Is Syria becoming Turkey's Vietnam?
The war in Afghanistan is not about the Taleban or Al-Qa'ida anymore.
warning: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES
You can find them in the front row during public beheadings and crucifixions held in Raqqa and in all the cities under the control of ISIS. They are used for blood transfusions when fighters of the Islamic State are injured. They are paid to spy and are trained to become suicide bombers without hesitation. Are the children of the caliphate, the future soldiers of ISIS's envisaged caliphate?
Mohammad is a spy, a teenager of 14 years used by jihadists to "listen to" the chatter in the markets and streets of Mosul reporting to his bosses when someone breaks the rules. In exchange for his collaboration and loyalty he benefits financially for each "tip". Omar is one of the many young people who helped to maintain ISIS's intelligence network in the vast territory under the control of the group between Iraq and Syria since 2013.
In contrast there is Omar, whose refusal to enlist in the ranks of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi resulted in the removal of his hand and foot designed as a clear warning to all other teenagers who thought differently from the militia group. The grisly message and reminder to them those aged sixteen and over are expected to serve the Caliphate as spies, fighters and suicide bombers. ISIS continues to indoctrinate and train thousands of children and adolescents in the territories under its control and invests huge sums to the military training and ideological induction of children with the aim of shaping the next generation of jihadist assault troops .
According to rumors across the Arab media, the children of the Caliphate would be trained to become spies in their homes and family-life, gathering information on relatives and parents who do not support Baghdadi's cell. This dehumanising process results in the removal of individual, personal feelings which are sighted as weaknesses should they take precedence or oppose the general objective of the creation of the Caliphate.
The testimonies of children collected by the international media indicate an estimated (and disturbing) change for the future of the Middle East: thousands, if not tens of thousands, of teenagers have been drafted and sent to fight under a sub-state ideology of messianic and megalomaniacal inspiration with a clear and well-defined political and military strategy.
Nor is it simply a male prerogative. Even young girls are a very important cog in ISIS's war machine. Testimonies revealed relate to how the children are being indoctrinated from primary school to seek death as their religious duty. The stories which are picked reveal an organised and structured military training process that aims to cultivate an army of loyal warriors and ideologically pure generation of supporters for the future of the Caliphate.
Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch, interviewed several members of Iraq's Yezidi community who escaped capture by ISIS. According to reports, many have reported seeing militiamen separate the boys from their families to send them in schools for indoctrination and military training.
Vice News produced a report from Raqqa, the capital of ISIS. This documentary on life inside the city dominated by the group was chilling as the second of the special episode focused predominantly the feverish way with which ISIS manipulated and trained children through public performances and repeated sermons with obsessive perseverance. One man declared during the reportage: "We believe that this generation of children is one of the Caliphate. God willing, this generation will fight the infidels and apostates, the Americans and their allies."
To monitor the whole "system", a network of former military and intelligence officers keep a close eye on civilians, collaborators and dissidents. Many of these officers operated with Saddam Hussein's fearsome Da'irat al Mukhabarat al Amah, the internal services of the former dictator and his Ba'athist party.The officers of Saddam have been and continue to be a potent part of the strength of ISIS structure and operations and played a crucial role in the victories of the group in 2014. Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd who spent years opposing Saddam, recently revealed that former Ba'athists who work with ISIS have equipped the militia with the know-how of all respect, especially with regard to collecting intelligence. "They know who is who, by clans, name by name." Everything else is history.
Saddam's former intelligence's management of ISIS's internal affairs have created a sub-state apparatus which regards the indoctrination of children as its lifeblood and long-term guarantor of war against the West, takfiri Arab regimes and leaders, and Shiites. The convergence of the interests between jihadists and members of the former Ba'athist party has catalysed the absorption of thousands of these military cadres. This has significantly strengthened ISIS and its inner circle's strategy, honed its battle tactics and the strengthened the process of nation-building in Siraq. They have become an indispensable part in the self-proclaimed caliphate's survival .
WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES
The massacre of civilians in Nice by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhel, a French-Tunisian national, as they celebrated on Bastille Day continues to demonstrate that ISIS's unconventional but violent war in Europe is grimly flourishing. The continent, joined at the hip with a Middle East consumed by violence, faces a severe security and humanitarian crisis. ISIS's devastating terrorist campaign has compounded these problems by injecting fear, uncertainty, and polarisation into an already potent mixture, as nation's states across Europe stand divided politically, economically and socially.
The costs of ISIS's suicide bombings and nihilistic attacks have been stark. Belgium has lost thirty nine civilians in attacks in Brussels airport, the Jewish Museum of Belgium, and Maalbeek Metro station. In one coordinated attack in May in the Syrian towns of Jableh and Tartous, ISIS murdered one-hundred and seventy nine people. In 2016 alone, major suicide bombings have killed over nine-hundred civilians and security personnel in Iraq, the most horrific of which, conducted on 2 July, killed over three-hundred and cemented itself as Iraq's second worst terrorist attack in history. Twelve days after the destruction of a jet which killed two-hundred and twenty four on a Russian airliner and one day before the November Paris attacks, a series of coordinated attacks in Beirut killed forty-three. In 2015, the beaches of Sousee in Tunisia, Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi gunned down thirty-nine British tourists while in 2016 Omar Mateen slaughtered forty-nine party-goers in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The growing list of countries' citizens who have been butchered and maimed by ISIS extends into Yemen, Afghanistan, the wider Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Kuwait and Turkey. These attacks have been supported by smaller acts of militancy in Ottawa, Lyon, Copenhagen, San Bernandino, Jakarta, Dakha, Sydney and beyond.
France lies at the heart of ISIS's campaign against major Western and Middle Eastern cities. Since the cell's declaration of a caliphate in 2014, three major attacks in Paris and Nice and a series of smaller attacks have claimed the lives of two-hundred and thirty nine French civilians and security personnel and wounded over seven-hundred and fifty. The statistics pouring out of France in themselves indicate how deeply the blowback of the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars and catastrophic adventurism of Western policymakers since 9/11 and Arab revolutions are cutting into states, societies and cities across North America, Europe, and the Middle East.
Equally the atrocities in Nice illustrate how the Western wars against ISIS in Syria and Iraq are continuing to fail to crush ISIS's insurgency at a local, regional and global level through conventional military action absent political and socio-economic solutions. ISIS's conventional military operations and ambitions as a state may have stalled, but it has merely switched back to its most potent and honed strategy of war; sowing political, communal and societal divisions and altering national politics and military policy for the worst through urban terrorism and asymmetrical warfare. ISIS's territories may have shrunk in Syria, Iraq and Libya in conventional combat, but ISIS's strength lies in its decentralised structure.
ISIS's classic formula of savage urban terrorism is producing its best results and cementing its reputation of terror in the imaginations of policymakers, societies, individuals, and worst of all inspiring extremists. Suicide bombings derailed the Americans ill-fated attempts at regime change in Iraq and proved to be a lethal catalyst for tit-for-tat Shiite and Sunni pogroms and religious-nationalist violence. Attacks across Europe, as seen in the aftermath of the Paris and Nice attacks, are precisely designed to foment racial and religious war, civil unrest, hate crimes in a self-serving cycle of violence, and bolster the destructive 'War of Civilisations' narrative fed by violent and non-violent extremists, nationalists, secularists, and religious zealots from across the spectrum. It is impossible to forget the most devastating application of this formula was conducted by Al-Qa'ida, whose murder of nearly three-thousand civilians led to the misapplication of American political and military power across the globe, the most devastating consequences of which were felt in the Middle East.
