Two recent articles in the New York Times suggest the West may be ignoring a potential asset in the fight against Islamic Fourth Generation entities such as ISIS.
The May 9 Times carried an article titled “Muslim Leaders in the West Wage a Battle of Theology With ISIS, Stoking Its Anger”. The piece reports on eleven anti-ISIS imams or Islamic scholars who, working in the West, argue publicly that ISIS’s theology is wrong and that Islam does not support its actions. (I’ve read the Koran, and it could be cited either way.) ISIS has called for the eleven to be killed, which is not surprising. The Times quotes a Canadian Moslem as saying, “This is what hurts ISIS the most.”
Indeed it does, because Fourth Generation war is above all a contest for legitimacy. The legitimacy of Islamic 4GW entities such as ISIS and al Qaeda rests pirmarily on their theological claims. Only Moslems can credibly bring those claims into question, at least in the eyes of other Islamics. On the moral level of war, 4GW jihad can face no greater danger.
Obviously, Western governments should be ramping up these theological attacks on ISIS et. al. They must do so covertly or they will undermine the legitimacy of the critics. But it seems that in Europe they may be missing an opportunity to do something similar.
The April 27 Times carried a story, “Europe Struggles to Manage Who Return From ISIS”. It reported that
At least 1,300 European jihadists have returned to the Continent, and those are only the ones identified by the police. Three times as many Europeans may have gone to Syria…
The question facing European countries is what to do with the returnees. The two main options seem to be “nothing” or “arrest them”:
At the heart of the debate is whether to take pre-emptive legal action against people who have not committed terrorist acts or even been implicated in a plot, but who have simply been to Syria and possibly received training in Islamic State camps…
At least 14 European countries have made receiving terrorism training a criminal offense.
What about seeing thses returnees instead as potential recruits against ISIS? Like anti-ISIS Islamic scholars, they would have an ability to hurt ISIS on the moral level of war. Give them (supervised) computers and let them go after ISIS in all the places where other young men like themselves are being recruited.
The Times reported that many of the returnees claim to have turned against ISIS. Speaking of one group, the Times wrote that
The men now claim to reject Islamic State ideology and tactics and profess regret for their “stupidities,” as one put it under questioning.
But investigators are well aware that Islamic State training manuals urge recruits to practice the art of taquiya, or concealment.
Well, what better way to test those who claim to have recanted than by giving them a chance to go after ISIS on the Internet? Those who refuse are presumably still jihadis and should be sent straight to prison or into exile. Those who take up the offer will soon find themselves under sentence of death by ISIS, which should work moderately well to cement their renewed loyalty to their state. It’s almost as foolproof as trial by downing for witches.
Over and over, Western state security services show themselves incapable of understanding the moral level of war, which John Boyd argued was the most powerful level. We pour billions into the war of assassination by drone strike, which works powerfully for our 4GW enemies on the moral level. Now it seems we are ignoring a Boydian opportunity to fold our enemies back on themselves at the moral level by using Europe’s returnees against them. A basic law of war is that a higher level trumps a lower. We focus on winning at the physical level while letting ourselves lose at the moral level, which means that in the end, we lose. And that is exactly what we are doing.