Sep-02-14 - por Rosendo Fraga
1. Western intelligence services continue to show strong limitations to understand the global escalating violence and in particular actors as the Islamic State (IS). Starting from the quantitative perspective, estimates of the number of fighters that make up the IS range from 13,000 to 50,000. A major difference, in the case of the most important terrorist organization today worldwide also characterized by acting openly and waging battles and combats for the control of cities, refineries, hydroelectric dams and airports. The confusion is not only quantitative but also conceptually. The head of the Pentagon (Haguel) -the biggest military organization in the world that concentrates 40% of military spending worldwide- has stated publicly that it has never seen such a “sophisticated terrorist organization". It is a misconception. The central strategy of the IS is nothing more and nothing less than resorting to a tactic which has unfortunately been very successful throughout history: defeating the enemy through terror. Breaking its will to fight, showing that if it does not surrender or abandon the fight, it may be beheaded, crucified and wife or daughters sold as slaves in a public square. It is the terror which explains the attitude of the Iraqi military units against the advance of forces of the IS troops with lower troops, rather than infiltration or empathy. The idea of gaining support of the population through righteous deeds or gaining global public opinion through empathic attitudes isn't in the strategy of the IS, which has chosen the classic defeat through terror.
2. The confusion of the head of the Pentagon perhaps leads to not considering the media used - which may be different - with the strategy, which is the same as used historically by terrorism. The use of YouTube, Facebook or email chains is not a change of strategy but the use of new media to develop a classic tactic. Beheads, the exhibition of crucified people in the roads and public executions and torture were alternative forms to spread terror compared to the ones used now. Already several centuries before Christ the civilization had evolved and instead of executing prisoners, they were turned into slaves. Many saw in it a social progress, because in addition to saving their lives, some economic value was attached to the vanquished. But many times, from the centuries before Christ, the Romans, or in the middle ages the Crusaders, as well as sometimes Muslims chose to sacrifice the economic interest of transforming the defeated slave and instill terror instead. There were many cities that resisted and did not surrender and were murdered en masse, including women and children. It had a very specific effect: deterring other cities from resisting, thus economizing lives, both our own and those of the enemy. It was not so strange to blind off prisoners, cut off hands, noses and ears. The mutilated were not turned into slaves because they lost economic value. The strategy of imposing terror was privileged in these cases rather than promoting accountability and encouraging obedience to save lives and resources.
3. Historical events as the Crusades are more useful than the technology to understand the characteristics and entity of these not-so-new conflicts. At the end of the 11th century, the Pope summoned the Crusades to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher, which were in the hands of the "infidels", in this case the Muslims, who used the same term to refer to Christians. Those who went to the Crusades, would reach full indulgence at death, i.e. went directly to heaven without going through the transient penalty of purgatory. They also enjoyed such indulgence when dying without confession or repentance. This is critical to understand how thousands of European knights, initially mostly coming from France, were able to beat much larger Muslim forces: they were not afraid to die because they knew the best forever was to come, whatever sin they would commit until that moment. It is not a very different concept from suicide bombers as the most effective means in Muslim terrorism. Those who commit suicide for the sake of the "Holy War" (Jihad), in this distorted version of Islam, automatically goes to heaven, and in a very extended version of this creed, among the privileges of this fate of eternal happiness is enjoying of seventy virgins. It took several decades to Muslims to get together under the leadership of Sultan Saladin to defeat and expel Europeans, who, for nearly two centuries, created an extended Kingdom in the Middle East, whose capital during most of the time was Jerusalem. The last city in the hands of the Crusaders that fell to Muslims was Aleppo, where the Knights Templar resisted to death. Today it is the second city in Syria and its economic capital (or it was), where Assad forces fight against the IS, which has taken and subordinated the Al Nusra front.
4. The religious factor is essential to understand the great contemporary conflicts and this is a flaw among Western Governments and their intelligence services. The IS imposed forced conversions of non-Muslim minorities in one third of Iraq and the third of Syria which dominates its Caliphate. Failure to convert, as happened in the past, can bring death as a consequence. Cases like this are growing in the Kurdish Yazidi minority -accused by the IS of worshipping the devil because in its pre-Christian worship the fallen angel was forgiven and mediates between the Sun God and the angel community - and the Christians. The success of the IS in Syria and Iraq has led the extremist Islamic Group Boko Haram, which also uses terror in Nigeria, to declare the creation of a Caliphate in Africa and adopt more and more methods of similar violence. Since the start of the Israeli offensive in Gaza, the Palestinian dead total 2,100. In the case of the IS, that number is surpassed by far in Iraq and Syria, although they attract less media attention. The fight between the EI - extreme version of Sunni Islam- and the Shiite Governments of Iraq and Syria, resembles the religious wars that ravaged Europe between the 16th and 17th centuries between Christians and Protestants. But it would be a mistake to reduce the incidence of the religious factor only to conflicts generated around the Muslim world. In Eastern Europe, the Government of Ukraine -whose troops go into battle after receiving the blessing of the priests of the Ukrainian national church - has denounced the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the exaltation of Russian nationalism and particularly in the extremism that is taking the separatist pro-Russian population.
5. To conclude:
a) The Western intelligence services fail to fully understand the violent conflict escalating worldwide, particularly the Islamic State (IS) issue.
b) This organization is based on the strategy of defeating through terror, which comes from ancestral times, although modern media as social networks are used for this purpose.
c) Historic events such as the Crusades are more useful to understand the new conflicts such as the IS, which are actually old and deep rooted in tradition.
d) The religious factor proves key to understand and foresee the unfolding of these conflicts, and this is not limited only to the Muslim world.