Sean Ray | Student Columnist
Terrorist organization ISIL, formerly known as ISIS, burnt a captured Jordanian pilot earlier this month, sparking retaliations from the country, including a series of air strikes and the execution of ISIL prisoners.
It seems that ISIL has become the world’s newest supervillain, filling in the spot Al-Qaeda and the Taliban previously held. However, this new attack seems rather out of left field for the terrorist organization. Typically, ISIL is known for striking at non-Muslims, preaching against foreign intervention in the Middle East and pushing for a radical form of Islam. Jordan, meanwhile, is a nation that is primarily Muslim.
Now ISIL, like a lot of terrorist groups, has a lot of enemies. The initial coalition led by the US to defeat ISIL consisted of over 40 countries. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have grown resentful of having their attention taken away by ISIL and are at odds with the group after ISIL split off from Al-Qaeda in February of 2014. And now ISIL has awakened the anger of a Middle Eastern country in Jordan. All of this begs the question, has ISIL made one too many enemies?
Terrorist groups function best when they are hidden, as numerous military literature could attest. They hide amongst the civilian populace of a nation until they are able to strike before fading back into the crowd. The less attention they have, the better. While terrorist groups love to show up on social media and the like, they dislike it when more countries get involved in their affairs.
Wars with terrorist groups are wars of attrition. They are often less equipped, poorly trained, and ill supplied. However, their ability to hide in a crowd frustrates modern nations, which are too used to traditional wars such as World War I or II. The tactics ISIL utilize are out of an understanding of what’s known as 4th Generational Warfare. In 4th Generational Warfare, victory is not on the battlefield, but in the media campaign. It attempts to break the morality of the other side in order to get them to back down. This is similar to what North Vietnam did in the Vietnamese war.
However, has ISIL drawn too much attention that even it can’t survive? To answer that question, The Duke called Duquesne’s own resident terrorist expert, political science professor Father John Sawicki, to give some insight.
“The fact is that they (ISIL) are still in existence,” Sawicki said when asked if he thought if ISIL had made too many enemies. “The real question is what is there base of power and can they sustain it?”
Sawicki made a point that to really defeat ISIL, one would need to cut off their high recruitment numbers more than anything else.
“It’s not how many enemies it makes but how many friends it makes,” Sawicki further commented, stating that ISIL’s media arm is its strong point.
“The immolation of that pilot was carefully developed and exploited with a high degree of sophistication and discipline. No one knew about it until they announced it,” Sawicki said.
In all honesty, I tend to agree with Sawicki’s argument. ISIL is not going to easily go into the night. Terrorist groups are one of the hardest opponents to defeat because of how easily they can fade from view. However, I do believe ISIL may be overstepping its boundaries here. Even if it is getting new recruits, those recruits aren’t going to mean much if they are killed by a drone strike shortly after joining.
Ultimately, however, defeating ISIL is going to be through ideals, not bullets. Diplomacy is needed to change the minds of the people. Without anger at the west, ISIL has no power to fight; for example, Sawicki said that many Sunni Muslims join ISIL in the fight over Syria because the Shia majority government is discriminatory towards them. Get the two groups to cooperate and include Sunnis in the government, and you cut out a significant point of ISIL’s power. Furthermore, ISIL has a bad habit of keeping its members in check with threats of violence, saying they will kill anyone who leaves. While this may be good in the short term, it could create bad word of mouth within ISIL’s own ranks and stage an internal uprising.
In any case, while Jordan’s decision to join in the fight against ISIL is a positive thing, it does not mean the end to ISIL. Modern wars take a long time and the resolve of the world will be tested, but we must not be found lacking in courage or determination if we are to succeed. This is not just to the troops overseas but the civilians at home. ISIL is a violent, evil organization, and any effort to stop them deserves our support. As Edmund Burke once said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”