Corporeality II Daesh (ISIS or ISIL)
In my blog on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, I mentioned, but only mentioned, that Obama had cited that fighting Daesh (which he referred to as ISIL) and other terrorists is the top priority of his administration. “Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.” Since Daesh was and is not an existential threat to the American people, referring to the fight against Daesh as WWIII was a gross “over-the-top” exaggeration that inflated the threat of ISIS enormously. Nevertheless, “Both Al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.”
Further, he refused to conflate Daesh with Islam. “We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.” What strategy was he following to accomplish that goal? “For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology. With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons. We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.” Once again he repeated his plea to Congress to authorize the use of military force against ISIS.
There are a number of puzzles about the war on Daesh as the top foreign policy agenda item for the U.S. First, why was it his top priority? Why not John Kerry’s since the strategy involved creating a broad coalition? Why not the Secretary of Defence since this was also a military mission? Because, in the U.S. system of government, the U.S. President is also Commander-in-Chief. In the Torah, Aaron the High Priest was not only foreign minister but commander-in-chief of the Israelites’ defense forces, not Moses. In virtually all Western democracies, the Prime Minister is NOT the head of the armed forces.
But before I offer an account trying to explain that anomaly, let me clarify why, since Paris and San Bernardino, Daesh has become the outstanding military enemy of the U.S. I want to help understand the body politic of these jihadist terrorists. The answer in one sense is simple. Obama gave it himself in a speech this past December. The Daesh attacks “shook Americans’ confidence in the government’s ability to protect them from terror groups.” The Assad regime was demoted. So even though normally the enemy of my enemy is my friend, in this case, this is not true. For yesterday, when ISIS led three coordinated attacks using a car bomb aimed at a bus and two suicide bombers aimed at the rescue teams in the suburb of Sayeda Zeinab Southern Damascus (the site of Shi’ites’ holiest shrine) killing 35, mostly Hezbollah fighters in the bus that was transporting them (at a cost to Daesh of 25 of their own), the U.S. and her allies did not cheer.
Further, in Iraq, there is a huge dam located in territory captured back from Daesh and once again controlled by the Iraqi military only 18 km. from Mosul. The dam is fundamentally weak. Given the fighting, the weakness of the dam and the difficulty in repairing it under such circumstances, its bursting would send a wall of water down on Mosul, a Daesh stronghold, Iraqi’s with the help of Americans, however, are evaluating the weakness of the dam and helping to take restorative measures to ensure it does not collapse. America’s war is not with Muslims, not with ordinary Iraqi civilians, nor even with Hezbollah Shi’ite fighters allied with Assad when they are targets of Daesh terrorism. America’s war is with Daesh and its terrorist look-alikes.
Why is Daesh so formidable even though its bases and leaders have been attacked with over 10,000 air strikes, even though it is under retreat in Iraq because of America and its allies reinforcing the Iraqi and Kurdish armies, and even though it is in retreat in Syria because of Russian and Hezbollah reinforcing the Assad regime? After all, there is little evidence that Daesh is a cohesive terrorist network. In that sense, it is even weaker than al Qaeda was. The sensationalism and repetition of its terrorist attacks have been invaluable in recruiting. However, Daesh does not follow the examples of African warlord rebel groups who recruit mainly through terror rather than ideology and indoctrination. Daesh does, however, retain its adherents through precisely the same system of terror when the recruits discover how totally disappointing, ruthless and un-Islamic Daesh really is. So it is not surprising that 15-year-old Younes Abaaoud, the partner of his much older brother Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian jihadist and mastermind of the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, though he vowed revenge for his brother’s death, also became the target of a Daesh hit squad when he admitted to colleagues that he thought the attacks had gone “too far.” Daesh is not powerful structurally, strategically or even ideologically, but it is vicious in its terrorist practices.
Daesh is powerful as the best advertising agent for Islamicist terror, but wants to keep its reliance on terror to keep its recruits in line secret. Daesh is also powerful because it plays on specific weaknesses of America’s allies, weaknesses which a leading Republican candidate for the presidency wants to replicate in the U.S. States like France attack the wearing of the hijab by girls in schools in defense of their secular religion of laicité for absolutely no valid political reason and, at the same time, populates its suburbs of Paris, the infamous banlieues like Saint Denis, with 25% unemployment among the Muslim youth, with its deteriorating school system and medical services, with foreigners. France is just terrible in its multicultural policies of integration. Britain is almost as bad as MI-5 tracks an estimated 3,000 homegrown jihadists, but the U.K.’s weakness are somewhat different.
