05 December 2014

Why Do People Join ISIS?

There is a new UN Security Council report which claims that ISIS recruits its fighters from over 80 different countries from around the world.

You might have heard of the three thousands Europeans, the Kosovars, the Turks or the North Africans.

But have you heard of the ISIS fighter with a Chilean-Norwegian ancestry?

Or the Maldives Chapter of ISIS?

That's them marching in the capital with their black flag.

Okay, you may want to sit down for this one: did you know that a handful of young French Jews converted to Islam and then joined ISIS?

Or this: a Jewish teenager traveled to Syria with a group of 100 young women to become an ISIS comfort woman?

I know what you are thinking: signs of the Apocalypse.


But the question is: Why would young men and women from Canada, the UK, Australia, France and tens of other countries travel thousands of miles and jump through considerable hoops to join a merry band of idiot beheaders.

Or, how does a young man, working in a regular 9 to 5 job in London, decide one day to travel to Syria or Iraq to become Jihadi John and to start butchering innocent people on camera?

How about the hundreds of Turks, Chechnyans, Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Libyans, Egyptians, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Jordanians, Yemenis, Indonesians and Malaysians who joined ISIS?

This is a very popular question to which many, many, many experts provided answers. The majority of them centers around a misguided youth, former drug use and hanging out with the wrong crowd, and almost all of them have a "them weird and scary folks" subtext for Muslims.

I am sure there are many cases that are driven by the psychopathology of the individual (the young Jewish woman comes to mind) or religious delusion.

But I believe that ISIS' attraction is due to a very clever and radical answer it provided to a fundamental schism in Muslim identity. No other Jihadi organization has ever attempted what ISIS achieved.

To explain what that is, I have to make a large detour and cover the beginning of the identity issue, its mid-term radicalization and its sharpening after 9/11.

Hang in there, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

The Flightless Phoenixes Rising From the Ashes of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was based on what is known as the Millet system. Millet is now translated as "nation" but at the time, it referred to people's religious affiliation and was used to identify specific religious communities.

In fact, if you are not familiar with the Ottoman history, you might be surprised to find out that no one under the Ottoman rule referred to themselves as Turks: that was a European denomination (as described in Edward Said's Orientalism).

Ottomans recognized only Muslims, Christians and Jews (People of the Book) and consequently what we identify today as Turks, Kurds, Arabs or some Albanians and Bosnians were grouped together as just Muslims.

When the Ottoman Empire came to an end in 1919, it had already lost most of its Balkan and Middle Eastern provinces. Each newly liberated entity tried to come up with a new national identity.

And that is not as easy as it sounds. There were 600 years that they could not use for nation building.

To overcome this problem, they used three techniques which have since become nearly universal, especially after the decolonization: Going way back in history to find a narrative to anchor their identity. Creating national mythologies about their superiority. And defining themselves ethnically to compensate for the cultural discontinuity in their more recent history.

Greeks were the first ones to come up with the magical formula, as they were one of the first to secede from the Empire and had a glorious pre-history into which they could dip. But it was not an easy ride for the neighboring Albanians and the people of former Yugoslavia.

And things were much worse for the group previously known as Muslims. How do you live as Muslims in non-Islamic States as something other than Muslims?
Salman Sayyid, who teaches at Leeds University and is the author of Recalling the Caliphate, compares it to Charles I's execution, which opened up so many profound questions about the roles of parliament and the crown. In the same way, he says, Muslim thinkers in the 1920s suddenly found they had to ask fundamental questions they had never confronted before: "Do Muslims need to live in an Islamic State? What should that state be like?"
Using the Greek formula would be difficult, because most new entities, created by the Sykes-Picot agreements, had no pre-history to dip into.

The only viable candidate was Egypt and, like Greece in the Balkans, they took the lead. Egyptians had an equally glorious pharaoh past. They combined it with ethnicity and came up with Pan-Arabism. The prefix enabled them to offer the shiny new Arab identity to other Arab countries like Syria, Iraq and later Libya (as in, United Arab Republic, and the Federation of Arab Republics).

Turks were even more confused. In one day, they moved from being the Sword of Islam who provided the Caliphs to the people who abolished that 1300 years old institution.

Where do you go with that identity-wise, especially if you never recognized yourself as Turks?

They had to use the same approach: Create a whole new identity through ancient history, mythology plus ethnicity. To achieve this they unearthed dubious creation mythologies like Ergenekon and reclaimed hitherto obscure Central Asian entities as their forefathers.

