Saturday, June 25, 2016

Quotable: Jacob Olidort on the influence of jihadist ideas

Thursday, June 23rd 2016
“Being prepared and agile in the face of the new global jihadist threat requires a fundamental reorientation of our analytical, operational and bureaucratic resources.”  This reorientation was the focus of an essay, “After ISIS: A Smarter Way to Fight Radicalization,” in the National Interest on June 21, 2106.  In it, Jacob Olidort, a Soref Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also noted, “To effectively address today's terrorist threat, we must begin by acknowledging the unique ways in which jihadism propels violence, and proceed by assessing where Western states have real strengths and real vulnerabilities in their approaches.”  Some bullet points:

  • Last week's tragic attack in an Orlando nightclub once again underscores the resonance of the Islamic State's message for seemingly unaffiliated individuals around the world. However, it also brings to light the real challenge of measuring and dealing with the influence of jihadist ideas . . .

  • While defeating Islamic State should be on the counterterrorism agenda for the next administration, the real objective should be to adequately meet the challenge of twenty-first-century global jihadism.

  • Being prepared and agile in the face of the new global jihadist threat requires a fundamental reorientation of our analytical, operational and bureaucratic resources.

  • . . . it is clear that our war is not just against terror but principally against the jihadist ideas that inspire it.

  • . . . the policy community has not taken the power of jihadist ideas seriously. Indeed, this is clear from the U.S. government's floundering Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs and reinforced in a recent Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council report recommending not using words such as "jihad" and "sharia" for fear of fomenting an "us versus them" narrative. The jihadist threat can only be addressed honestly and thoroughly if we care to understand the power that jihadist ideas wield in propelling violent actions. Jihadism repackages traditional concepts to exploit political circumstances in the Middle East. It is when jihadist ideas do so convincingly that they quickly transform into a kinetic physical threat.

  • Our military successes today are the key to undoing the appeal of Islamic State. It is these victories that we can market in our messaging, and it is these depictions of defeat that make Islamic State most vulnerable.

  • . . . the single consistent dynamic we have failed to appreciate as far as our counterterrorism optic goes is the power of ideas -- specifically, how widely, deeply and permanently they can be distributed. In the age of social media, we have a much wider landscape of where ideas are transmitted and by whom.

  • Ideas are not Newtonian physics, for which every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The insistence by some communities in government operating within the CVE or "counter-radicalization" space that this is the case is, at best, the result of naïve altruism and, at worst, of hubristic ignorance.

  • Whatever the reason, our budget and national security cannot afford to invest resources into mere bureaucratic back-patting as things currently stand. Once we move away from this action/reaction approach, we can begin to understand the truly distinguishing feature of how ideas can influence individuals to independently radicalize.

  • At its core, the policy conversation on CVE is informed by flawed assumptions that understate the power of ideas. Examples of this include the talking points of consulting clinicians; "off-ramping" or slowly taking individuals off the proverbial highway towards radicalization, as is established practice with weaning individuals away from substance abuse; and "trust building" with local communities, through initiatives such as interfaith events and community-oriented activities.

  • Make no mistake: these are all important initiatives as ends in and of themselves. However, they all imply that jihadist ideas are not an explanation.

  • . . . the single root cause of the unique face of jihadist radicalization today [is] the promise of heroism in the battlefields of Islam.

Distinguishing features of jihadism in the 21st century:

  • Social media mobility. * * * social media will not only be the stage on which jihadist screenplays are acted out, but also where new jihadist playwrights and directors will emerge.

  • Territorial causes. * * * increasingly the attacks on the far enemy (the United States, Europe) will be justified in the name of localized and territorially bound causes.

  • Appeal to youth and provision of non-fighting opportunities. One unique feature of ISIS is its appeal among a distinctly young demographic. Indeed, it is the promise of not only battlefield victory and martyrdom but also, ironically, a case for a better and more "Islamic" life in the territories under their control that they promise to new recruits. We need to be mindful of the unique ways in which ideas are not only married to causes, but also packaged for a specific consumer base: youth seeking opportunities for advancement.

  • Technological terrorism. Because of the distinctly young demographic of future fighters, the terrorist threats they will pose will take place on technological platforms and spaces that they master. These include not only hacking, but also cyber warfare and nefarious uses of mobile apps, among others. Cyber security will increasingly be the first line of defense in preserving national security.

  • . . . a pro-regional strategy to counterterrorism would link our conversation on domestic radicalization to planning for political stability in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and would better prepare us for the day-after scenario once ISIS is ultimately downsized to being just another militia.

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