Isis: the other virus

(To Gino Lanzara)

In recent years, the Western audience has been saturated with Middle Eastern terms, and drawn into a complex, dynamic, pervasive reality. The problem was that we were not fully aware of it.

In an extended and articulated context, Islam has followed its own process which has come to completion after tens of years. Unable to understand the composite character of the Jihad without splitting Islam politician from the Muslim Brotherhood of the 60s of the Egyptian Sayyd Qutb to arrive, from the fundamentalism of the 70s, to the global vision of al Qa'ida.

More recent history then led to the sectarianism of the ISIS caliphate and the unstoppable propagation not of a new religious sentiment but of an institutional political dimension that authorized opposition to disbelievers Middle Eastern leadership. The theoretical level is overtaken by the operational one, pre-existing ideas are recovered, new ones are generated: the path from Qutb to Qaedist globalization up to Isis is dynamic and highlights an unprecedented Darwinian capacity for adaptation that highlights multiple relationships between actors and surrounding environment; the Syrian conflict affects the jihadist evolution with consequences destined to leave their mark for a long time, as happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, and consolidates three guidelines: the pragmatic and localist Isis, to which the Hayat alternative has approximated, joins global qaedism tahris al Sham supported in Idlib by Turkey, all entities united by ideological belonging, but with deep strategic political differences, witnessed in 2014 by the competition and the consequent fracture between the politically cautious al Qa'ida and the more brutal Isis.

Daesh1, which has spectacularized its actions, and al Qaeda, which has aimed at concealment, share only the same goal, namely the creation of an Islamic state on the model of that designed by Mohammed and the caliphs; however for al Qa'ida the caliphate is a goal to come, and to achieve it it is necessary to follow the classic terrorist paradigm, that is to hit the enemy causing a reaction that induces the population to take sides with those who produced the terror; according to Isis, the caliphate is a local, earthly, present reality to be defended. The tactics are also different; those Isis are violent and of strong emotional impact, and are based on the takfirism2 which justifies the killing of other Muslims, otherwise prohibited by the Koran3.

In the face of the requests brought forward by the Arab Spring, that questioned the armed jihad, Isis highlighted its ability to infiltrate operational theaters at a time when, moreover, the model of Islamization of the Muslim brotherhood, which starts from the bottom and still aims at individual willayat4 to reach Western goals even without having to fight, he seemed to have the upper hand.

While the death of Bin Laden was rising at the twilight of an era, and Washington had to deal in Iraq with an asymmetric war capable of questioning its unipolarity, between the Tigris and Euphrates the caliph al Baghdadi5, although opposed by the ummah6 and of the more radical movements, it brought global jihad back into vogue as the only and legitimate model from which to draw inspiration, a diktat which al Qa'ida did not yield. Isis thus becomes a prismatic symbol with multiple faces: the exteriority of al Baghdadi, not a simple leader but a caliph, a vicar of Muhammad who refers to the ancient Umayyad tradition, projects the jihadist aspiration towards a concrete present and a future from shape. With him, Isis becomes an instrument of revenge and an actor of one Sunni spring weapon of redemption towards the Shiite community, as well as a potential competitor of the political, religious and oil leadership of the Saudis; Baghdadi rises to the role of pure Salafist, heir of Wahhabism, of creator ofummah who sweeps away states and borders created by Sykes Picot's western colonialism: he is the successor of Muhammad who undermines the throne of the king of Arabia in a context that does not accept the principle of win-win.

We differentiate political plans and religious superstructures; if the realist political calculation allows the Shiite Persians of Tehran to host Sunni Arab Qaedists without posing particular problems, the Sunni mass reacts to Shiite expansionism by radicalizing, joining al Qa'ida or Isis; the Shiites, conditioned by the atavistic minority complex, they seek a power that is in fact too broad and difficult to manage.

Political realism, net of the religious precept, also leads to highlight another aspect of no small importance; if in Europe the 30 Years War and the consequent Peace of Westphalia7 they bring up on the spades different ways of following the Cross and below more practical and profitable principles of non-interference, in the MO the Arab revolts give rise to battles exclusively between Sunnis, as in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, with wavering alliances between Muslim Brothers, Neo-Ottomans, Salafis, Wahhabis, jihadists; just look at Yemen, theater of tensions between southern secessionists, Qaedists, Isis fighters, all Sunnis, ignited by the rivalries between Saudis and Emiratis. The American tradition of researching Sunni Arab states moderate it is therefore decidedly not very shrewd, just as it was not very prudent not to be able to systematize the realistic entente between Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran.