The scholarly evidence overwhelmingly shows that states that provide religious security for all their citizens and that have healthy multicultural programs that offer minority youth the same educational and employment opportunities as the native born, do not provide anywhere near the ripe recruiting grounds as states that fail in their multicultural policies. As Patrick Aeberhard, the Parisian-born cardiologist and co-founder of Médecins sans Frontières, has said with respect to France, “We didn’t know how to integrate the Magréhbins, who were mostly northern Algerians, who were French, who should have blended right in.” The surprise is that, in spite of some of the virulent anti-Islam rhetoric, only 250 American Muslims have joined the Islamic State, according to a report by the House Homeland Security Committee; 68 of them have been indicted on charges of supporting Daesh according to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School.
For the evidence on the proposition that healthy multiculturalism is a formidable deterrent to jihadi terrorism, read the academic publications of the Terrorism Research Initiative under the direction of Alex Schmid or the special issue of Politics dealing with terrorism published by the School of Politics, Philosophy & International Studies at the University of Hull under the direction of Raphael Cohen-Almagor. The more Islamophobia in a country, the more fertile the ground is for the growth of Islamicist terror groups. Daesh feeds on Islamic alienation. In the U.S. since 9/11, right-wing extremists have murdered 48 people. Islamicist extremists in 26 deadly attacks have killed 31, including the 14 at San Bernardino. On 15 April 2013, the two bombs set off near the finish line of the Boston marathon wounded 250 people but only killed three.
I want to now go back to the theoretical discussions of French multiculturalism because they reveal a vision of the body politic in which the nation and state are one. Citizens must be assimilated, not just integrated. Since French political theory is so important in the principles underlying the American body politic, it is helpful to explore various aspects of that theory to understand not only Obama’s problem in dealing with terrorism and the French problem, but the body politic of contemporary jihadist terrorism.
Many French philosophers agree that the new immigrants have failed to assimilate into French culture, but instead of blaming French policies of assimilation (versus integration), blame the immigrants for both refusing to assimilate and selling a doctrine of multiculturalism intended to undermine the French state rather than enrich it. Well before the current Syrian refugee crisis, Pascal Bruckner, one of the new French philosophers, joined the right and argued that Western sentimentalism has permitted a mass invasion from Africa and the Middle East that threatened to destroy the foundations of French and Western civilization. (La Tyrannie de la pénitence (2006) The Tyranny of Guilt). He claimed that multiculturalism is a fraud and defended the unifying principles of reason and the Enlightenment and has been one of the rationalizers of the laws against public displays of religious symbols in France rather than the historical development of tolerance and pluralism.
Alan Finkielkraut is another of the new French philosophers. Though Jewish and a child of Holocaust survivors, he has attacked multiculturalism arguing that France has always been assimilationist and has never been multicultural (L’identité malhereuse (2013) The Unhappy Identity). Multiculturalism, he argued, was an Islamic plot deliberately promoted by Islam to subvert French ideas and culture. He argued that France was headed for a Franco-Creole-Mahghrebin civilization under the aegis of Islam. “France is voluptuously sinking in the undifferentiated.”
Other French philosophers such as Michel Onfray, take the same path through from a complementary perspective. Following the 13 November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, he withdrew his book, Penser l’Islam because he did not think his attack on Islam to show it celebrated violence and terrorism could have a rational discussion. Nevertheless, from the previews of the book and his other writings, it is clear that he did not assign any responsibility to France, except to its soft sentimental underside, but instead envisioned the deep roots of terrorism to reside in Islam itself.
In contrast, André Glucksmann, the French philosopher of my age who died just three days before the Daesh terror attacks on Paris on 13 November 2015 and who practiced a similar form of philosophical analysis as I do using a detailed analysis of current events to extrapolate and illustrate philosophic principles, wrote: the war of Islamicist terror is not a war of East against West for the prime and overwhelming number of deaths are those who belong to the Islamic faith. It is not that we agreed on most things – he supported the intervention led by George W. Bush. But he was often brilliantly insightful and besides, had a sense of wit I lack. It was André who wrote the terrific 2004 book, The Discourse of Hate and said that, “Maybe violent wickedness can be decapitated, but stupidity has too many heads.”
That is the problem with Daesh. It is not just violently wicked. It is also stupid so it is hard to discern any grand rational strategy in much of its terrorism other than its brilliance in using terror and the internet as recruiting tools and targeting oil production areas for initial conquest to ensure an inflow of money. Daesh is built on a politics of money and blood, spilling the blood of others indiscriminately and forging bonds of blood between and among its adherents and blood flowing in the streets from innocents everywhere. For Daesh, warfare has been reduced to its basest and core foundation stones.
