This is from Adam L. Silverman, PhD*
On the Islamic State
About a week ago, our beloved blog host stated he would like to post something on ISIL, but was too angry and disgusted to do so. In the wake of last night’s Presidential statement on the Islamic State, I offered to provide some context. The Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams can also be rendered as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The reason for this is that al Sham is the older Arabic term that refers to the Levant, which includes what is currently Syria. So the pundits who seem to freak out on the TV while I’m at the gym, let alone when I’m not, because the administration is using ISIL not ISIS need to both calm down and learn Arabic. Or learn how to do a basic Internet search.
ISIL itself is an interesting organization. What started as the remnant and next generation of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has morphed into something a lot more structured, effective, and efficient. One of the people whose opinion on this I highly respect argues that they are now: “…a real guerrilla army, with real forces who run a real government that is now coming into being. We should stop calling them terrorists and start calling them the enemy.” Even given this assessment, ISIL is a composite entity. It includes its core group carried over from al Qaeda in Iraq. ISIL’s actual vanguard and some of their hardest core fighters are actually about 1,000 hardened Chechens who were radicalized and reactionized in their long rebellion and insurgency against the Russian Federation and Vladimir Putin. This helps to explain last week’s ISIL proclamation about bringing the fight into Chechnya and Eastern Europe and unseating Putin from his throne.
ISIL is also being assisted by former Iraqi military who are members of the Sufi al Douri tribe and Naqshbandi Order, as well as some other Iraqi Sunnis, mostly the more rural and tribal ones. Many of these guys were locked out of the post-Saddam Hussein Iraq because of the Coalition Provisional Authority’s de-Baathification regulation and the 2010 Iraqi de-Baathification Law or because the Maliki led Shi’a coalition government we installed was hostile to the Sunni tribes and their tribal Shi’a relations and allies that made of the Awakenings (Sawha) and Sons of Iraq. It is still unclear to me (at least) whether this is an enemy of my enemy is my friend situation and once ISIL starts to alienate the Sufi, Sunni, and Shi’a tribesmen by insisting on adherence to their extreme interpretation of Wahhabiyya, there will be a violent falling out as their was in 2006/2007, which provided one of the openings that we exploited with the Surge.
Finally, there are other foreigners fighting with ISIL other than the Chechens. Most of these are coming from Europe. However, there are about twelve Americans who have gone and joined ISIL and maybe a 100 or so that have joined other groups involved with the Syrian Civil War. While this is not a good thing, the numbers of Americans involved barely registers as negligible. Moreover, what appears to be happening is that the normal development pattern that criminologists call neutralization and drift (.pdf download) is occurring. Sykes and Matza (1957), building on the differential association and social learning work of Sutherland (the Father of Modern Criminology), posited that young males seek out risk taking activities. This is done through adopting behavioral norms that neutralize the rules promoting good conduct and retarding deviant, delinquent, and criminal behavior allowing them to drift into what is often illegal risk taking activities. There is an age component to this, with most aging out by their mid to late twenties. From looking at cases of Muslim American, Muslim British, and Muslim youth from other European countries that have joined al Shabab or al Qaeda it appears that the normal patterns of neutralization and drift are at work. The difference is that unlike previous generation when the drift would be into a gang or hanging out with the wrong crowd, now there is a completely formed radical and reactionary movement that is looking to recruit from alienated and disaffected youth. My real worry hear is not that some of that dozen or so Americans involved with ISIL or the hundred or so involved in the Syrian Civil War will come home and conduct a major terrorist attack. Rather its that the far greater number of Muslim Europeans, and a few of the Muslim Americans, who have gone to join up will become radicalized and reactionized through contact with the hardened Chechen fighters within ISIL. Prior to Chechen rebellion against remaining in the Russian Federation, the Chechen Muslims were behaviorally much more similar to other non-Muslim Eastern Europeans and people from the trans-Caucasus region. It was their inability to get Western support for their resistance to inclusion in the Russian Federation and their fight against Russia combined with the training, financial, and logistical support they got from al Qaeda – this is was the kind of training that bin Laden’s camps were actually set up to do – that radicalized and reactionized them. It is this link in the chain of neutralization and drift we need to be concerned with and work on breaking.
* Adam L. Silverman most recently served as a civilian subject matter expert with the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Security Dialogue and US Army Europe. Prior to that he was the Cultural Advisor at the US Army War College from JUL 2010 through JUN 2014. He was deployed in Iraq as the Cultural Advisor for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team/1st Armored Division in 2008