Five years after the speech given in the al - Nuri mosque in Mosul by al Baghdadi, the defeat that took place in Baghouz did not, however, mark the definitive defeat for Isis, given that the propagated ideology has turned into a call that attracts former Qaedist fighters . From whatever side the situation is examined, for Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha having dealt with the fundamentalists is equivalent to playing with fire, offering an unrepeatable assist for both the Iranian Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Khamenei, who compared Wahhabi Arabia Saudi to the Islamic State, both for the New York Times which defined Riyadh "an Isis that made it". Accusations that have been answered by the USA which, with a Pompeo, albeit at the end of the mandate, stigmatized the Shiite support of an economically exhausted Tehran due to the sanctions imposed, with the Arab and Sunni al Qa'ida. If it should be emphasized that, unlike the evidence of relations between Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, the Saudi link with al-Qaeda has not found full evidence, it should be remembered that Saudi Arabia is in fact a Islamic State, while Isis has nurtured the claim to be lo Islamic State, or the universal Caliphate to which to swear obedience; if in Riyadh the political system is based on political power and religious authority, in Isis the dogma ofUno, free from any (apparent) compromise.

The various contexts, in spite of the Covid emergency interpreted as divine punishment, have not remained extraneous to the dynamics of reducism of returning fighters and of radicalization, on the contrary; Egyptian Sinai, Libya, Northern Nigeria, Somalia, Sahel8 and Indonesia actually witnessed the reappearance of Isis men, while Syria, where Abu Mohammad al-Jolani9 he became a key partner for Turkey, he became the object of al Zawahiri's attention10. Ideology, foreign fighters, presence outside the Middle Eastern borders, constitute the foundations of the renewed jihadist threat which is strengthened both by the persistence of economic and social criticalities and by a widespread distrust in institutions, and by Western energy needs. And it is precisely the West that plays a controversial role: at war with Isis but tied to the Saudis, allies of a religious hierarchy that legitimizes the Islamic puritanism on which Isis itself is based, generated by the American invasion of Iraq .

Saudi Arabia therefore remains a kind of white IS with which to entertain relations, Iran a gray and indecipherable IS; if you are unable to intervene, as in Europe, or you do not really want to, as in the US, it is completely useless to ask whether Isis is really finished: with the financial potential that exists, a Daesh dies if it is other. Let's now take a look at an aspect of cognitive warfare and counter-information, propaganda, the technological brand of Daesh as a whole, rigid in the acceptance of the Koranic precepts but flexible in the use of any means as long as it is functional to jihad, including cyber; what a twist, it is worth remembering the eulogy dedicated to al Baghdadi on no. 207 of the weekly al Naba, in which Bin Laden is also cited as a victim of jihad, perhaps an attempt to re-establish relations with al Qa'ida. If al Qa'ida has been based on videotapes, Isis has exploited social networks. After all, the Internet has always played a decisive role, so much so that a substantial part of the revenues have been allocated to the media sector.

To date, propaganda on an industrial scale is over for Isis and the Internet no longer represents a safe space. With the transition to the more underground tools of the network, Isis has changed strategy, while losing a large part of the audience. Three fundamental points: his presentation, until he controlled the territory, the recruitment, the targeted spread of terror.

The effective and widespread communication strategy, local and global, together with the creation of a performing diffusion machine, were two basic aspects in the consolidation of global jihadism: 11 September can be counted among the most effective marketing operations. Once again the export of democracy has not produced positive results: Isis, which unlike al Qa'ida has autonomously found illegal sources of financing11, has fueled discontent and will continue to do so.

The Islamic state, strategically understanding that it cannot aspire to a territorial and state future, has intended to adapt to the geopolitical dynamics of other Arab countries; not surprisingly, since 2015, if on the one hand Daesh has induced its militiamen not to go to Syria or Iraq, on the other hand it has franchised its brand, in exchange for loyalty. The persistent problem continues to concern the relations entertained, in a not so distant past, between Isis and the countries of the area, a sort of experiment that got out of control, and fed through charitable associations and foundations that have facilitated contacts with criminal groups. of a local nature. What is politically interesting is how the latest threat posed by ISIS in Afghanistan has coagulated the interests of Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, or countries not moved by mutual empathy, but still fearful of a a threat that could prove more dangerous than that represented by Arab Springs.

An interesting fault point is Afghanistan at the moment, where relations between Isis and Taliban, closer to al Qa'ida have always been confrontational, which evidently facilitated US aviation in supporting the Islamic students when in trouble in the mountains. Moreover, the contrast is in the very nature of the two entities: while the Taliban, who believe that power must be conquered from below, have an action plan limited to Afghanistan, ISIS looks to Muslim states of possible destabilization; for al Qa'ida, consensus is fundamental, for Isis it is not. It is from this perspective that the suicide attacks carried out by Isis K.12 first at the airport and then at the military hospital in Kabul, which place a serious risk on the reliability of the Taliban security which, despite reacting violently, is struck by the defections of fighters who see in the attempts of relative pacification of the mullahs an abrogation of the foundations fundamentalists, in the belief of the "impurity" of the dominant Pashtun ethnic group.