To brand ISIS's ideology and violence as harkening back to medieval brutality is a gross oversimplification. The groups prescription of puritanical violence is propelled forward by technological revolution, the unprecedented ascension of information and developments driving a hyper-modern world woven together by globalisation. ISIS may be bi-product of the instability across vast swathes of the Middle East and South Asia, but it has also successfully tapped into contemporary socio-political and economic grievances across the world. ISIS is a terrorist group, sub-state, and army supported by a movement of freelance militants, self-fashioned jihadists, and non-violent extremists driven by an ultra-violent, anti-establishment revolutionary ideology.
Conventional warfare, air-raids and covert war waged against ISIS's citadels in Raqqa, Mosul, Ramadi, Fallujah, Tikrit, Sinjar, and Palmyra cannot destroy ISIS because it is not a conventional terrorist group such as the Taleban nor can intelligence thwart all attacks and track all these individuals who have pledged themselves to ISIS's revolutionary movement. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, however the way ISIS conducts its operations and gain such traction at a series of different levels is unprecedented. ISIS is several entities at once, it creates terror through spectacular acts of violence yet is also shrouded in ambivalence. It is a defined yet undefined threat. In medieval times, a Middle Eastern militia (which effectively what ISIS started as) would not have been able to accomplish such a thing.
ISIS's most significant success, while rooted in its blood-stained onslaught upon the Middle East and Europe, is that it has bridged the gap between being a terrorist organisation and a movement and made its culture of violence mainstream. Whether or not Bouhel, a petty criminal, was following direct orders from ISIS's elite operating in Syria does not matter. Bouhel was a member of this movement and this is the most consequential aspect of ISIS's existence. Its sanctified, anti-establishment, and sectarian brand of brutality which targets everyone is in mainstream currents of political and ideological violence.
The movement has attracted tens of thousands of fighters, affiliates, collaborators and sympathisers who subscribe to their ideology. Many thousands of these individuals have not even gone to the Middle East to fight with ISIS, many are home-grown European, Russian or American nationals who have been living in their countries for several generations. While these numbers are poultry when measured against the billions of Muslims who despise ISIS world-wide these numbers are enough to be significant as Mehdi Hasan notes:
"ISIS...has been a disaster for the public image of Islam - and a boon for the Islamophobia industry...Above all else, such rhetoric is dangerous and self-defeating, as it provides Baghdadi and his minions with the propaganda prize and recruiting tool that the most crave."
The narratives of terrorism and Islamic militancy dominate mainstream political, military and media discourse across the globe. At the other end of the spectrum ISIS has constructed an equally potent narratives which glorifies in slaughtering infidels and takfiri and exports Holy War across the globe. The thousands of people which comprise ISIS's movement are more than enough to do serious damage as its self-created freelance jihadists and groups of young men and women staging attacks bask in the theatre of terror which 24/7 hour news provides. It is a tit-for-tat cycle which has gained an almost unstoppable momentum. These distorted and poisonous narratives feed off of each other, they misguide and they breed stereotypes while segregating and alienating communities from each other. It is a tit-for-tat cycle which has gained an almost unstoppable momentum.
In a time when Europe and United States is witnessing the reemergence of far-right politics, hate crime against European and American Muslims and other minorities, economic stagnation, racist rhetoric against migrants and refugees fleeing war zones, and a fast-growing list of demagogues promising security and demonising Muslims for covert political agendas, the implications for the Europe and the wider Western world are disturbing.
An ISIS army will not charge into Europe on horseback, they will not plant the flag on the White House, and Baghdadi will not be triumphantly overlooking the Pacific after capturing the final American fortress in Hawaii. Such alarmist thinking overshadows the more sinister and complex threats as Western communities grapple with its identities and values like never before in this cruel post-9/11 world. The likes of ISIS are simply banking on policymakers and the public to keep undermining our own civil societies and liberties while promoting demagogues like Trump, Farage and Le Pen as each attack pushes us closer to disorder and unrest. ISIS's ideology thrives on disorder, it is a war of attrition and ideas which will last decades and Western states are playing into their hands as ISIS simultaneously forces their hand with each attack. The tragedy of Nice will be remembered as another chapter in Europe's seemingly unstoppable slide into an era of hybrid terror and hyper-security.