By Dyab Abou Jahjah
« The terrorists want to destroy our way of life », or « they hate us because of who we are » are the most common held opinions by western politicians and opinion makers when it comes to explaining why attacks are taking place in Europe. However, if one analyses the vision and ideology of ISIS, based on primary sources and on its own literature, this line does not hold.
Unlike Al-Qaida, ISIS does not adhere to a logic of global anti-system resistance. Whereas Al-Qaida believes that the priority is to fight the “far enemy” and that once the west is defeated and pushed back out of the Middle East, the near enemies, that are the Arab regimes, will crumble and fall. ISIS adheres to the doctrine of fighting the “near enemy” in Arab and Islamic countries, meaning the regimes that are in power and all the groups opposed to it, in order to build what it sees as an Islamic State. That is why ISIS proclaimed itself to be that state, the Caliphate. By doing that it broke with the “resistance” logic that is typical of Al-Qaida brand of jihadism, and entered into a state-building logic. Its enemies became the Muslims who do not recognize its authority. Being the caliphate, for ISIS all other Muslim majority states are renegade and secessionist illegal entities that need be brought back to the fold. All Muslims who do not abide by its rule are also seen as renegades and traitors and should be dealt with accordingly. That is why, for ISIS, even Al-Qaida is considered a renegade rebel group against the authority of the state and its leader the caliph, and is fought against.
Within this logic, the relationship with the west is defined by the attitude of the west towards the new state, and not by notions of “values” or “way of life”. Nevertheless, ISIS as a state has an expansionist logic and if it ever achieves supremacy in the Middle East it will very likely be interested in hegemony over neighbouring areas like Europe and Africa. But this is not its priority right now. The priority until 2014 was to bring down the Iraqi and the Syrian regimes and further build up the caliphate. When the international coalition started attacking ISIS at the end of 2014, ISIS declared war against coalition countries. Hence, in its logic, the attacks it is conducting in coalition countries, are all part of a defensive war of retaliation. When ISIS strikes at the heart of Paris, Brussels or other capitals of countries of the western coalition that is bombing its proclaimed territory, it does not see itself as an aggressor. It does not see these attacks as aiming at destroying values or culture. On the other hand, when ISIS strikes in Baghdad, Damascus or Beirut, it is then indeed motivated by a logic of values, and way of life and by its claim to supremacy and sovereignty over these countries.
If, as a side effect of its attacks in the west, repression against Muslims in these countries increases, ISIS will welcome this as a bonus. It will then hope that many new recruits will join its ranks from the west, after being disillusioned by their countries and societies. However, it is very important to differentiate between the logic and doctrine of ISIS as an organisation on the one hand, and the personal motivation of the people it recruits to execute these attacks on the other hand. The propaganda of ISIS is sometimes a reflection of its doctrine and logic, and some other times a reflection of its strategy of recruitment of a particular niche of potential jihadis.
Nevertheless, it is fair to say, that the battle of the west with ISIS is not an existential one. It is on Arab soil that ISIS is trying to build its evil-Utopia and it is against Muslims that ISIS has to fight in order to achieve its aims. And ISIS is making no mistake about it and is indeed directing almost all its destructiveness and fire power against Muslims and Islamic countries. In the last two years, ISIS has managed to kill tens of thousands of Muslims. ISIS is in the first place aiming to destroy Arab-Islamic values and way of life, and replacing them with its fascist Utopic version. The clash with the west is nothing more than a side track.