in the history of Russian aviation; and on November 12, they sowed death in Beirut by killing over 40 - a slaughter as bad as any remembered during the long years of the Lebanese Civil War.
Our incapacity to see the unfolding of these attacks on a continuum, repeatedly mesmerized by the latest incident on TV and in social media, is rather disarming. Television network Al-Jazeera yesterday gave prominence to complaints from the Arab world, which accuses Facebook of prohibiting Lebanese from using its automatic search to find victims and survivors in Beirut as it commendably did in Paris. Facebook denies a double standard and Lebanese bloggers should keep in mind how in their country, with its poor communications, this would have been of little use. It is of little importance as the debate sows bitterness, dividing "Them" and "Us."
In reality, in the territories it occupies and its terrorist raids, ISIS doesn't discriminate between Christians and Muslims, striking anyone who won't join the campaign for the Caliphate. General Michael Nagata, U.S. commander in the Middle East, humbly admits what others trapped in demagogic silence refuse to: "We have not defeated the idea. ... We do not even understand the idea." As every strategist from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, Delbruck and Keegan has reminded us, defeating an enemy that is misunderstood is impossible. While President Obama first compared ISIS to "a JV team," today he denies its Islamic character, declaring that religion has nothing to do with the Caliphate's campaign.
Division in America
Last Saturday during the American Democrats' presidential primary debate, the same aphasia first struck socialist Senator Sanders, who played down the terror threat, preferring to talk about the economy; while the favorite Hillary Clinton confirmed that in her view, religion has nothing to do with the current war. Politicians are understandably hesitant to sow hatred toward their Muslim citizens, but this prevents them from properly analyzing the motivations and culture that allows ISIS to recruit thousands of followers online - including women, as scientists Erin Marie Saltman and Melanie Smith warn in their report, Till Martyrdom Do Us Part; Gender and the ISIS Phenomenon.
Like the Red Brigades' terrorism in Europe and Italy
ISIS is a political, cultural and military movement that uses terrorism and war rooted in a radical interpretation of Islam. An enemy of modernity, ISIS proclaims an Islamism that dates back to pre-colonial times, fascinates young people with its anti-democratic creed, and advocates a world in which individuals, both male and female, believers or not, have their destinies marked out from birth. Failing to understand this or being overcome with caution prevents us from making progress against the terrorists: ISIS is a political army of Islamists, so religion not only involved - it is critical to any analysis.
The same error of ideological timidity was made in the early days of the Red Brigades, when many observers denied the communist roots of Curcio (the Red Brigades' leader in Italy) and his followers - until in Communist Party newspaper Il Manifesto, with ruthless clairity, journalist (one-time leader of the Italian Communist Party and founder of Il Manifesto) Rossana Rossanda wrote about the "family album," tying together for all time the Red Brigades and the left. In the same way, a "family album" ties ISIS to the history of Islam. Millions of Italian communists fought the Red Brigades just as millions of Muslims oppose terrorism in the name of their religion, but the political contradiction exists and must be understood in order to sever the roots of extremism.
Firmness and compassion
We must not leave the field to populists, xenophobes and racists who already, in America, Europe and Italy, operate quite effectively. The bloody night in Paris offers up propaganda topics to Ms. [Marine] Le Pen's National Front and similar movements, has already led Poland to close its borders, while in Germany, CDU Chairman HorstSeehofer is calling for tighter border controls, both around the European Union and between member states. After the massacre at Charlie Hebdo (in Paris last January), Seehofer took the opposite line, remaining in favor of "open borders." Now he has changed his mind, as have millions of Europeans. Just one infiltrator among so many unfortunate Syrian refugees has unfortunately changed the political climate and now serves to weave together firmness with compassion.
President Obama has changed his mind as well: in the eleven months he has left in Washington, he will not withdraw from Afghanistan as so wanted to do, and he probably regrets the haste with which he withdrew from Iraq, understanding at last the inevitable fight in the Middle East. Europeans and Americans have few cards to play: collaborate with the Turks, who fear the Kurds as much as ISIS; reach an agreement with Putin, who has a beachhead in Syria; decide what to do with an Assad regime strengthened thanks to a tacit pact with ISIS that it could break if that's what it takes to remain in power in Damascus. Brilliant solutions work on TV but in reality, butunfortunately this is a matter of making a pact with the Assad devil in order to defeat the ISIS devil. Completely liberating the cities of Mosul and Ramadi from the grip of the Caliphate would require, alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga, a military response capable of countering the Paris massacre. If and when we succeed, we'll need a long-term civilian and military strategy capable of achieving victory.
We are only at the first confused steps fighting an enemy we do not know, and which, instead, knows us quite well.