Given their current nationalistic fervor, you might be surprised to find out that it took a steady propaganda diet to convince Turks that they were, in fact, Turks. And that being a Turk was a good thing.

The problem with this formula is that, national identities in Europe emerged as a result of bourgeois classes spreading their wings against ancien regimes. In a fairly lengthy process, they pushed aside the aristocracy, the monarchy and the church. In their place, we saw the rise of business classes to a position of power through a system of limited representation and the formation of the ideological edifice of modernity, including secularism, rationalism and the scientific method.

There was no such classes and no such aspirations in the former Ottoman provinces. Without a bourgeois class, components of modernity like rationalism, secularism and nationalism are vacuous notions, especially when compared to a comprehensive and all-encompassing source of identity like Islam.

You see, unlike other religions that you might be familiar with, Islam is not a belief system based on abstract moral precepts. It's main structure is a series of practical guidelines that direct you in every aspect of your daily life. There are rules about what you eat or drink, how you enter a room, what you wear, how you conduct your business, how to talk to other people or even how you have sex. There is no separation of the social and the political. Or the public and the private. Every realm is governed by Islam with very specific and practice-oriented rules.

In that sense, Islam is quite similar to Judaism. The Judeo-Christian continuity is certainly relevant in terms of the Old and New Testaments but the deeper continuity remains regional: both Judaism and Islam are religions of what Karen Armstrong calls orthopraxy (i.e. purity of practice) governing the entire realm of human activities.

The modernist rulers of these new entities, from Ataturk to Nasser, who were mainly cognizant of the European transition from Christianity to modernity, did not understand the sway of orthopraxy. And how ineffective nationalism/modernity would be to fill the gap left by Islam. Especially in a setting where national identities stemmed from artificial narratives and dubious ethnic profiles.

Unsurprisingly, banishing Islam from the daily life and relying on their own pronouncements about the primacy of the nation and the importance of being modern simply produced autocratic regimes characterized by a personality cult.

Later events showed us that all that was required for those weak national identities to crumble was a push from a more structured and purist version of Islam.

And that was provided by the global expansion of the House of Wahhab through the madrassas and Koranic courses financed by Saudi Arabia after 1979 and the radical imams they dispatched to every corner of the world.

Why did they do it, you might ask. And why after 1979.

It is an interesting tale.

House of Saud, House of Wahhab and the Bin Laden Prequel

The political system of Saudi Arabia is quite similar to the Divine Rights of Kings setup in feudal Europe, whereby a religious institution (in this case, the descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who are the holders of the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam) confers legitimacy to an absolute monarch (one of the descendants of  Muhammad bin Saud, the founder of the House of Saud).

One side needs the other to exist. This worked out nicely once the deal was struck between those two men in the second half of the 18th century and helped the House of Saud immensely after they got their independence from the Ottoman Empire early in the 20th century.

Let me note three things here.

Wahhabis call themselves Muwahhidin after the Tawhid principle emphasized by ibn Abd al-Wahab and repudiate the term Wahhabi as a deification of their founder. Second, the descendants of ibn Abd al-Wahab are known as Al ash Sheikh (House of the Sheikh) so my term House of Wahhab is not meant to be accurate but evocative. Third, they are not simple Jihadis, they see themselves as a religious reform movement. They want to review the Koran and Sunnah to uncover the original thinking of early Muslims. However, they are willing to participate in any Jihad and become Mujaheddin, as they did in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Back to our story.

Sticking to an austere form of Islam was not difficult for poor and rural people; it might have made their harsh life bearable. But once huge reserves of oil were discovered in 1938, the ensuing wealth accumulation, urbanization and consumerism became major challenges for Wahhabi Islam. Muwahhidin tried to slow down the creeping Westernization and the growing distance between the Saudi society and the communal life of early Muslims.

They protested in vein when two TV stations were launched in 1965. They demonstrated constantly against the liberalization of Saudi society in the 1970s. Despite all their efforts, as the country experienced a 25-fold revenue increase between 1970-1979, large pockets of Saudi society began to look more like Iran under the Pahlavi dynasty than Medina under the Rashidun.

And that did not sit well with the Wahhabi ulema. After all, they were the ones providing the legitimacy of the House of Saud. Not Aramco.

The turning point was the siege of Mecca by Juhayman al-Otaybi. That is the well-groomed guy on the right. On 20 November 1979, he invaded the Grand Mosque of Mecca with several hundred armed companions.

What he stood for was very similar to what Bin Laden had asked before joining the Jihadis: "a return to the original ways of Islam, among other things; a repudiation of the West; an end of education of women; abolition of television and expulsion of non-Muslims."

