At first blush this statement appears quite bold. What about the hundreds of organizations now active around the world such as al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab or even the some of the old standards like Hezbollah, Hamas, or even the Taliban? Have they become less dangerous or less of a threat? What makes ISIS unique? Let’s explore the history and the potential escalation ISIS represents, then you decide.
Certainly every terror organization represents a threat to anyone that does not accept their view of the world. Just as gangs in Los Angeles represent a threat to someone walking into “their” territory each organization requires considered attention. However, ISIS has been able to exploit three fundamental advantages which no previous terror group has been able to fully utilize. These three factors have set the stage for them to expand their reach exponentially beyond just that of being a regional threat.
First, ISIS have a clear and singular goal of establishing a Muslim Caliphate in which they believe will provide them with a glorious and unified Islamic civilization. They believe it is their God given directive to establish this Caliphate, and thus they will not stop until all before them have been killed or they have been martyred in the cause. No amount of negotiation or politicking from the world will deter them from this goal.
Secondly, they have arrived on the scene at a unique time in history. The lands they wish to conquer are in disarray. The governments and security forces that would normally have prevented ISIS’s genesis and expansion are in a dramatically weakened state. Without a unified state supported military resistance, they have been able to stockpile cash, acquire weapons, and assimilate new recruits with each military victory. This influx of cash and stature from each conquered territory allows them to buy continually more loyalty and arms.
Third, ISIS’s over-the-top psychotic zealots and the barbaric acts they have perpetrated on the populations they control, (crucifixions, child beheadings, mass executions, etc.) have engendered them with a mythical status among the populace. To supporters, they have developed a “Savior” image. To opposition forces, they appear as an insurmountable “Devil” apparition. Many in the Iraqi army have laid down their guns and ran away at ISIS’s mere appearance. ISIS has captured key towns and assets, often without firing a shot. With each military victory, ISIS’s mythical “Hand of God” mystique grows. The sum of their parts has become greater than individuals involved.
And yet – ISIS’s military victories, territory occupations, regional dominance and mythical image is not what elevates them to the title of the most dangerous terrorist group ever. All of their regional victories pale in the face of the “Elevated Threat” they represent to the Western world.
The greatest threat ISIS represents to the Western world comes from the Inspiration that they offer to all the closeted Jihadists worldwide. There are vast numbers of Islamists world-wide that secretly harbor the Jihadist idealism and the dream of an Islamist Caliphate who have not previously revealed themselves. These individuals come from every socioeconomic, geographic, and intellectual level. The closer ISIS appears to achieving the desired goal, the greater the number of these closeted Jihadis will reveal themselves to support that effort.
While many of these hidden Jihadists will simply buy a one-way ticket to Syria where they will pick up an RPG and join the fight, the Elevated Threat to the West comes from the fact that some subset of these hidden Jihadis will be biochemists, engineers, and computer experts. These new inductees to the Jihad will not be geographically bound, academically limited, nor will they be intellectually stymied. The future attack from the Elevated Threat we will face will come from behind a keyboard, not from an RPG.
Want an example? Today, ISIS web sites are heavily recruiting for new associates in India. With the Indian Muslim community of over 100 million people, even a small percentage heeding the call to Jihad is a substantial number of new recruits. From this new class, some percentage of these will be culled from the engineering community, medical schools, or even from disaffected leaders of industry. Bankers from several nations have already be caught funneling funds to ISIS leaders. It shouldn’t take a great leap of imagination to imagine a scenario where a sympathetic Indian biochemist would supply a genetically engineered contagion to ISIS which could be released in Europe to support the cause. Perhaps it will be a Pakistani computer expert who unleashes a devastating electronic virus into the world’s economic network in support.
Multiply these examples by the hundreds of millions of Muslims from every country on Earth and the potential for an influx of intellectually superior Jihadists joining the fight for the cause of the establishment of a Caliphate is undeniable.
We are at a crossroads in time, and I contend that we are NOT ready for the Elevated Threat that this new type of terrorism presents us. We are complacent, we underestimate the enemy, we are not willing to fight to win, and so far only writers like me are even visualizing the Elevated Threat that is now knocking on the door.
The mad dogs are in the yard, are you prepared?