Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fight the IS in hearts

The IS-sponsored attacks in France yesterday have prompted the usual responses from national governments and the media. Governments say they're redoubling their efforts against the Islamic State; media analyses talk about whether this nation or that one will step up their military assaults on the IS' physical territory, or which domestic political party (e.g., Le Pen's far-right party in France) will be strengthened by the attacks.

None of this is wrong. It's not enough, though. The fight against the IS isn't solely military, and in fact, to cast it as primarily military is to give the IS a tremendous strategic advantage. The group's strength derives from its ability to seduce disaffected souls, especially young people, to its ideology. That's where the real fight must be waged: in the heart.

I said "disaffected souls", but in fact, that's a too-easy characterization of those drawn to the movement. The little I've read about those who've been drawn to the movement doesn't paint a consistent picture. They aren't all friendless loners, they don't manifest mental illness, they're not all especially religious. It seems to me frustratingly difficult to figure out why they buy into the ideology, how they make first contact with IS recruiters, and how those recruiters worm their way into the budding recruit's confidence. Yet this is precisely the ground on which the rest of us have to carry out the real fight.

Starving the IS of material resources and disrupting the terror attacks it inspires (but doesn't always coordinate) are necessary but not sufficient steps. If the IS' physical territory were to be seized tomorrow, its online presence would be largely untouched and its ideology completely intact.

The IS is the physical embodiment of a type of mindset that has always been with us, one that will manifest itself differently a decade hence and a century hence and a millennium hence.

Again, the real fight isn't in Syria or Iraq or Paris: it's in the human heart. That's where we must focus.

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