The Islamic State: A Terrifying Enterprise

BY ADRIEL MARTINEZ

ISIL, ISIS, ISI, IS. Whomever they are, however they refer to themselves, this is the radical militant group so infamous for their recent baiting campaign involving serial publicized beheadings, ostensibly tailored to rope the West into another war in the Middle East. In the past month this jihadist group has filmed and distributed the executions of several prisoners of war, broadcasting inflammatory messages to Western countries throughout the appalling videos. Since August 19 of this year, two Americans, James Foley and Steven Sotloff; and two British prisoners, David Haines and Alan Henning, have been beheaded

The unfortunate victims kneel in front of a camera, flanked by a man in a pitch black executioner’s robe, and forced to give a prepared speech victims condemning their own government for intervening in the Middle East and blaming their leader as the one ultimately responsible for their death. They speak calmly and seriously, as if they did not know what was coming. In fact, a former captive of the Islamic State, Didier Francois, suggested that the group forced the victims to rehearse this execution scenario multiple times, so that they did not know when it would be real. After their clearly rehearsed speech is over the darkly garbed figure pulls out a small stainless-steel knife and speaks to the camera. In a clear London accent, the black figure points his knife at the screen as he demands the removal of all Western intervention in the Middle East and condemns his victim to death in the name of his country’s actions. He then covers his victim’s mouth and begins to hack at their neck as the screen fades out. A panning shot shows the victim’s lifeless body displayed neatly on the floor with their bloodied head resting on their chest and their hands folded.

The sheer brutality of these actions makes for a powerful call for attention. It would seem that the group is trying to gather a fierce international response, to stimulate kinetic military action. They claim they want the US and other Western forces to leave the region, yet they take the lives of their citizens and expect nothing to happen. But the leaders of the Islamic State are not foolish. They know that these videos and their actions will only bring them more attention and potentially a shot at a just war with the West. The original purpose of ISIL, as a branch of Al-Qaeda, was to fight with the West. However in the past six months they have been killing more Muslims than Westerners. They have made many enemies and lost many friends through their radical fundamentalist views, their executions and their pillages.

This recent shift in tactics from slaughter of Muslims to murder of Westerners seems to be a strategic move to refocus international attention from ISIL vs Muslims to ISIL vs the West. This shift has alienated the Islamic State’s former allies: even Al-Qaeda has publicly denounced the beheading videos as too violent. Al-Qaeda, a more strategic and mature organization, is worried too much about international political relations to proclaim and begin to follow up on the immediate elimination of all Westerners in the Middle East. ISIl, however, does not seem to have the same goals in mind. Their execution videos are reminiscent of Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s videos back in 2004. In 2005 the head of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al Zaahiri forced Zarqawi to desist because he was alienating too many “Muslim hearts and minds.”

But even the rapid and ferocious international response has not deterred the Islamic State: despite American and British airstrikes, ISIL forces have moved further and further towards Baghdad, now controlling a 180-degree arc of land north of the Iraqi capital. This terse situation is not one the US is willing to risk “boots on the ground” to mitigate, however it seems the US influence in the region has stagnated, even military. Perhaps in this murky world of Middle Eastern guerilla warfare, where radical terrorist groups seem to be a dime a dozen, the US must acknowledge its impotence. Perhaps, even, the enemy of our enemy really is our friend. Perhaps we need, while providing all the support we can, to hope we are not the only ones with vested interests in the region: once our most feared and hated enemies, perhaps these days Al-Qaeda will take the reins in the fight against the Islamic State. President Obama once declared that “just because we have the best hammer does not mean every problem is a nail.” But, in addition, it is entirely possible that the mighty arm of the US cannot reach far enough to nail down shadowy ideological battles like those currently developing in the Middle East.

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Adriel Martinez is a in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at adriel@wustl.edu

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