Tuesday, May 23, 2017


I'm horrified by the Manchester attack, for which ISIS is now claiming responsibility.

For a while, I thought I understood the logic of this strategy: Use spectacularly successful acts of violence to inspire young, alienated Muslims so they'll sign up to join the fight to sustain the caliphate, and hope that the attacks motivate non-Muslim nations to crack down on Muslim residents, in order to eliminate a "grayzone" of peaceful coexistence and inspire even more recruits.

But ISIS has been losing territory in Iraq and Syria, and we've been hearing that an increase in terrorist attacks is a strategy shift in response to failures on the battlefield. In other words, terrorism isn't helping to staff a successful army -- it's a distraction from that army's failings. And this is happening even as there appear to be limits to the Western backlash against Muslims: white nationalists have fallen short in elections in France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, while even Donald Trump has tempered his language on Islam.

So I don't see the logic anymore. At this point, it seems as if terrorist attacks attacks in the West aren't part of a grand strategy to advance ISIS's brand of Islam -- they're an end in themselves. The point of the terrorism seems to be ... just to kill people. The aftermath is always the same: Communities come together; there's anger at Muslims, but there are also kind words:

So what's being accomplished? Either ISIS and its acolytes still believe that the strategy is working, despite evidence to the contrary, or ... they're just angry young men who revel in the idea of doing harm to other people, especially when they're being told that what's being done is virtuous. It seems to me that the terrorism is now the point. The perpetrators (and cheering fans, some of whom will be future perpetrators) may talk of the attacks as steps on the path to a grand utopia, but I think they're just getting off on the violence.

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