Guest Post On ISIL

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






54 replies
  1. 1
    jo6pac says:

    I know I’m checking under my bed every night just to be safe. I guess what he is really saying is we to stop there before they come here. If anyone has time look around the net to see who created them, ays their bills, and were they are trained and by who. It’s just another false flag event for more war and spending at dod and it’s friendly vendor.

    Main Street citizens sorry no money for you.

  2. 2
    nellcote says:

    Adam L. Silverman, PhD,

    Thank You for bringing some facts into the discussion. More please.

  3. 3
    gnomedad says:

    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.

    This reminds me of the freakout when Maher said that the 9/11 attackers weren’t “cowards”. Accuracy, as opposed to ignorant ranting, is considered giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

  4. 4
    Betty Cracker says:

    It is this link in the chain of neutralization and drift we need to be concerned with and work on breaking.

    So what’s the best way to break the chain?

  5. 5
    Sherparick says:

    Right now, it is kind of a toss-up on who gets “Worst Person in the World Award,” McCain, Cheney, or Congressman Dana Rohrbacher, who thinks Government regulation to keep the oil tankers on trains from exploding (something destroyed Lac Megantic, Quebec and killed 47 people) is a scheme to slow global warming. http://thinkprogress.org/clima.....les-fraud/

    These people are just so stupid, it burns, it burns.

  6. 6
    D.Hyland says:

    So much complex nuance. Too bad America doesn’t do nuance very well.

  7. 7
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    First intelligent discussion I’ve read on the subject. Betty Cracker’s question is one I’d like to see addressed … and yes, what nellcote said.

  8. 8
    kindness says:

    Well….reason and logic on the intertubes…..The ‘Serious Village Elders’ have no use for such nonsense.

    We on the other hand appreciate it. Thanks.

  9. 9
    Linnaeus says:

    What does “reactionized” mean in this context?

  10. 10
    piratedan says:

    @Betty Cracker: wish I could say, dunno if the Tom Clancy fantasy route of attempting to shut down the camps is way to go or to go after the moeny that allows them to stage the training of these folks looking to get radicallized is the answer. Suspect that there would have to be a blend of the two, tracking the flow of the people likely to get involved and taking away the resources that they need to have to become trained cadre. I wish the idea of doing something like gun control and reducing arms shipments globally could be applied, but I fear that there are too many people getting too wealthy to have much hope of that happening.

  11. 11
    Punchy says:

    He was deployed in Iraq as the Cultural Advisor for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team/1st Armored Division in 2008

    So can he please tell us definitively if a Bradley Humvee can run over a dog or not? What’s the verdict on willy pete?

  12. 12
    StringOnAStick says:

    Excellent, informed assessment; thank you.

  13. 13
    Suffern ACE says:

    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.

    I’m not certain I follow this. Wouldn’t the conern that the Europeans and Americans becoming radicalized with the Chechyans would result in terrorist attacks when they come home?

  14. 14
    Keith G says:

    Interestingly enough, this seems to be one more topic that requires the cooperation of United States and other western states with the Russians.

    Islamic extremism is a much more real threat to the Russian state that it is to America. I have been wondering when the diaspora of militant Chechens would turn their attention back to their homeland.

  15. 15
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Dr. Silverman, thanks for your insights and patience.

    Is it fair to say that ISIL is just one of the many consequences of the glorious adventure in Mesopotamia of the deserting coward?

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @kindness: Unfortunately, the “Serious Village Elders” will not be targets of ISIL veteran domestic guerrilla cells. One does not attack those who are your useful idiot allies.

    However, it would be in the best interest of the United States, as one of the chief fruits of the Enlightenment, to dispose of such rubbish at once.

  17. 17
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: It sounds like ISIL is at least as much the consequence of the glorious Caucasian adventure of the shirtless former KGB agent. And it is probably fed by the glorious domestic crackdown of the Alawite legacy. And it does, ultimately, rely upon the glorious jihad adventures of a bunch of young men who actually make up ISIL.

    There’s lots of blame to go around on this one.

  18. 18
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I just want to make sure the deserting coward gets the credit he is due for yet another monumental fuckup that could have been prevented by not acting out his daddy issues.

  19. 19
    stickler says:

    I’m sorry to be pedantic, but the author makes some startling mistakes hear and their in this piece. It rather detracts from the insights.

