The recent attacks by fanatical individuals in different cities and capitals across the world in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) beg some important questions: are they just random terrorist attacks by psychologically fragile individuals, or is there some force coordinating them? What about the targets, which seem to have been selected without rhyme or reason, except for propaganda purposes?
The latest such incident was the armed attack and hostage-taking at a café in Sydney, Australia. The attacker held hostages at gunpoint, forcing them to raise an Islamic banner in the café’s window before the police eventually stormed the place.
Before this, we saw a similar incident in Abu Dhabi where a veiled woman entered the women’s restrooms at a mall and killed an American expat without any clear motive. This is not to mention two other incidents announced by the Saudi authorities recently revolving around the shooting of foreigners, and the arrests of those involved.
These incidents may be strange, difficult to understand, or remind us of old horror or science fiction movies where individuals turn into criminals after being brainwashed. However, we cannot separate these events from the bigger picture, which has features we don’t yet fully understand. Here, I am of course talking about ISIS and its ongoing war across Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has attracted a lot of followers, particularly youth afflicted with a lack of direction, mental instability or a thirst for adventure, and after they fall into the trap of extremist ideology and takfirist views they travel to Iraq and Syria to join the group.
People in Iraq and Syria are finding themselves under the control of foreign fighters, whether Chechens or fighters from Western or other Arab countries. We must ask questions about how ISIS is able to continue to receive oil payments from black market oil—using the money to arm itself and secure enough ammunition to continue its daily fight, not to mention paying the salaries of its fighters—although these are questions that we do not have good answers to.
The terrorist attack on the Sydney café, with early reports suggesting that the man behind the siege was mentally unstable, is a microcosm of the larger problem that we are facing, namely the new form of terrorism of which ISIS is the exemplar. ISIS is an organization like Al-Qaeda that exploits new media and social media platforms to deliver its message and spread fear and terror.
In Sydney, were it not for the media coverage and the ensuing impact of this crime, then the terrorist attack and siege would have been irrelevant to the wider struggle against ISIS. While the perpetrator may have been mentally unbalanced, those who, no doubt, incited him to action, whether directly or over the Internet, knew what they were doing. The perpetrator, in their view, was nothing more than a tool to carry out their evil purposes.
The problem is the political backlash that occurs against Muslims after every attack, particularly in societies where there is only a small minority of Muslims, such as Australia. Unfortunately, the majority of the most high-profile terrorist attacks that have taken place over the past few decades have been carried out by Muslims.
In the nineties and the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was Al-Qaeda that spread fear and terror wherever it went. When it appeared that this group was growing weaker, particularly after many of its senior leaders were killed, we saw the rise of ISIS. This group is now using even more violent practices, exploiting complex sectarian circumstances in Iraq and Syria. Like Al-Qaeda, ISIS has no future, but its actions today are many and harmful.
ISIS’s defeat is certain, particularly given that it is a group that is based on a nihilistic, malevolent worldview. However, the war against ISIS needs to be taken more seriously, especially in terms of gathering resources. The longer ISIS survives the bigger the problems the world will face later on. For example what is to be done with the youth who have been deceived by ISIS’s rhetoric?
As for Arab and Islamic states, the longer this war against ISIS continues, the more incidents that distort the true image of Muslims will occur, such as is the case with the Sydney café siege.