ISIS strategy of provoking civil war in Europe
The Paris, Nice and Berlin terrorist acts and the New Year’s attack at a nightclub in Istanbul indicate that the Islamic State (ISIS) is shifting its focus to Europe to create a theatre of action and confrontation there.
The strategic aim seems to be to provoke all-out civil war between non-Muslims and the Muslim communities of Europe, a war that would give added meaning to the clash of civilisations theory advanced by Samuel Huntington.
The continuous erosion of ISIS territory is forcing the terrorist organisation to adopt a strategy like al-Qaeda’s. From building and consolidating a state, it is shifting to diversifying and expanding into territories of its enemies.
The aim is to create domestic tension and civil wars by encouraging terrorist actions and the murderous indiscriminate killing of civilians so that Europeans societies rise against the Muslims among them. Those Muslims would then support or acquiesce to the ISIS view of a clash of civilisations.
It is a strategy that is not counting only on ISIS ideology and its criminal acts but on the reaction of the infidels. This is facilitated by numerous factors. First and foremost, the increasing popularity of the extreme right (in Europe) is playing into the hands of ISIS. The more terrorist acts occur the more there is a tendency to increase the split within Western societies along sectarian lines and stoke hatred against all Muslims, not just against radical and jihadist Islamists.
It is a calculated provocation to drive a wedge between European societies, suffering serious political and economic problems and an easily identified culprit: Islam and the Muslims. The tendency of such discourse aims at encouraging ghettoisation of the Muslim communities. Whether that is done as an act of self-defence or whether it is imposed, both meet the same goal.
The failures of successive policies of integration, added to other crises in Europe, are factors that help in setting the stage for civil war — a war that happens first in the minds of people and then in acts of hatred. This sets the stage for ISIS to advance its destructive goals and prove its discourse of hatred and discrimination.
The answer lies in a multidimensional approach by political and religious leaders, as well as civil society activists.
To start with, we need to remember that it is a war not between Islam and others but a war within Islam itself; between the Islam of enlightenment and openness — the true spirit of Islam — and the discriminatory radical Islamist doctrines that preach hatred.
It is the role of Muslim clerics to deconstruct the ideological discourse of jihadists and to delegitimise it in the eyes of the Muslims before anybody else. It also raises the need for all-encompassing parallel reform in the Arab world in cultural, social, educational, political and economic fields.
It is equally important on the European side to review the reasons for the failure of integration policies and to address directly these reasons to avoid the dangers of exclusion and marginalisation.
It is also of utmost importance for Europeans to address the deep and complex reasons behind the dangerous rise of exclusivist nationalist extremism.
What is urgently needed is collective action based on a comprehensive approach to avoid falling into the trap of civil war in Europe, which is the objective of ISIS.