Islamic State: war of ideology – not of religion

Islamic State operates in typical fashion, quite obvious to most analysts, but they are not always properly perceived by the West. Lack of appropriate conclusions is caused by the political game which in many aspects uses ISIS or Salafism but also right-wing radicals for the short range electoral competitions. Unfortunately western democracy’s parties are all about the winning elections and they would do everything to get or to stay in power. I call that decadence of the western style democracies. That allow all kinds of extremism to promote themselves if only they are numbered enough to get some advantage to the political parties. Salafists in Belgium, UK, France or Germany are the example of that mechanism but as the opposition grows right-wing extremist organizations and support for them.

From the another perspective, the purpose of the terrorist attacks of ISIS, is not just sowing chaos or promote some – a radical version of Islam, but it has a precise and clearly defined strategic objective. It is to build political autonomy for ideological conflict with any other political center. The best opponent are the right-wing extremists radicalized in the same level as they. Attacks in Europe are addressed not just against Christianity or secularism, but against the Western democracies. Attacks in Sinai are not meant to fight local, „not enough believers” Sunnis, but political power which prevent extremists from growing. Even if that prevention in Egypt is often with use of brutal methods, we need to understand the alternative. Exactly the same problem aroused in Syria in 2011 after the first spontaneous social revolts. There also extremists took the charge of the revolution  very soon and transformed it into the struggle for power where alternative seams to be worse than the ruthless dictator. The terrorist attacks of IS in Baghdad is not directed just against Shiites, but against the political establishment in Tehran and their political emanation in Baghdad. Striking a society intensifies military operations or reprisals against Sunni (Iraq and Syria), and those with no other choice (sometimes seduced by radical ideology – but not religion) replenish the ranks of ISIS.

The information policy of ISIS uses the official religious content, for obvious reasons. It is easy to convince people, who are subjected to brutal oppression in Iraq, and Syria, but also Egypt and Libya, and their propaganda work on that in Europe as well, that God commands them to take revenge on the oppressors. To hide this radical ideology under the „guise” of religion, it allows you to acquire people outside the circle of Sunni Islam and even those who adopt Islam, just to get there and join the brutal fight. These in turn are the most valuable, because they become promoters of the ideology. If this come from cultures other than Arabic, they are of special propaganda value for ISIS, easier affecting the society from which they come.

The person who read not only the Holy Koran, but a number of books suggested by an imam or other person prepared by the ideologists of extremist organizations, begins to perceive the world in completely different way. Such individual perceives other people from its environment as the unconscious (and therefore in their opinion blind for „the real truth”), which in itself causes a sense of uniqueness. This uniqueness encountering opposition family, school, often intelligence services to monitor the transfer of information on the web, quickly generates a sense of injustice and utter alienation. They search for salvation in finding other like-minded in the West or even join militants in the Middle East. Of course, these mechanisms are well known in psychology and are not associated only activity the Islamic State, but it is this organization which can use them perfectly.

Radicalization of such units can be observed by the their rejection of contact with representatives of the all other way of thinking, not just democracy or Christianity and not even just the shia but also other sunnis who are not thinking exactly the same as them. This ideology which one can call a manipulated Islam is preached by Salafists. It becomes a threat, because leaves no room for compromise, like that on which is built the whole European order or West.

So in the Salafis ideology there is no room for tolerance, they can only look forward to the moment in which they will dominate the rest – „the others”. That is why President El-Sisi in Egypt restricts the rights of Salafists. Limiting their rights is a necessity, because in the opinion of the members of this group their right is to dominate the whole of society and impose on them a way of life consistent with their own ideology. The rights of both parties are so completely contradictory. Let me add that both parties in common sense represent sunni Islam. And fact that Salafists do not integrate, or even refuse to cooperate with other groups, assuming the divisions and conflict, to dominate all, in my opinion, makes them more a sect with use of radical ideology, than a religious group or faction. Of course, as in any case, so in that case the generalizations are unfair, but I will come back to that later.

So in some way those who argue that Islam can not be combined with democracy are right – but only in part, because it concerns the ideology of Salafists. Salafists themselves willing to agree with the fact that Islam does not fit for democracy and desire that all Muslims have to follow them. After all, their ideology has just proclaimed that only they are the true Muslims! So if all Muslims would have been the Salafists, then you would have to agree that Islam can not be integrated or even can’ cooperate with any other social groups. The far right (and after every terrorist attacks grow stronger) go on this issue succor salafits and ISIS proclaiming that Islam can not integrate into democracy … so you need radical solutions. As you can see radicalism is very similar to each other regardless of the views and it leads to war which can be nothing but destruction of all our (European) world.

People radicalized in Europe or in US can not officially admit they support ISIS without consequences from the state. Such persons can therefore proclaim their allegiance to the Salafists and properly promote almost all ISIS doctrines without mentioning their name. Certainly not all Salafists are terrorists just as not every sect is dangerous for their surrounding, but this ideology is only one step for ISIS. This is evidenced by direct intelligence reports speak of direct cooperation of Salafi organizations in Europe with ISIS (Short path to jihad. Salafists in Germany recruit new fighters). The fact that Pierre Vogel, the most famous Salafit in Germany, officially does not support ISIS can be attributed to a conflict of interest with the ISIS or ordinary lie allowing him continue its operation without conflict with the law.

However, if the Salafists are to be seen as a sect of extreme ideology, there is a huge number of Muslims outside their ranks, with can live in democracy or under secular rule  saving the confidence in the model of multicultural societies.

It should be emphasized that every movement, every ideology and religion are composed of people having their doubts, thoughts etc. Even if so Salafists are perceived as an monolith, because of the threat caused by their ideology, we need to be aware of the inevitability of the multiplicity of their strands. So let’s always talk, negotiate and convince, because not everyone Salafit will be just as involved in the ideology dictated by propagandists.

Undoubtedly, even if ISIS will disappear as a state in northern Iraq and Syria, the Salafi radicalism will remain in the form of sects within Islamic societies, as in every other culture and religion are radical sects based on manipulated fundamentalism. Any such sect proclaims its uniqueness and monopoly on the „only truth faith”. If, however, the society will be able to live without wars, ethnic cleansing and brutal oppression then without any interventions they will be able to limit the impact of radical sects – especially those who use terrorism.

This is the essence of the social psychology and ideas like „Lucifer Effect” vs „Heroic Imagination Project” (HIP) of prof. Zimbardo. Social impact can create Lucifer Effect – creating ISIS hiding under cover of Salafism or Neo-nazists hiding under cover of nationalism (not confuse it with patriotism please). But the same social impact can also build civilized, cooperative and open to others but still safe societies, which HIP as mechanism is an example. If we will not recognize soon enough, basing on all human science and experience what path leads to peace and security and what is the straight way to divisions and negative conflicts tearing apart our societies, then radicals will win which would strengthen their  conviction that God has sent them to impose a world order – their order. In this (worst scenario) case the God could be easily replaced by the Lucifer and nobody will see the difference. 


Autor: Milczanowski Maciej

Maciej Milczanowski Maciej is a former professional soldier, participant of two foreign missions: UN in Golan Heights commander of platoon and position (1997-1998) and NATO Iraq Battle Capitan in Tactical Operation Center (2004-2005). Holds an MA in National Defense Academy in Warsaw and Ph. D. in Jagiellonian University both on politics in ancient history and he now works in University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland. Visiting Fellow in Hoover Institution, Stanford University. CEO of Institilute for Research of the National Security and leader of the Zimbardo Center for Conflict Resolution (Z-CenterC&R)


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