Threats to security and change in the nature of the conflict

(To Ciro Luigi Tuccillo)

The following article aims to analyze in general some of the most significant elements that characterize the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism with particular reference to the dynamics related to the so-called "Islamic State".

This analysis is carried out in order to identify how the new forms of conflict require a change in the responses that allow to face effectively the threat of transnational terrorism.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Copenhagen and Tunis, the continuing presence of the "Islamic State" and the centrality of the mass media and social media urgently require the understanding of the threat posed by jihadist terrorism.

A change of scale

A first element of analysis is the overlap of different geographical scales in which the phenomenon of jihadist terrorism operates.

Local scale and lattice structure: the self-styled IS operates in a "network" dimension by building locally affiliated terrorist groups as in the case of Nigeria and Libya. This network level also develops on a global scalar guideline through contact networks with sympathizing subjects or militants of terrorist-type organizations.

Regional scale: In the current phase the entire Middle East is characterized by a complex transition in its dynamics that are disrupting the entire previous geopolitical structure. Crisis of the previous regimes and religious radicalization constitute two of the decisive components for the understanding of the Middle Eastern context: with the crisis of the State form combined with the use of religion in an ideological function, it has crept into the fragile Middle Eastern context, a threat such as to destabilize - even in relation to the enormous problems of the area from an economic and social point of view linked in particular to the absence of economic development, to the collapse of states characterized by ethnic conflicts and / or religious conflicts, by degenerative political struggles in civil wars - l entire area through the construction of an organization that aims to form a statual-religious entity that constitutes a threat at regional, European and global level in the heart of the Middle East.

European scale: Europe's geographical position puts it at the center of security threats: both as regards potential security threats related to the geographic proximity of the Middle East and with regard to possible “internal” threats constituted by its own citizens or subjects adherent emigrants - in a dynamic whose analysis would require the involvement of sociology, anthropology and social history - directly or indirectly in terrorist groups.

World scale: The threat posed by terrorism operates on a level that involves the entire planet. The 11 attack on September 2001 has made manifest a development in the forms of contemporary conflict that does not take into account any limit: geographical, legal or in the instruments used for carrying out terrorist operations.

The aforementioned scales operate both individually and in a transcalar way, determining a constant link between local and global conflicts.

Asymmetry and new technologies

It is clear that we are faced with an "asymmetrical" conflict in which the opponent adopts techniques and operating methods attributable not only to traditional schemes but also to the insurrectional war indeed, precisely the non-conventionality constitutes the greatest figure of terrorism today. This asymmetry on the techniques of armed conflict is combined, as the example of the IS demonstrates, with the intensive use of information technologies applied above all to the field of communication and social media. This is an element to underline for the understanding of the change taking place, in which there is the combination between insurrectional forms of war and the use of modern technologies aimed at propaganda, "global" communication, and recruitment (also on transnational scale). The use of social media shows the network and global dimension of security threats. The proselytizing action conducted via the web works as a "bait" that tends to involve individual subjects - "so-called lone wolves" - who, following indoctrination or emulation, could conduct terrorist actions in their countries or join the self-styled IS.

Statistical and territorial dimension

One of the factors that most characterizes the current phase of conflict in the Middle East is certainly given by the "collapse" or "failure" of state realities such as Libya, by the disaggregation of Iraq, by the conflict in Syria that have favored social conditions and of power for the emergence of IS as an Islamist-type terrorist group that would like to become "State". To date it is not possible to determine whether the IS is able to rise to the state dimension - which requires the organization of the typical functions exercised by a State (defense, control of resources and population) - however, what matters it is like the idea of ​​"caliphate" combined with religious faith and the will to establish an autonomous political-social system, constitutes a new element with respect to the operating methods of similar terrorist groups. This novelty has obvious geopolitical consequences. In the first place it would determine the risk of insinuating an entity with autonomous economic and financial resources into a critical area, its own territory, which would constitute - and constitutes - a danger for regional and global security as the geopolitics pursued by an entity a terrorist-type state would be universal - that is, aimed at the worldwide expansion of the so-called caliphate - ultimately constituting a global threat. The first consequence of the eventual formation of an Islamic State would be to redefine the entire structure of the region by opening further conflict scenarios in other crisis areas (becoming a potential sub-contractor of radical Islamic-affiliated groups) or deepening crises already in Act in the Middle East and in other areas such as Nigeria and Chechnya. This aspect of statehood poses a further question concerning the social dynamics of conflict. The social dynamics of the conflict means a broadening of the spectrum of the clash with terrorist organizations that also involves institutional and social aspects: it is also in the field of building social structures and involving moderate local populations that the conflict with the organizations of terrorist type.

Cultural dimension

Finally, it is important to underline the "transversal" nature of the conflict: it invests culture, social organizations, the media, the web, propaganda, the economy, ideological and religious visions.

Noting that the jihadist terrorism operates as an actor based on the religious dimension of its action and propaganda, it is evident that the historical and cultural knowledge of the Middle Eastern context is a factor of strategic importance to provide a medium-long term response to the current crisis in the Middle East.

The understanding and knowledge of the specific local context is an essential factor for operating in different cultural contexts. The competences of cultural anthropology, sociology, communication and history are the tools that must accompany the planning of security policies. It is from the awareness of the cultural context in which an actor actually operates that it is possible to understand and elaborate effective response strategies that involve both conventional actions and actions linked to institutional dynamics, consensus building and which, as a whole, operate as elements irreplaceable security policies. The cultural aspect of the ongoing conflict operates on two interconnected fronts: as a necessary element of knowledge of the "field" in which it is going to operate, and allows an adequate policy setting at the local level. From the general analysis of the aforementioned elements, the "multidimensional" and "molecular" nature of the challenge posed by transnational terrorism which requires the implementation of adequate security policies is confirmed.