  20. 20
    Mandalay says:

    …once ISIL starts to alienate the Sufi, Sunni, and Shi’a tribesmen…

    “starts to alienate”??? That ship has already sailed.

    ISIL are “winning” largely through violence and threats. Just as hatred for America grows with every civilian we kill in the Middle East, so it goes for ISIL. Even if western countries are excluded, ISIL has a long list of enemies, and it is only a matter of time before the conquered arm themselves and fight back.

    As Jim Morrison said, “They got the guns but we got the numbers”. Well once FSA and the Kurds and the Shi’a and everyone else who have been messed with by ISIL get the guns to go with their numbers then ISIL will be screwed. Throw in the governments of Syria, Iran, Iraq and the United States, and ISIS is really screwed.

    ISIL may endure internationally as a terror group since they have the money and organization, but its days as a military force are numbered.

  21. 21
    EthylEster says:

    This fellow posts regularly at Pat Lang’s site, which is no longer on the blogroll. I guess “our beloved blog host” removed it.

    And Cesca is gone, too. I wish both had been moved to the Mock as Needed section.

  22. 22
    EthylEster says:

    @stickler:

    the author makes some startling mistakes hear and their in this piece.

    you mean mistakes other than spelling?
    why not, uh, spell the mistakes out?

  23. 23
    Trollhattan says:

    @EthylEster:
    I’m smelling a DougJ prank. “stickler” “hear..their” The only thing missing is “peace’ This particular fruit hangs awfully low.

  24. 24
    EthylEster says:

    @Trollhattan: I thought DougJ was out of the loop these days. And there used to be a Stickler who posted here. But you may be right.

  25. 25
    Trollhattan says:

    @EthylEster:
    We hear from him once a week only, so he hasn’t drifted off completely. To me, this is just too perfectly packaged to not be snark of some sort, whether from Douggie fresh or some other clever lad or lass. Either way, confess I had a laugh.

  26. 26
    Tractarian says:

    Seems to me like Obama is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Yeah, bombing ISIS will inevitably lead to civilian deaths, which will lead to more radicalization, which will lead to more terrorists, which will lead to more threats against the “homeland”.

    Now let’s consider his alternatives. Alternative number one: go in with ground forces. That would truly be 2003 redux. That way we’d have all the civilian casualties and radicalization of the air war, plus thousands of dead American GIs. I don’t think that’s a viable alternative.

    Alternative number two: do nothing. Watch as ISIS gobbles up more and more territory and attracts more and more radicals from around the world. It could become equivalent to the Taliban circa 2000-2001, a safe haven where terrorists can plot against the US with unfettered freedom. That doesn’t sound like a viable alternative either.

    Alternative number three: unload our nuclear arsenal on the region. End up with millions of dead civilians. Obama would likely be impeached, if not arrested. The US would be an international pariah; every country would cut diplomatic ties. I have to say, in my darkest moments, I think about this scenario. Because it is the only option that can truly “destroy” ISIS. And because, deep down, I don’t believe that being a captive civilian in Assad-controlled or ISIS-controlled territory is that much different, in terms of human dignity, from being an irradiated grease spot.

    The point here is that there are no good options. If I were Obama, I’d probably choose “do nothing” if only because you could always act later if things get worse. But despite what some people will have you believe, Obama was not elected to end all wars. He was (arguably) elected to end the Iraq war. But he was not elected to end the war in Afghanistan, and he certainly wasn’t elected to end the “war on terror.” Keep in mind Obama always supported the war in Afghanistan and the ad-hoc drone wars in Yemen and elsewhere. This is merely an extension of that effort into new territory. Not saying it is wise, but it certainly isn’t surprising.

  27. 27
    Mnemosyne says:

    @EthylEster:

    Like this one:

    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.

    There’s good information here, but it’s distracting to have to wade through the homonym trouble and other grammar mistakes. (its =/= it’s)

  28. 28

    @Sherparick:

    Congressman Dana Rohrbacher, who thinks Government regulation to keep the oil tankers on trains from exploding (something destroyed Lac Megantic, Quebec and killed 47 people) is a scheme to slow global warming.

    And apparently that doing so would be a bad thing.

  29. 29
    The Moar You Know says:

    This fellow posts regularly at Pat Lang’s site, which is no longer on the blogroll. I guess “our beloved blog host” removed it.

    @EthylEster: He was asked to. By me, specifically, and others.

