February 10, 2015 | Commentary on International Conflicts, Terrorism, Middle East

There's a method to ISIS madness

Some seem baffled and or shocked by the raw ruthlessness of the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) most recently foisted upon us by the video of the immolation — a euphemism for being burned alive — of a captive Jordanian pilot.

But, while hard to believe, there’s actually a method to this madness.

Fear

While it tries to portray itself as a caliphate (a Muslim state under sharia law), the Islamic State is first and foremost a terrorist group. As such, it seeks to “terrorize,” causing intense feelings of fear in its target audience.

Through its acts of violence — the more heinous the better — ISIS hopes to garner the power and influence to get governments to change policies and to subjugate those it wants to hold dominion over.

Footing

These horrible crimes against humanity (e.g., beheading, crucifixion and burying alive) actually allow the Islamic “State” to portray itself as a legitimate political entity — which it isn’t.

Indeed, these evil acts have permitted ISIS to make demands of real nation-states such as Japan and Jordan — even the United States — when it has tried to extort concessions from them over the fate of their nationals.

Fame

The Islamic State is also looking for notoriety in its “show of horrors” public relations campaign; because of the widespread availability of social media, its message goes global virtually instantly.

This allows it to compete for resources with other violent Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda In the Arabian Peninsula, al Shabab, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and others of that evil ilk.

Foot soldiers/followers

And speaking of resources, the Islamic State is involved in a war — and if it’s going to prevail in taking and holding territory, it’s going to need a continuing supply of militants.

While numbers vary, ISIS’ “army” may run some 30,000, including a mix of Iraqi, Syrian and foreign fighters. Some reports say that they may have lost several thousand so far.

While hard to fathom any level of appeal to anyone, these execution videos are meant to serve as a recruiting tool for drawing the next wave of foreign fighters to ISIS’ cruel cause.

These killings are also meant to conscript terrorist wannabes who already reside in countries in
their cross hairs, especially in the West — witness recent attacks in places such as Ottawa and Paris.

Funding

Lastly, while a terrorist attack, such as that involving an explosive vest, can be cheap, running a terrorist army that is hell-bent on conquest of territory isn’t. The trappings of war can be pricey — weapons, ammo and so on.

While the Islamic State has sources of income, including selling oil on the black market, it’s looking for money from beyond the battlefield from donors who may be motivated by these terrorist acts.

What all of this tells us is that this brand of butchery brings “benefits” to these bad actors — meaning that the unspeakable brutality will continue unless the Islamic State is done away with — and soon.

 - Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in The Boston Herald