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The Mystery of the Islamic State

Over several months last year, in an effort to understand the Islamic State movement, Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East, sought the advice of Defense, intelligence and State experts, and academicians.  According to the New York Times, the general told the group: “We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it.” Gen. Nagata admitted: “We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.”

Why not?

The terrorist group’s name “ISLAMIC State” should have given at least a vague clue to understanding its ideology, Islam. “Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone” is constantly and adamantly repeated by all Islamists.

Islam’s murderous followers have been flourishing since the 6th century (501-600) CE. In his declaration of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi explained why his group’s name serves jihad better than say, al Qaeda or Hamas; it’s more reasonable, he argued, to unite all the jihadi groups under one umbrella. After all, they all seek the same result: fight the jihad to establish a global Islamic rule.

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The twentieth-century Muslim Brotherhood’s invention of “Political Islam” served Shiite and Sunni Islamists to deceive the West by suggesting a distinction between the religion of Islam and its politics. And the Islamists have been pragmatic all along. They first sought to conquer targets within reach, and for a long time they were understood by the West to be fighting for national liberation. But the nation of the jihadis is not confined by borders. It knows no limit. It covers the globe. The tactics, to achieve this goal, however, differ according to local conditions.

At the core, al-Baghdadi’s tactics are no different than those of Ayatollah Khomeini, who in 1979 created the Basij Mostazafan, a voluntary movement that fought to establish radical Islamic rule. Their success led to the establishment the Islamic Republic of Iran. While the IS murders hundreds of people a day, the more established and more sophisticated Iran declares its goal of killing hundreds of thousands and more by using nuclear weapons to “eliminate” Israel and the Unites States.

It was reported that as a direct consequence of General Nagata’s advisory group, a group of business experts is now looking into ways to defeat the Islamic State’s “marketing and branding” strategies. Apparently, they will also try to emphasize IS failure to govern. Such failure, however, is not unique to IS. Nations with lesser ideological cohesion have been governed by regimes who had lacked basic governing skills.

Written by Rachel Ehrenfeld, American Center for Democracy