There is a spectre over all the world. This spectre is Islamic extremism, of which the Islamic State is the most dangerous. But it’s not the sole organization whose ideology is proto-fascist in nature, scope and intent. There are like groups including Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and al-Qaida.
But ISIS is the most terrifying of these groups, and the one most likely to strike the United States. How will they do this, and what can we do to prevent it?
To defeat ISIS, we must understand who and what they are. They do not represent a majority of Muslims. All radical extremists represent a tiny amount of Muslims worldwide. About less than 1 percent would actively participate in global jihad.
SO THE FIRST step is to recognize that Islam and our Muslim brothers and sisters are not the enemy. We are at war with an ideological subgroup that uses puritanical theology to its political advantage. We must understand this, because ISIS wants the West, particularly non-Muslim Americans, to hate Muslims and to believe all Muslims believe in ISIS’ cause.
Why? Because if ISIS can make the West use rhetoric that Donald Trump is beginning to articulate – that we are at war with Islam, and that Muslims must be safeguarded against – we fall right into ISIS’ trap. They want all Muslims to either join their Caliphate, or to recognize that by not pledging allegiance to ISIS, they risk the practice of takfir, or excommunication from Islam by a leading figure, and essentially becoming kafir, or, infidels, and thus subject to face brutality at the hands of ISIS, now theologically justified according to the Caliph’s interpretation of Islam.
ISIS seeks for Western countries to isolate, alienate and oppress Muslims. In so doing, ISIS believes that these Muslims will choose to join or to sympathize with the Caliphate in some fashion and to avoid takfir. Trump and others who are ignorant of ISIS’ grand strategy actually benefit ISIS rather than deterring them.
We must continue to be an open society; to value diversity and tolerance; and to value legal, vetted immigrants, regardless of their race, origin, creed, ethnicity or religion. We must accept those in need. Of course, we must vet all individuals properly to ensure that there are no security risks, but this must be done to all individuals seeking to enter the United States, not just or specifically Muslims. If we act differently, ISIS wins.
Also, ISIS has a twofold recruiting strategy we must understand to make coherent policies. ISIS has issued a call that all Muslims either must actively support ISIS by going to the physical location of the Caliphate, specifically Iraq and Syria, and to engage in jihad there; or to pay substantial “war taxes” to support the effort financially. The “taxes” mainly apply to individuals living under the Caliph directly who cannot or will not physically fight.
ISIS WANTS Muslims living overseas who cannot make a pilgrimage to ISIS-held territory to wage jihad domestically, wherever they are. This is the most important aspect for U.S. citizens to realize. ISIS recruits individuals who lack identity; feel isolated, alienated, oppressed or ostracized; have a serious love of criminality; and/or are on the fringes of society.
ISIS actively seeks to make these individuals the so-called lone-wolf terrorists – those who aren’t directly connected to ISIS, but have pledged allegiance to them, and carry out attacks in their name.
These individuals are difficult to track and to monitor because they plan attacks so simply that it is too complex to investigate before the event. These are the types of attacks witnessed in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
How do we prevent these lone-wolf attacks?
Unfortunately, we can’t be 100 percent successful. Because we must maintain an open society, which is the backbone of our values and identity as a nation-state, we assume a certain level of security risks to keep our liberties and freedoms.
To completely secure ourselves from these types of risks would be running a security apparatus that would make us an authoritarian state. This is something most citizens would not be comfortable with. So we need to understand that living in a democracy comes with this risk.
Next, we must not play into ISIS’ hand by changing our values in discriminating against any type of groups or individuals, specifically Muslims and refugees. This would be to turn our back on essential American values, and would mean ISIS has won by altering our political culture. In so doing, we will inevitably help ISIS’ recruiting.
To defeat ISIS, we must remain who we are – loving, compassionate, caring people who embrace diversity and the downtrodden.
(The writer is an assistant political science professor at Augusta University. Follow him on Twitter: @polscountrydoc.)