    I still take a trip over to Lang’s site to see if their proprietor has climbed down of the ledge of racist terror he’s been perched on. Nope. In between penetrating and smart insights into the Mess O’ Potamia, he’s still blaming black folks for getting themselves murdered.

    I really wanted to like Pat, tried for years, was a poster there for a while, but his psycho racist breakdown after the Trayvon Martin shooting was the last straw for me. He does not deserve traffic from liberals, period.

  30. 30
    srv says:

    @Mandalay:

    As Jim Morrison said, “They got the guns but we got the numbers”. Well once FSA and the Kurds and the Shi’a and everyone else who have been messed with by ISIL get the guns to go with their numbers then ISIL will be screwed. Throw in the governments of Syria, Iran, Iraq and the United States, and ISIS is really screwed.

    FSA Unicorns and the Kurds aren’t going anywhere without us dragging them along. Their capacity for facing down a larger force is non-existent. We’re likely giving all the orders and they can attack this and that, but they aren’t going hold whatever ISIS decides they want. We don’t have enough SoF to supervise every vilage.

    We’ve been training Iraqis for 10 years, I don’t see any evidence there’s any there there either.

    The Ba’ath Army guys helping ISIS aren’t going to come back. They know the kids are going to want to move on to the next state once they’re done with Iraq and the Ba’ath can then rebuild.

    ISIS is going to be the Saudi’s Hezbollah. We should help them with that, at least up to the point some salafist is sawing King Abdullah’s head off.

  31. 31

    @EthylEster: I never deleted Cesca. No idea what happened there.

  32. 32
    Pogonip says:

    @stickler: What are they?

    Also, have we experienced soldiers here who can discuss the possibility of the U.S. and Russia uniting? And how’s the Chinese government feel about all this?

  33. 33
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Roger Moore: That’s nothing. I just got into an argument with a guy who thinks modern neutrino physics is part of the global warming fraud conspiracy.

  34. 34
    raven says:

    @The Moar You Know: He knows about the ME and he’s a fucking pig.

  35. 35
    heckblazer says:

    So ISIL is basically Fight Club for Muslims?

  36. 36

    @Matt McIrvin:
    If they don’t understand it, it must be made up and consequently part of a conspiracy to do something bad. I suspect that’s also the reason they’re so suspicious of General Relativity, evolution, and anything else that’s intellectually challenging.

  37. 37
    El Caganer says:

    @Matt McIrvin: I thought that’s why we had those patriotic militias in Texas – to keep the neutrinos from crossing the Rio Grande.

  38. 38
    Lady Bug says:

    @Tractarian: “

    The point here is that there are no good options. If I were Obama, I’d probably choose “do nothing” if only because you could always act later if things get worse”

    That seems to be approach that Obama has been taking. He didn’t start targeting ISIS when they started swallowing up Sunni territory in Iraq, but only when they threatened Iraqi-Kurdistan and the Yazidis.

  39. 39
    Adam L Silverman says:

    BettyCracker: I’ll try to put something up on this tomorrow.
    Several of you: yes, I have two or three spelling errors, it happens… I’ll go flog my editor and endeavor to ensure that such egregious horrors never plague your delicate sensibilities again.
    EthylEster: yes, I do post occasionally on COL Lang’s site. He was one of the two retired Green Berets, as well as several retired Civil Affairs folks, who helped to prep and train me for the work I have done for the Army. I don’t agree with everything he writes, just like I don’t agree with everything anyone else writes. However, his experience in regards to these matters dwarfs mine and most everyone else I know of. I have learned that it is wise to pay attention to what he says, even, and perhaps especially, when I don’t agree with him.

    And I want everyone to note that I spelled write the right way!

  40. 40
    Chris says:

    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.

    So, what did happen to the Awakening folks? Is he saying that they’re among these Sunni tribes in ISIL, or are they just sitting in out?

  41. 41
    catclub says:

    @Lady Bug: I would not be surprised if the Mosul attack was the highwater point for IS. THEN, a lot of people, especially Iranians and Shi’a in Iraq, woke up to the danger. They may keep large parts of western Iraq and eastern Syria for a long time.

  42. 42
    catclub says:

    @Chris: I always thought they stopped being paid once the US left. And once the money stopped, so did any loyalty to the cause.

    If the money was going to go through the Maliki government, it was NEVER getting to the Sunni tribes.

