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ISIS’s Lineage of Terror

Monday 23 November 2015, by siawi3


Kamel Daoud

Nov. 19, 2015

In every myth, the monster has a father and a mother. And so it is with ISIS.

After Sept. 11 comes Sept. 12. During the first day, you wonder who the dead are. During the second, you ask yourself: “Who killed them?†The mechanism has become global, and every country seems fated to experience such an episode of generalized horror.

The mechanism is very simple: Islamist jihadis succeed in carrying out a big, spectacular attack and quickly claim responsibility for it, justifying it as the revenge of a religion (which they’ve taken hostage) against the West, which they see as the source of all evils. That’s the simplified version. After the shock of hundreds of dead, people in the targeted country – in the targeted world – awaken to the same questions: Who attacked us? Why did they attack us? What can we do to stop such attacks?

The replies to these questions have by now become routine. The attackers claim to be avenging a religion they’ve held hostage for years; they attack in the name of God, of Palestine, of the Crusades, of vengeance, or of creating the universal Islamist republic. But they also attack in the name of the frustrations born of failed decolonization, or hopeless economic misery, or the desire to retaliate for an aggression. Yesterday we talked about Al Qaeda; today we talk about Daesh. And this question is on every tongue: What is this monster, who is it, how does it exist? ISIS has pushed the art of horrible propaganda very far: prisoners immolated, homosexuals sentenced to be thrown to their deaths from on high, children shot, women buried alive, sites that formed part of the memory of humanity destroyed…etc. All this has petrified the world and engendered an unusual dread. Daesh looks like a monstrosity that wants to devour and destroy the West. The media microscope, however, makes people forget that the vast majority of ISIS’s victims are Muslims. But the question remains: What – and who – is Daesh?

In every myth, the monster has a father and a mother. And so it is with ISIS: Its father is George Bush’s America, and its mother is Saudi Arabia. The former provided it with the pretext of the disastrous invasion of Iraq. This invasion was seen as a rape of the Arab world, it was based on a lie — the false link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein — and it destroyed the West’s moral superiority. As for ISIS’s mother, this strange theocracy is simultaneously allied with the West through the Saudi royal family and opposed to the West by an ideology that is the product of a vicious and very active clergy.

Saudi Arabia remains the ideological factory for jihadism with an “industry†of theologians it supports financially. They propagate their vision through books and television channels throughout the Arab world and far beyond. Saudi Arabia is both a victim and a source of terrorist ideas. The West oddly denies this aspect of the question, which is barely analyzed and almost rejected; the courteous media has made Saudi Arabia an ally against the devil – i.e. Iran – and allowed the terrible mechanism to remain masked: The Kingdom is the matrix of the religious doctrines that move suicide bombers to believe killing makes them eternal and God is on their side.

ISIL is the offspring of Saudi Arabia and the Iraq War, a fact geography makes obvious. The frustrations that have led to the pious convictions of today’s ISIS recruits stem from the war, but also from the religious vision proposed to them: in lieu of having the world, they devise the end of the world! The West hasn’t paid sufficient attention to the fact that the Muslim world of today is in the grip of a veritable cultural Daesh, which propagates itself and takes elites, states, and entire countries hostage. Through its propaganda, cultural Daesh exposes the contradictions of the West. And there’s also an aspect of the disaster that’s oddly invisible to the West and that makes a definitive victory over Daesh, one achieved by bombing alone, highly unlikely: the monster will be reborn in the Sahel or in Libya. The reason? Recruits may be killed, but not their ideas and not their motivations.

The mechanism of Sept. 12, the long post-attack days, are now routine: get upset, announce a global war, miss the target and fall back on democracies made secure by Patriot Acts, intensified surveillance and turning inward. The strange result of a big attack is that the accused are imprisoned in Guantánamo, but it’s the West that finds itself incarcerated and subjected to the torture of its contradictions and its powerlessness, and in a bigger prison!

What generally happens on a 12th of September? The killers are investigated – their identities, their passports. It’s discovered that they come from certain countries, and those countries are put on trial. This suits the people who commission terrorist attacks just fine, it’s all they could wish: The Syrian passport found on one of the Paris killers is a bomb with a long fuse. Cleverly imagined, this important piece of evidence deliberately left at the scene of the crime is going to provoke the reaction Daesh wants: closed borders and rejection of the refugees in Europe. Trapped where they live, the Syrians or the Kurds or the Iraqis will be obliged to choose, to fight for one side or the other. It’s one of the best means of recruitment there is. The border closings will accentuate cultural splits and draw the map of a bipolar world. Such has been the basis of religious holy wars throughout human history.

Daesh’s propaganda is, incidentally, an art in itself. It operates in the gaps of Western discourse, in the West’s contradictions and its actions in crises and wars (Palestine, Bosnia, Iraq, etc.); its culture rests on financing, which oil money assures, and it carries the fight to other cultures to point up differences. It attacks symbols of the economy in the USA (the World Trade Center), then manifestations of democracy in France (Charlie Hebdo), and finally a way of life: The attackers of Friday November 13 targeted a music concert, a soccer match, and the terrace of a café. Seen another way, French diversity was the target: you attack the country that houses the largest Muslim population in Europe to create a rupture and contribute to the ascent of the extreme right. A Syrian passport closes the doors of Europe, and the Muslims of France stand accused of the attacks. A cunning strategy: France, country of diversity, comes under attack to force Muslims to react and get radicalized by the Republic’s coming security state. Daesh has learned a lesson from other attacks and seems to be giving more thought to the significance of its actions and their targets.

The 12th of September involves another horrible routine, which is to demonstrate Western weakness. The West bombs and places suspects on file and pursues others and puts some of them in prison. This gets good results from the security viewpoint but doesn’t resolve the problem; Daesh will continue to exist. Because its father and mother are still alive and nourishing it. It will have brothers, because cultural Daesh is spreading, on thousands of TV channels and in the millions of free books funded by oil money and flooding the Muslim world. Daesh will continue to speak, because it will speak in the name of unresolved crises in Palestine and Israel or elsewhere and will promise paradise thanks to economic failures and thieving dictatorships and stolen hopes in the Arab world. And it will know how to exploit the conspiracy theories and cultural clashes that infest the Internet. As seen by the West, Daesh is a product of “Arab or Muslim culture,†which is deemed “incapable of conceiving democracy†; as seen by the Muslim world, Daesh can be interpreted as a creation of Israel, or of the Americans, or of the CIA or Mossad or the enemies of Islam.

Ultimately, everyone washes their hands of ISIS, and that organization washes its hands in our blood.

Translated by John Cullen.

Kamel Daoud is an Algerian journalist based in Oran, where he writes for the Quotidien d’Oran and Le Point. He is the author of the bestselling novel The Meursault Investigation.

John Cullen is the translator of many books from Spanish, French, German, and Italian, including Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck, Juli Zeh’s Decompression, Yasmina Reza’s Happy Are the Happy, and Chantal Thomas’s The Exchange of Princesses. He lives in upstate New York.

This appears in the November 30, 2015 issue of TIME.