Islamic State Brutality May Do More to Harm Itself

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The gruesome execution by fire of a Jordanian pilot has shocked the world, especially his own country. King Abdullah has promised swift retribution against the perpetrators, the Islamic State militants. In commenting on the most recent atrocity, some observers have stressed the resolve of the Jordanian people and its government in facing what could become an existential threat. Others have warned against being too eager to report on every move and statement made by IS, suggesting that doing so multiplies the impact of the horrible acts carried out by the militants. ISIS is just the latest reiteration in a long line of militant fundamentalist organizations. Yet, there is no doubt in the minds of many in the region that, as the war against fundamentalist Islamist networks heats up, that the carnage on display last week might become the norm. At the same time, the nature of the violence brought on by such terrorist networks could very well signal a turning point in their fortunes.

In a recent op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Salman Aldossary argues that the recent violence should not come as a surprise. If anyone had any doubts about IS religious heresy, the killing of the Jordanian pilot should have dispelled them in a hurry: “It is not the brutality and barbarism of ISIS that is astonishing and surprising; rather it is the fact that we ever believed that the terrorist group would cease to shock us with its unreasonable and illogical crimes….One Saudi preacher joined ISIS before breaking ranks with the terrorist group and turning himself in to the Kingdom’s authorities. He subsequently appeared on television to reveal that ISIS has claimed that all Saudis are infidels. ISIS has called on all Saudi nationals to ‘migrate to the land of Islam,’ in reference to the group’s so-called Islamic emirate. So, are we still surprised by ISIS and their new religion? Can people in the West truly believe that ISIS has any relation to true Islam and true Muslims?”

Al Arabiya’s Theodore Karasik warns Jordan that the Islamic State’s intention is to draw Jordan into a lengthy war of attrition, although Karasik has no doubt about the outcome of such a contest: “Given that ISIS sees Jordan as the frontline of the Crusader’s border with the use of Jordanian territory for airstrikes on the so-called Islamic State, ISIS now, from their point of view, want the Jordanian armed forces to strike them. ISIS is arguing that Jordan is a crusader state. In the wake of the official announcement of Lt. al-Kasasbeh’s death, ISIS published the names of Jordanian pilots and asked its operatives to hunt these pilots down “for a gold prize.” It is as if a bully is picking a fight on a playground: it’s a sick joke that will backfire on ISIS…. Overall, we may have just turned a corner in the battle against ISIS. ISIS is continuing its push south using hybrid warfare to achieve its goals through grizzly executions and social media warfare….But ISIS is playing with fire: it is now engaging a state actor with well-trained soldiers who will have blood lust. They are all Lt. al-Kasasbeh.”

The Jordan Times editorial expresses the sentiments of a nation, which, while grieving, demands swift retribution against IS: “Following the release of the video and the pictures by Daesh Tuesday evening, Jordanians were exchanging news and pictures of brave, proud Kasasbeh, words of condolences and sympathy, as well as rage. They were also voicing their unity behind their leadership and army in the face of this ruthless group’s inhuman act that shows the spitefulness it has for Jordan and Jordanians….But Daesh, which calls itself “Islamic State”, having nothing to do with Islam and being a state only in its sick imagination, showed its intentions towards Jordan and Jordanians, and true Muslims and their friends everywhere….Jordan’s response to this heinous crime will certainly come. The country will continue, alongside its allies, the war that will ensure that this group is totally destroyed, that its damaging ideology is wiped out and replaced with the true teachings of Islam.”

But, in an op-ed for Arab News, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed cautions against falling into IS’ trap, with the latter only standing to benefit : “It’s estimated that more than $120 million has been paid to fund the operations of extremist armed groups, and funders have neither been blamed, nor charged with supporting terrorism….Executing the two Japanese hostages is a step which did not deprive the IS of money. But it may finally put an end to surrendering to blackmail, as now there’s international activity pursuing governments who submit to compromise and pay terrorists without considering the dangerous repercussions such as encouraging [terrorists] to kidnap foreigners and civilians. This is a long war that requires plenty of sacrifices and that also requires depriving terrorists of their two most important weapons: Money and propaganda.”

The suggestion that much of IS violence is driven by recruiting needs, leads The National’s Rashmee Roshan Lall to recommend that perhaps one way to defeat the militants is by depriving “ISIL’s death cult of the oxygen of publicity…. Taken together, words, pictures and audio do the devil’s work for the death cult that is ISIL. It may be time to bring down the curtain on the extremist group’s street theatre….we know that the group will keep up the offensive through social media, but it’s unlikely that, say, the manner of the poor pilot’s death would have become yet another chilling episode in the global horror show had the mainstream media not publicized it so massively. It is time to declare a self-denying moratorium and deprive ISIL’s death cult of that life-giving oxygen.”

The Saudi Gazette editorial agrees that the publicity resulting from the gruesome acts of violence will most likely contribute to a swelling in the ranks of the IS; however, there should be no question about what the response of the world ought to be: “While these killers may be ignorant bigots, they are not stupid. Their leaders must be looking today at the worldwide reaction of repulsion and anger and congratulating themselves on another publicity job well done….And, of course, there are young dupes worldwide who are impressed by the unflinching awfulness of IS.  But if these heartbreaking videos inspire youthful idiots, they also inspire a deep and white hot anger in decent people….No civilized society can tolerate the continued existence of such psychopaths. They want to be hated and hated they truly are. It will take time, but they will be hunted down like the wild dogs they are and when they are caught, they will deserve no mercy.”

 Some, including Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ben-Dror Yemini, believe the mold has been set unless world leaders are prepared to take drastic actions to counter the threat of jihad: “It’s no longer a war with a radical organization. It’s something else. Something the human mind finds difficult to deal with. There are wars. There is brutality against rivals and enemies. There are exceptions in every war. But when it comes to jihad, horror is a norm….There is no real different between Boko Haram, the Taliban and ISIS. ISIS just likes to do it in front of the cameras….After the terror attacks in the United States, it seemed that the world would never be the same. That it was waking up. That it was beginning to understand. This was mere illusion. Jihad has become much stronger and more murderous. The world which is fighting it has become even more powerless. We should only hope that it sobers up at some point. Let’s hope that by the time that happens, it won’t be too late.”

Among those who should become more engaged are religious leaders, at least that is what the Peninsula’s editorial board sees as one element missing from the global fight against terrorism: “The execution of the Jordanian pilot has brought home two points. First, the IS is an enemy of Muslims and Islam as it is of the West….Secondly, the burning alive of a Sunni Arab has woken up the Islamic world. Clerics and scholars across the Islamic world denounced the militant attack, saying such form of killing ‘is an abomination under Islam, no matter the justification.’ Among those who condemned the execution included Al Azhar clerics and the International Association of Muslim Scholars. While the scholars’ denunciation in this case is definitely helpful, it must be noted that Muslim scholars and clerics haven’t been vociferous enough in their condemnation of Islamic State. They should have spoken in a uniform, vociferous voice the day the IS emerged.”

Ironically, despite all the publicity accrued by IS in the short term, the death of the Jordanian pilot may represent a turning point for of the general population: “The success of insurgent movements is often based on their ability to exploit existing social contradictions and cleavages. However, ISIS soon forgot how central this had to be to its strategy, and instead highlighted its sheer brutality. Violence can be a valuable tactic to sow fear among foes; but there is a stage at which it has a contrary effect. It unites previously divided adversaries; it provokes outrage and dread that makes resistance much more bitter; and it may define a group at the expense of the more important image it seeks to project….To those who might have followed ISIS once, the appeal is largely gone. The group has been so vicious, while offering no recompenses, that few see benefits in joining it.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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