rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels
led experts to conclude that the Western world is facing a new wave of Islamist
why this wave of radicalism is commonly thought of as more dangerous than
Al-Qaeda lies in the territorial basis the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
(ISIS) managed to set up in the Middle East, a basis which nobody seems to be
able, or willing, to attack and destroy.
connection between ISIS and terrorism in the West is both obvious and
misleading. The attacks in Paris and Brussels were reportedly organised by ISIS
headquarters in Syria: Fabien Clain, a French convert who joined ISIS, claimed
responsibility by praising the suicide bombers.
the phenomenon of "home-grown" terrorists predates ISIS by 20 years.
In France, it began in 1995 when a militant cell around a French citizen,
Khaled Kelkal, placed bombs in the Paris subway, avowedly to protest against
French support for the Algerian military that was fighting the Islamist
proportion of converts involved in terrorist actions (around 25 per cent)
indicates that radicalisation is not just a consequence of racism and
joblessness affecting migrants.
years later, in 2016, we are still dealing with a "second generation"
(people whose parents came to Europe as migrants) and with an increasing
proportion of converts going for jihad in Syria, particularly among women.
is largely the consequence of a sudden deculturation of Islam. This explains
why we find very few first- and third-generation individuals among the
radicals: those in the first generation are still living under the traditional
Islam of their country of origin, while those in the third generation have
already experienced new ways to combine their own religiosity with a Western
environment. As for converts, a common aspect they share with second-generation
recruits is that they all break with their parents' religion and claim to be
"masters of truth". Hence, both categories preach to their own
parents and adopt Salafism as the model of "true Islam" purified from
any kind of cultural influence.
embrace of a fundamentalist form of Islam does not mean that they are the
product of years of religious training and indoctrination. On the contrary,
most of the radicals have a history of a life totally engulfed in a Western
youth culture, became "born again" just before turning to violent
All of them
were living on the margins of the Muslim communities, with little or no contact
with the existing religious, political or humanitarian Western Islamic
organisations. In a word, these radicals are not the vanguard of a radicalised
Muslim community in Europe, although they constitute a permanent reservoir of
would-be suicide bombers who could be enlisted by any radical and global
Islamist organisation like ISIS.
important question has emerged in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and
Brussels: Why did ISIS decide to recruit these individuals to launch a terrorist
campaign in Europe instead of enlisting them in the ranks of the "foreign
legion" which allowed the organisation to score astonishing territorial
victories in Iraq and Syria since the spring of 2014?
In a change
of strategy, ISIS has, in fact, taken over Al-Qaeda's concept of "global
jihad", although initially criticising the latter precisely for its
refusal to carve a "liberated" Islamic territory in the Middle East.
From the beginning, instead of adopting the tactic of international terrorism,
ISIS built up its prestige by concentrating all its efforts on the creation and
expansion of the Caliphate.
Most of the
Iraqi Sunni Arabs and many Syrian Sunni Arabs saw in ISIS the tool of their
liberation from either Arab Shi'ites or non-Arab Sunnis (the Kurds), since the
Shi'ites capitalised on the United States' invasion of 2003 to take power in
Iraq and the Kurds created their de facto state.
it appears that its dependency on a permanent territorial expansion represented
the dead end of its strategy.
rapidly reached its territorial limits early last year: the suburbs of Baghdad
and Damascus in West and East, and the Kurdish populated areas in the North.
Ever since, the group has slowly been repulsed on all fronts. However, it
remains an active force in the region due to the distinctive geopolitics: each
regional actor fighting it has a greater enemy in the area who is feared to
benefit from the defeat of ISIS.
government's priority is to avoid the creation of a free Kurdish zone in Syria,
while President Bashar Al-Assad's priority is to fight the "middle of the
road" opposition that could be supported by the West. The Saudi government
seeks first and foremost to deter the Iranian influence, while the Kurds fear a
united Arab coalition that would prevent them from being independent. And last,
but not least, Iraqi Shi'ites exclude the possibility of any cooperation with
Arab Sunnis in whatever capacity, and Iran, which fought a long war against
Iraq from 1980 to 1988, fears the reconstruction of a Sunni Arab coalition.
light of its territorial containment, ISIS thinks it has no choice but to
internationalise its struggle by fishing in the pool of willing radicals in the
West. But this is certainly a doomed strategy, as the West will not bow to
terror. Instead of falling into the trap of sending troops into the region, the
West will continue to support the local enemies of ISIS, hoping that, sooner or
later, the very Arab Sunnis who called for ISIS to help will turn against it as
they will realise the lack of any prospect of a political settlement.
disenfranchised French Muslims and converts might be suicidal, not Arab
farmers, tribesmen and city dwellers who just hope to regain a political status
in a territory that is of their own.