Is Islamic Terror America’s Future? By Patrick J. Buchanan
If the cliches hold — nothing succeeds like success, the past is prologue — this generation will not likely see an end to the jihadist terror that was on display at Pulse in Orlando on Sunday. For terrorism has proven to be among the most cost-effective and successful strategies of war that the world has ever seen.
So doing, those 19 altered the foreign policy of the United States.
They drew the world’s last superpower into wars that have bled and almost bankrupted us, broken a president, and left us mired in half a dozen civil and sectarian conflicts with no exit or end in sight.
As a political terrorist, Osama bin Laden rivals Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of the Austrian archduke set in train the events that led to the Great War that brought on the downfall of the West.
As Gerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal notes, in the 15 years since then, just 95 Americans have died in jihadist attacks in the U.S.
The whole world is talking about Orlando.
And what did this victory cost the Islamic State?
Yet compare the returns from this act of Islamist terror in Orlando, to those from similar attacks in Kabul, Baghdad or Damascus.
Under siege in Raqqa, Mosul and Fallujah, being bombed and bled as it surrenders the conquered lands of its caliphate, ISIS’ shift in strategy and targeting makes perfect sense.
The 2004 Madrid train bombings led to the defeat of a centrist government and rise of a socialist regime that pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq.
The Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan theater strengthened the National Front of Marine Le Pen.
The Beslan massacre of school children in North Ossetia in 2004 led to a consolidation of power by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.
Across Europe, the political impact of Islamist terrorism, though the numbers of dead and wounded have been, measured against the casualties of conventional war, relatively few, has been extraordinary.
Islamist terrorism has helped spawn anti-immigrant parties and “illiberal” regimes. The association of Islamic terror with Muslim immigration and refugees from Syria’s war has helped to drive “Brexit,” the British campaign to secede from the EU.
Islamist attacks have helped propel anti-EU movements and to incite nationalist demands for a recapture of state control of borders and security policy from Brussels.
Obama explains his reluctance to use the term “radical Islamic terror” on his not wishing to validate ISIS’ claim to be the spear point, the fighting arm of the world’s largest religion in fulfilling the mission given to it by Allah — to make the whole world Islamic.
And this is exactly what ISIS has in mind.
By the frequency and ferocity of its attacks, it seeks to displace al-Qaida and other Islamic resistance movements in the eyes of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, and to be seen by the young as the great liberator of the Islamic world and future conqueror of the West.
The crushing of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of victory in this war, for ISIS is not just an organization but a cause, a movement, an idea.
ISIS believes that by repeatedly wounding and provoking the West, it can reignite a war of civilizations. And though the West is vastly superior in nuclear weapons and conventional arms, economic power and technology, ISIS believes it can gradually drive the West out of the Middle East, as it has already helped to drive the Christians out.
Then, ISIS believes, through mass Muslim migration into a West whose native-born are dying out, Muslims can reoccupy these lands they had almost wholly conquered, until stopped by Charles Martel 14 centuries ago.
For some few Muslims, as we saw at Fort Hood, San Bernardino and Orlando, ISIS offers a dream worth dying for. And as they kill and die for ISIS, they will push America where they are pushing Europe — to the right.
The lone wolf terrorist does not exist.
The lone wolf terrorist is a fiction. He doesn’t exist.
The reason is simple.
People don’t engage in terrorism as individuals. They do it as part of a social group. They need the social meaning a group provides to justify the personal risk and the act of violence.
This need for meaning may be even more true for blood and guts terrorism, given the high mortality rates and public disapproval involved. This creates achasm between cheerleading a violent cause and an actual act of terrorism. Crossing this chasm requires an extensive social investment.
This chasm makes it extremely hard to activate terrorists remotely. The online and offline grooming required to activate any single individual can be easily detected by security forces. We’ve been lucky this is true. Groups like ISIS have tens of thousands of active online supporters in the developed world and if they could self-activate even a small percentage of these supporters, we’d be in deep trouble.
Unfortunately, it appears our luck has run out. The attacks in Orlando and outside Paris have demonstrated that ISIS has found an innovative way to cross the chasm between online cheerleader and active terrorist. A method made possible by instant and global access to social media and a method that can easily pierce US counter-terrorism defenses.
These attacks show it’s now possible to turn online supporters into a self-activating terrorist without heavy investments in individualized social grooming. This is accomplished by:
- turning the effort required plan, prepare, and execute a terrorist act into a ritual of initiation. Initiates are expected to undertake this effort on their own, without support.
- turning the act itself into a forum for a public, online declaration of fealty — an extremely potent medieval loyalty pledge made by knights to their lords — to the Caliph of ISIS. This pledge is made public (both attackers used Facebook to publicly pledge fealty to al Baghdadi) at the moment of the attack to maximize the meaning to the attacker and the audience. Think of it as social media performance art.
- immediate acceptance into the ranks of ISIS. Inclusion in the group and acceptance as a vassal by the Caliph. In other words: ISIS has found a way to provide social belonging and meaning through an online activation process.
This method is nearly opaque to US counter-terrorism efforts:
- the marketing funnel for this process of activation can be done in the open, in vanilla forums. Everything required is within the realm of free speech protections.
- all of the detectable preparation for warfare is done by the initiate by himself, which makes it very hard to detect.
- it has zero barriers to participation. Anybody can undertake the initiation and pledge loyalty, from the criminal to the self-hating homosexual, and they will be accepted (their past will be washed away) upon pledging during the act.
Even in its raw form, this method of activation has yielded two successful attacks (Orlando and Paris) over a couple of days.
Now that this form of attack has been demonstrated we are likely to see many more.
PS: The primary national security challenge for the US following the collapse of al Qaeda in 2008, was to prevent the establishment of another global terror network that could find new ways to attack the US. We failed at that. Not only have a new, bigger, badder terror network (ISIS), it has now found a way to attack us again, again, and again.
PPS: The media and the government will spend the next couple of months finding “motives” for Orlando in order to avoid connecting this to ISIS. That’s a waste of time. This process of activation, is open to all other motivations for an attack. All that matters is that initiation and the ritual occur according to script.
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