  43. 43
    Chris says:

    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.

    Yeah, the flip side of this is Muslim countries like Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania. Which did have support from the West (well, Bosnia and Kosovo) when the Serbs were doing their thing. And have by and large avoided that kind of radicalization.

  44. 44
    moops says:

    @Tractarian:

    That is a pretty paltry list of options. I can think of several more really.

    Put the boot on Turkey to intervene. With the implicit threat that if they don’t, we’ll arm the Kurds to obscene levels.

    Open negotiations with Russia. They have a problem here at least or not more so than the US does, and then negotiate on the Ukraine issue. ISIL has serious designs on Russian interests, with all those Chechens at its core.

    The money is flowing out of Saudi Arabia to keep this thing afloat. That might be something we could put a squeeze on. Even though the House of Saud appears to be on the ISIL sh*t-list, that might just be bluster, or agents in Saudi Arabia plan to make a move when the current line of Kings has to switch generations.

  45. 45
    Chris says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Is it fair to say that ISIL is just one of the many consequences of the glorious adventure in Mesopotamia of the deserting coward?

    I would say so. At least in part.

    It’s not at all controversial to draw a line from the ten years the Soviets spent wrecking Afghanistan to the rise of the Taliban in the failed state they left behind.

    Substitute USA for USSR and ISIL for Taliban as needed.

  46. 46
    stickler says:

    I am, literally, not DougJ.

    Metaphorically, though, aren’t we all a little bit DougJ?

  47. 47
    JR in WV says:

    @stickler:

    You can’t be pedantic, literally are not capable of it, while you fuck up both grammar and spelling in the same sentence.

    Learn English before you think to attack the facts provided by an expert in the field of Middle Eastern geo-politics.

    If you think he has been inaccurate, tell us what he said that you think was inaccurate, and supply actual facts to buttress your allegations, instead of calling a hands-on expert with decades of study and experience to his credit inaccurate with not a single word of contradictory evidence…

    Go away, idiot, and learn how it is supposed to work before you come back.

    ETA: GRrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

  48. 48
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @JR in WV: I believe that stickler was pointing out the errors. In a “clever” way.

  49. 49
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Several of you: yes, I have two or three spelling errors, it happens… I’ll go flog my editor and endeavor to ensure that such egregious horrors never plague your delicate sensibilities again.

    You don’t have spelling errors. You have homonym errors that will never be caught by spellcheck. Again, “hear” vs. “here.” “It’s” vs. “its.” Like it or not, people take you less seriously when you make errors like that. I really hope you had someone else proofread your dissertation for you.

    ETA: Spelling errors make it look like you type too fast. Homonym errors make it look like you don’t understand grammar.

  50. 50
    EthylEster says:

    @The Moar You Know: The name of his blog should have told you all you need to know. Sic Semper Tyrannis is a tell on the lips of someone from Virginia.

    Yeah, Lang is a douchebag but why not demote him to “Mock as Needed”.

  51. 51
    EthylEster says:

    @stickler:

    Metaphorically, though, aren’t we all a little bit DougJ?

    So..are you the “old” stickler?

    And for the record: NO, I am not even a lit bit of a spoofer. Ever. I like DougJ’s straight posts. But I have always detested his spoofing. If I’m in the mood for spoofing, I go read the Onion.

    I’ve said this before: For me his web spoofing is the equivalent of Bart Simpson’s telephone game…worthy of an eight year old. And he seems to get the same glee from it as Bart. Go figure.

  52. 52
    EthylEster says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    I really hope you had someone else proofread your dissertation for you.

    Because posting on the web is SO much like getting a PHD.

    All I want is that the post scans. I can easily extract meaning even when here/hear is mistyped.

    You come off as a real scold sometimes.

  53. 53
    Mnemosyne says:

    @EthylEster:

    I think grammar and usage are important. I think people look ignorant when they don’t use them correctly, and it’s hard for me to take someone seriously when they don’t know the difference between “here” and “hear,” especially when that person has advanced degrees. YMMV, of course.

  54. 54
    stickler says:

    @EthylEster: The “old … Stickler”? Criminy, I’m in my mid-40s. I am acutely aware that I’m on the downward slope of human existence. But “old?” Have a care for your elders.

    And “Old Stickler?” Meene Jute. Is there a “Young Stickler” I need to hunt down? I’m still still relatively vigourous — I can do it.

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