With Angela Lo
The recent Paris attacks appear to demonstrate a trend in ISIS attack patterns. The violent transnational social movement has indicated their intention to target areas of co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims. Research will show that ISIS’s self-proclaimed ‘Grey Zone’ is indeed a pattern emerging in their choice of target vectors.
The Grey Zone was first mentioned on ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015, and their attack game plan has since been based on three approaches: terrorise, mobilise and polarize the globe in order to eradicate the area where this coexistence and interaction exists. In ISIS’s words, these areas are where ‘the Caliphate’ has been diluted by ‘Western crusaders’.They include all cities where moderate westernised Muslims coexist with non-muslims.
Based on their previous attacks and these statements it is apparent that their goal, allegedly, is to damage the social fabric of these mixed communities in the West ( the cities of Rome – modern day hegemons) in order to engender and ‘US and THEM’ construct, thus destabilizing the nature of relationships within these communities.
The Grey Zone exists between two distinct camps: the non-violent Muslim communities versus the pro-radical Islamic extremism supporters. Attacks, especially on opposition mosques translates a clear message: those who are in coalition with ISIS enemies or simply do not support them would be eliminated. It is conceivable that community members could turn against governments who are not capable of protecting them and to take it upon themselves to provide that stability from within their own community.Evidence of this pattern of degradation targeting social cohesion, are clearly emerging when we consider the disintegration of national communities in Syria, Libya and Iraq. The factionalism and identity-based fragmentation of these states is a lesson arguably being ignored. This is the fate that conceivably awaits other major grey zone cities who allow ISIS’s psychological warfare attack methods, to infiltrate and damage the bonds of community cohesion in the aftermath of attacks.
On the other hand, ISIS is seeking supporters from the communities who are prepared to engage in violent support and defence of their identity, (e.g. Boko Horam, etc.) and would encourage them to join in as recruits, hence the increase of ideational soldiers from around the world and inspired ‘lone-wolves’ threats. In particular, each retaliation by the west strengthens this objective as it moves communities, particularly moderate Islamic communities closer to making a choice between defending their religious identity in the face of spontaneous retaliatory attack by communities around them. This cycle may be seen as pushing closer to the edge, those members of their communities, who may be swayed to active violent participation.
From ISIS’s perspective the psychological warfare is embodied in actions designed to promote fragmentation in communities – the Syrian passports found intact next to suicide bombers after the Paris attacks -and their infiltration into the ranks of the refugees seeking shelter in the West.As fragmentation ensues between communities, the message becomes” either you are with us or you are with THEM, who seek to persecute you. This message is perversely echoed on the part of the West as exemplified by George W. Bush’s declaration after 9/11 attacks, ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.’ These actions move us inexorably in the direction ISIS seeks to push us in- a showdown between the armies of ISLAM (led by ISIS) and the armies of the West (the armies of Rome – the modern day hegemons.)
ISIS is marching its inspirational and ideational army decisively toward this outcome. It is a unique army which has no hierarchy and no command and control structure as it is doctrinal in its objectives. Its many silent supporters and active participants need no orders or support. They need only to know the objective and to gain the ability and resources to contribute to the final objective.This is why ISIS is so intoxicating to its silent membership in the diaspora- its message to those seeking glory is that they may contribute as much or as little as they can as long as the end result is chaos and fragmentation, born of fear, within the communities in which they live.
The end of the Grey Zone could be the start of something that has always been in the making: mirroring Western (hegemonic) actions to project a reflection to the west of the consequences of their own activities.By eliminating the sanctuary for identity-based hybridity, and dividing the global body in half, the ISIS-led half could have the power to determine the direction for civilisation itself, a job that the West has always been selfishly fighting to maintain through cultural and economic hegemony. If the West has created the binary existence of ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘the Third World’, ( and the west is developed and first world)the intersection between countries where cultures, religion and ideology co-exist and mingles, provides ISIS with gold mines to extract recruits, intelligence, resources and plant the seed for extremism to be groomed and persevere into the future.
Europe has vectors which have been locked and loaded- the small but significant communities where different religious bodies interact, co-exist and merge into civil society in the west. No matter whether they are at peace, or peaking in tension, ISIS is going to keep aggravating the stability while stoking the embers of internal combustion. That is why fighting ISIS or ‘the idea of ISIS’ is a generational fight. If there is a possibility ISIS is defeated, what are the costs? A violent change in the international system, how we treat cross-border conflicts, international relations itself, and a new definition of a civilisation. But could the world handle that?
To read more about the Clash of Civilizations, please refer to Victoria Dittmar’s article: The Clash of Civilizations 2.0
About the co-author: Angela Lo is studying International Relations and Sociology at the University of Sussex. Her main interest lies in understanding and analysing transnational criminal activities, terrorism, security and intelligence in global affairs.