There are two common themes in understanding the body politic of Daesh. First is the use of terror to forge men into blood brothers. It is no surprise that many of the jihadists were, in fact, blood brothers:
- 19-year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev who perpetrated the terrorist attack at the Boston marathon by setting off bombs near the finish line
- Abdelhamid Abaaoud and his younger 15-year-old brother Younes who organized the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris against the Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon cafés, the Stade de France during a German-French football match, and especially the Bataclan concert venue where 130 were killed
- Chérif Kouachi and Said Kouachi who, on my 77th birthday, 7 January 2015, with assault rifles perpetrated the massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine killing 11 and wounding 11 others, and subsequently killed a French National Police Officer and five Jews in a Parisian kosher supermarket, but then, in the name of al Qaeda rather than Daesh, and the ostensible objective of defending Mohammed from blasphemy using gheerah or protective jealousy.
The contrast between the last two attacks is revealing. The Islam, and Kosher supermarket attackers were professionals who used military gestures, infantry tactics and fired and aimed execution-style single shots to the head. They also had a very specific motive – revenge against Jews and Charlie Hebdo for its controversial satiric pictures of Mohammed. In contrast, the November Paris attacks targeted ordinary Parisians carrying out typical and ordinary leisure activities. The shootings and killings were random with no specific targets at all. And that is where Daesh trumps al Qaeda as a terrorist “organization” – the objective is simply to sew fear whether in the battlefield or in the home turf of the allies against whom it is fighting And look at the response. Two million French citizens and foreigners marched in unison to uphold France’s principles of liberty, equality and fraternity after the Charlie Hebdo and supermarket attack. After the most violent terrorist attack since WWII this past November, Parisians cowered at home, with the encouragement of the government lest masses of French and foreigners become a new target. Prudence trumped public displays of patriotism.
Bernard-Henri Lévy, another French philosopher, has argued that this new wave of terrorism is built on Xerox copycat principles so that even the so-called third intifada of the knives and car rammings in Israel are not so much expressions of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation – though the resentment and frustrations are there – so much as just another expression of a worldwide jihad hysteria. (The Algemeiner, 21 October 2015) Palestinian leaders, particularly Hamas leaders, have encouraged and incited ordinary Palestinians to attack Jews, any Jews, Israeli or non-Israeli, civilian or military, young or old. Take to the streets and maim as many Jews as you can with as much pain as possible and spilling as much blood as possible. Then to hear Mahmoud Abbas call these acts “heroic” simply turns more and more Israelis and Jews off any peace process with the Palestinians. In fact, the resort to the knife in contrast to a Kalashnikov rifle can be seen as a throwback to classic Arab terrorism. Muhanad Alukabi, who stabbed and killed a victim in Beersheba (wounding 11 others) professed his allegiance to ISIS.
Daesh does not need to operate with a head. Certainly all its actions, its prideful displays and its heartlessness attest to that. For Daesh is a cult of blood, knitting its adherents together to constitute them as blood brothers, and aiming at the spilling of as much blood of the enemies as possible. If that is the real enemy, is an Islamic plot to foist multiculturalism on the French polity or the inadequate and incompetent application of multiculturalism to blame, an application which celebrates pluralism and integration rather than assimilation?
Emmanuel Levinas, France’s foremost post WWII thinker and a Jewish theologian as well, has also stood against the French intellectual tide denouncing multiculturalism in Philosophical Perspectives on the ‘War on Terrorism.’ For Levinas, ethics, the norms that govern conduct in society, are rooted in the experience of having to deal with the Other, with the Other’s alterity, whether Moses dealing with the Egyptians versus the Midianites, or Jethro dealing with the Egyptians and the Israelites. Ethics arise out of a face-to-face encounter with the Other as Other, and a demand to respect the opacity of that Otherness. This does not always mean extending hospitality to the Other and welcoming the stranger. For when the Other defines you as wholly Other, as an inferior Other, as a threatening Other, and, therefore as an Other that must be exterminated, then the Other that does so is an enemy. The Other is then not a stranger whom one does not know, but an Other who is all-too-familiar. The Other is not someone with whom one can dialogue and whom one should respect while acknowledging differences. There can be no dialogue with such an enemy. That enemy is owed no respect, only disdain, disgust and a militant defence.
So the problem is fourfold:
Daesh as a terrorist cult dedicated to randomly spilling blood.
Daesh as a terrorist organization that breeds loyalty, not by ideology, but by sharing blood so its warriors become blood brothers.
France is a state with a fundamental ideology that disdains multiculturalism.
France is a state that has misapplied the practices of multiculturalism.
With the help of Alex Zisman
Tomorrow: Terrorism and the Application of Multiculturalism in Canada
Following: Obama: Caught between the Body Politic of France and Canada