People tell me I think too much, and they’re probably right. But that’s my tool. Thinking about stuff doesn’t allow me to impose any order on the world (not that I’d want to), but it makes the disorder tolerable and often amusing. Thinking is what I do to keep from becoming discouraged, or depressed, or angry. And what happened in Paris is enough to discourage anybody, to make anybody depressed, to make anybody completely fucking furious.
Consider the astonishing cruelty of this attack. Targeting regular folks out having fun for an evening, and doing it deliberately and without pity — that’s the very definition of cruelty. The thing is, I don’t believe these terrorists were lacking in compassion and humanity; I believe they purposely rejected compassion and humanity. Which is infinitely worse.
It’s damned hard not to give in to rage, because at times like this rage is so very attractive and seductive. There is, in most of us I suspect, at least a small kernel of burning cold fury. There’s the desire to make somebody suffer. It would cathartic to be able to lash out, to make some sumbitch somewhere pay.
The best way for me, personally, to get around all that is to think. To try to comprehend why this happened. It’s not easy. Hell, it’s damned hard to care enough about the motivations of the terrorists to ask why it happened. The massacre of so many innocent people feels like it must exist outside of any possible why. I mean, is there any answer to why that could possibly make sense to anybody?
And yet, if we ever want to stop this sort of shit from happening (or at least reduce it), then why is a question that has to be asked and desperately needs to be answered.
We won’t find the answers in ISIL’s claim of responsibility. It didn’t happen because Paris is “the capital of prostitution and obscenity, the carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe.” It wasn’t because of “hundreds of apostates…gathered in a profligate prostitution party.” You could, I suppose, debate whether or not it had anything to do with “the cause of Allah, in support of His religion and His Prophet.” The vast majority of Muslims would disagree with that view of Islam, of course — but it can’t be denied that a twisted version of Islam is at the center of ISIL’s worldview.
But there’s something about ISIL that almost everybody seems to overlook. We’re used to seeing Islamic terrorism through the lens of al Qaeda. But here’s a true thing: al Qaeda was all about religious ideology. Sure, they talked about some day creating a new Caliphate, but mostly they were (and mostly still are) interested in changing the way Muslims think and see the world around them. Al Qaeda was stateless, a shadowy extremist presence that existed largely outside of borders.
ISIL, on the other hand, is about seizing territory to establish an actual geographic Caliphate — an Islamic state with cities and towns and fields and a population. Where al Qaeda had widespread terrorist cells, ISIL has a fucking army. Al Qaeda’s war was a terrorist propaganda war. ISIL is primarily focused on fighting a ground war.
For the most part, ISIL has fought a conventional Middle East guerrilla war. Not much different, really, from the one fought by Lawrence of Arabia against the Ottoman Turks. Highly mobile forces that require the enemy to stretch out its defenses. Surprise attacks using classic swarming tactics that overwhelm towns and villages. Aside from the shift from camels to Toyotas, the biggest difference in ISIL’s approach and Lawrence’s is the now common use of suicide tactics. Suicide bombers create confusion and chaos, and in turn that makes it easier for more conventional military tactics to succeed.
Suicide tactics may be effective in this sort of limited ground war, but they use up people. Even in a highly motivated religious army like ISIL, there are a limited number of folks willing to blow themselves up. Because of that, ISIL has to continuously recruit potential ‘martyrs’. How do you do that?
Advertising. High publicity events. Theatrical events.
In Syria or Iraq you can send eight suicide bombers to create enough chaos to allow your forces to assault a small village or town and seize control. But as a result, your army is now somewhat depleted in numbers AND you possess a small village that somebody has to defend. That small military success doesn’t do much to help you gain new recruits. And if your goal is to control territory, you must have an influx of new fighters.
However, if you send those same eight suicide bombers to Paris, you get the entire world’s attention. More importantly, you get the attention of young, disaffected Muslims in France, and Germany, and England, and Spain, and the United States, and Russia. Young disaffected Muslims who see a small band of dedicated Islamic warriors taking on the great nations of the world — attacking their cities, bringing down their planes (let’s not forget ISIL is also almost certainly responsible for the recent bombing of the Russian airliner). These are young, disaffected Muslims who’ve been living in Western media-driven cultures, where they’ve seen who knows how many movies celebrating the heroic adventures of fighters facing overwhelming odds — and either winning or dying gloriously.
That’s seductive for young folks. How many young men (and yeah, it’s mostly young men) have joined the U.S. military because they’ve been seduced by movie versions of war and combat? It’s no different for young Muslim men.
There are other reasons for the attacks in Paris, of course, but they all come down to recruitment. There’s the intent to spark a harsh response against Muslims by the people and/or the government of France, which would radicalize the Muslim population, which would lead to — that’s right — more recruits. There’s the ‘we can strike you anywhere’ braggadocio, which is classic Evil James Bond Empire stuff — which also draws recruits.
But we have to remember that attacking Paris and bringing down passenger planes is secondary (or even tertiary) to ISIL’s goal of establishing a physical, geographical Caliphate in the Middle East. The only way to defeat a ground army is on the ground. And if Western nations send their armies to fight a Muslim army in the Middle East, that will create still more recruits for ISIL.
Which means the Western world is largely fucked until some sort of Arab coalition steps up and takes on ISIL. Which isn’t impossible, but not very likely in the foreseeable future. And that brings me right back to being discouraged, or depressed, or angry.
Yeah, maybe people are right. Maybe I do think too much.
But I also think this. Most people are decent. Most people are fundamentally good. And no matter how many ISILs and White Supremacists and hateful fanatics there are in the world, they’ll always be vastly outnumbered by decent people. That’s another thing that keeps me from being discouraged, or depressed, or angry.