Information Warfare: Keeping Islamic Terrorism Fashionable

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October 31, 2016: Recent opinion polls about Islamic terrorism show some interesting trends. While most Westerners are concerned about Islamic terrorism and tend to believe there will be more attacks in near them, there is a different attitude in Moslem nations, even those with lots of Islamic terrorist violence. In Western nations people attribute most of the actual or potential violence to Islamic terrorists. But in Moslem countries there is a tendency to try and blame anything but “Islamic terrorism” for the violence. Instead Moslems attribute the violence to locals who are upset about government mismanagement and corruption. When Islamic terrorism is mentioned at all Moslems tend to describe groups like al Qaeda or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) as creations of the United States and Israel. The idea that Islamic terrorists are a part of foreign scheme to attack Islam has long been popular in Moslem nations. But at least they admit there is a terrorist threat.

Meanwhile history often repeats itself and in the case of Iraqi Islamic terrorists there is, for the second time since 2007, a major dip in approval ratings because of the brutality of Iraqi Islamic terrorists. Back in 2007 it was the "Al Qaeda In Iraq" leadership that was out of control. Opinion polls in Moslem countries showed approval and support of al Qaeda plunging, in some cases into single digits. Thus after the 2003 invasion of Iraq al Qaeda managed to take itself from hero to zero in less than four years. Al Qaeda recovered somewhat after 2008 but the kinder and gentler approach promoted by Osama bin Laden did not last and by 2013 the reorganized Iraqi al Qaeda was again losing popular support as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). That was quite visible in mid-2014 when ISIL seized control of parts of Iraq and promptly slaughtered captured Iraqi soldiers and police, mainly because these men were Shia. Then ISIL declared the parts of Syria and Iraq it controlled as the new Moslem caliphate. Naturally the ISIL leaders running the new caliphate called on all Moslems to follow them. Most Moslems responded, according to recent opinion polls, by expressing greater fear rather than more admiration for Islamic terrorist groups, especially ISIL.

Months before the dramatic capture of Mosul in June 2014 al Qaeda leadership condemned ISIL as completely out of control and not to be trusted or supported. Since mid-2014 opinion polls showed Moslems becoming more hostile to Islamic terrorists, seeing them as a cause for concern not as defenders of Islam. The same thing happened back in 2007.

The Iraqi Islamic terrorists are really out there, at least in terms of fanaticism and extremism and have been since the Sunni dictatorship of Iraq was overthrown in 2003 (with the help of two divisions of American and one division of British troops). This eventually led the local al Qaeda branch to make several bad decisions. The first one was to killing lots of Moslem women and children in terror attacks. Then they declared the establishment of the "Islamic State of Iraq" in late 2006. This was an act of bravado, touted as the first step in the re-establishment of the caliphate (a global Islamic state, ruled over by God's representative on earth, the caliph.) The caliphate has been a fiction for over a thousand years but still resonated with Islamic radicals.

The original caliphate came apart because the Islamic world was split by ethnic and national differences and the first caliphate fell apart after a few centuries. Various rulers have claimed the title over the centuries, but since 1924, when the Turks gave it up (after four centuries), no one of any stature has stepped up and assumed the role. So when al Qaeda "elected" a nobody as the emir of the "Islamic State of Iraq", and talked about this being the foundation of the new caliphate, even many pro-al Qaeda Moslems were aghast.

When al Qaeda could not, in 2007, exercise any real control over the parts (mostly Anbar province in the West) of Iraq they claimed as part of the new Islamic State, it was the last straw for many Moslems. The key allies, battered by increasingly effective American and Iraqi attacks, dropped their support for al Qaeda and the terrorist organization got stomped to bits by the "surge offensive" a year later. The final insult was delivered by the former Iraqi Sunni Arab allies, who quickly switched sides, and sometimes even worked with the Americans (more so than the Shia dominated Iraqi security forces) to hunt down and kill al Qaeda operators.

Ever since al Qaeda showed up in the 1990s they were popular to Moslems in proportion to how far away the al Qaeda violence was. Once al Qaeda (and later ISIL) began killing people nearby Moslems tended to change their mind and dislike the Islamic terrorists. The hostility towards al Qaeda in the region has tainted all forms of Islamic radicalism, including the Shia ones (especially Hezbollah in Lebanon). Yet once Islamic terrorism disappears again (as it does regularly) many Moslems will get nostalgic for those legendary warriors seeking to defend Islam. This is a cycle many Moslems would like to break, but so far the cycle of violence persists.

 


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