In the era of hybrid war most of the characterizing elements converge towards a dimension that finds conceptual space according to the current international geopolitical dimension, not necessarily military and / or jihadist, also because we believe that radicalism is retreating due to the relative decrease in attacks. it would be misleading. It is no coincidence that in Africa and Asia the local extensions of both Daesh and al Qa'ida continue to influence the operational areas by intervening on the claims of minorities and on government action; this leads us to believe that jihadism is preparing for the next waves, at the moment strategically contained due to the pandemic.

In all likelihood, the post covid will deliver an objectively poor and unbalanced reality, where it will be necessary to intervene on economic and social emergencies, and where there will be societies permeable to extremist messages. With the longest American war in the background, despite the difficulties of Iraq and Syria in imposing effective sovereignty on the reconquered areas, it will not be easy for Isis to maintain a semblance of state legitimacy, unlike the more certain involvement in illicit activities. This leads us to believe that the Mediterranean, in its meaning enlarged, will be able to host this parallel economy supported by a less easy to monitor terrorism13, also because it is cared for by smaller and undisputed local emirates capable of putting a power like the French one in serious difficulty with the Operation Barkhane.

Politically, the problems that led to the expansion of ISIS do not seem to have been resolved: the military option only worked in Siraq but at very high prices. Under these conditions, the most pertinent question does not concern the regeneration of Isis, but rather which global jihadist leadership will emerge from the ashes, and whether it is really unlikely that jihad will reach particular peaks in the immediate future: the fascination exercised so far may not be replicated. with the new generations; this leads to the conclusion that the resurgence of ISIS is linked to the solidity of the local Islamic emirates, therefore not on a planetary scale, moving on to soft target attacks, i.e. against low-security and low-cost targets14 and striking in areas suffering from the political situation, such as within the arc that stretches from al-Anbar to Diyala15, grafting inside the basins of the Tigris and Euphrates. While far from having regained its operational capabilities, Isis remains a significant threat that finds fertile ground on the Washington-Tehran opposition.

Daesh, albeit clandestinely, still exists, it is the son of an idea ... resistant, highly contagious. Once… it has taken over the brain it is almost impossible to eradicate it. An idea is like a virus. Once it implants in the mind it continues to grow ... When an idea persuades the mind, the only thing that can get you out of your mind is the idea itself16. An idea that inevitably leads to reliving the bestial horrors touted in every possible abundance. Moreover, it is in the nature of the human capital available to jihad, regardless of the different radicalisms; it is a relapse into a malign banality that only Hannah Arendt could have taken up and deepened.

If it is true that the crimes now committed are all codified, there remains the irrepressible human need to understand and punish according to meanings that can no longer accept even conceptually the principle of uncritical obedience. There remains the conscious persistence of the worst existing evil, that committed by a bevy of gentlemen none who reject their status as a person and embrace the disconcerting mediocrity that rejects the ability to think and renounces to give and understand the moral sense of things, disregarding the discernment of good and evil.

1 Initials of Al dawla al islamiya fi al Iraq wal Sham (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)

2 Accusation of disbelief

3 In 2005 al Zawahiri, leader of al Qaeda, rebuked the leader of Isis, al Zarqawi at the time, for his indiscriminate massacres against civilians. Since al Qa'ida had risen to the role of defender of Muslims around the world, it was unacceptable that ISIS was causing so many victims among Muslims themselves.

4 Province, district

5 In the century Ibrāhīm ʿAwed Ibrāhīm ʿAlī al-Badrī al-Sāmarrāʾ

6 Community of the faithful

7 1648

8 In the Sahel, the federation of groups linked to al-Qaeda was established to counter the growing expansionism of the Islamic State in the region

9 Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, nom de guerre of Ahmed al-Sharaa, is a Syrian terrorist, Emir of Jabhat al-Nuṣra. The US State Department has called it a "specially designated global terrorist". According to al-Qāʿida it is "al-Shaykh al-Fātiḥ" ("The victorious Lord").

10 Leader of al Qa'ida after Bin Laden's death

11 In particular oil smuggling

12 Khorasan, a region bordering Pakistan

13 Sub-Saharan area, MENA, in particular Libya

14 A suicide bomber costs around USD 2.500

15 Iraq

16 Dom Cobb, Inception

Photo: US Air National Guard