Eventually, the ulema allowed the King to use force to dislodge them from the Mosque and they were arrested and later beheaded.

Here is the crunch.

Even though al-Otaybi was very closely linked to the Wahhabi ulema, once the siege ended, the Saudi king decided that they should be given everything they wanted and more.
Saudi King Khaled did not react to the upheaval by cracking down on religious puritans in general, but by giving the ulama and religious conservatives more power over the next decade. He is thought to have believed that "the solution to the religious upheaval was simple -- more religion." 
First photographs of women in newspapers were banned, then women on television. Cinemas and music shops were shut down. School curriculum was changed to provide many more hours of religious studies, eliminating classes on subjects like non-Islamic history. Gender segregation was extended "to the humblest coffee shop". The religious police became more assertive.
The reason for that seemingly contradictory decision is quite simple. Contrary to what many people assume, Wahhabis make up only 23 percent of the Saudi population and they are mostly concentrated around Najd. In fact, depending on who is counting, there might be more Shia in Saudi Arabia than Wahhabis.

Any situation that jeopardizes the "dominant minority" status of Wahhabis is a direct threat to the House of Saud whose ruling family status is solely based on the legitimacy provided by the House of Wahhab. As a group concentrated in one region and powerless to stop increasing Westernization and consumerism, Wahhabis were rapidly losing ground. The siege set the alarms off and King Khaled moved in decisively to halt that erosion. It was threatening his family's rule.

And he did not stop there.

The House of Saud gave huge sums of petrodollars to the House of Wahhab for them to export their radical vision of Islam.

Once again, they were motivated by self-preservation, as their goal was to push Pan Islamism as an alternative to Nasser's Pan Arabism. They were afraid that Arabs, in general, might be tempted to follow Egypt's lead and eventually their kingdom could be swept away by the nationalism of the masses. In fact, their fight against Pan Arabism predates 1979 but after the siege they decided to redouble their efforts.

And it was a massive undertaking.

Madrassas and Radical Imams Funded by Saudi Arabia

Since 1979, Saudi Arabia spent over $100 billion to finance madrassas and to support the work of radical imams.
Over more than two decades, Saudi Arabia has lavished around $100 billion or more on the worldwide promotion of the violent, intolerant and crudely puritanical Wahhabist sect of Islam that the ruling royal family espouses. (...)
This included financing 210 Islamic centres, 1,500 mosques, 202 colleges and 2,000 madrassas (religious schools). 
Various estimates put the amount the Saudi government spends on these missionary institutions as up to $3 billion a year.
These are conservative estimates as they do not include the huge sums channeled through Islamist charities.

Everybody knows Saudi Arabia'a leading role in radicalizing Islam.

But did you know that, in most settings, these Islamization funds were handled by military regimes?

For instance, there were 137 madrassas in Pakistan at independence. In 2008, they had over 12,000. And oddly enough, it was the work of the generals.

The ghoulish Zia ul Haq, who overthrew the civilian government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1978, announced a new education policy in 1979, right about the time Saudi petrodollars began to flow to the world:
Zia’s 1979 education policy envisaged 5,000 mosque schools and established a National Committee for Deeni Madaris to transform madrassas “into an integral part of our educational system” (ICG Asia Report 2002, p.10). 
Zia also instituted a system of compulsory zakat (Islamic tax) according to which a certain amount was deducted from bank balances and spent on religious purposes and institutions “worthy of support.” This led to a rapid growth in religious schools and institutions at the local level as it created powerful incentives for opening religious schools.
Similarly, a 1980 coup in Turkey brought to power a military government that viewed Sunni Islam as the unifying ideology of the country.
The Turkish-Islamic Synthesis (..) rose to become the de facto state ideology. In practice, this meant (...) huge budget increases for the Religious Affairs Directorate, rapid building of new mosques and opening of Quran courses, the introduction of mandatory religion classes in state schools (only on Sunni Islam), more tolerance for religious bureaucrats, active encouragement of religious organizations, and a widening of opportunities for graduates of religious imam hatip high schools. In this way, the professedly secular military “tactically open[ed] up a social and political space for Islamist mobilization in Turkey.”
It has been estimated that in the aftermath of the coup, over 14,000 Koranic courses began to operate in Turkey.

So much for the modernizing and secular military elite.

You look at Egypt and you see the same process of Islamization around the same time. There too, the supposedly secular military took the lead. First, Sadat changed the Constitution and introduced the notion that Sharia was the principal source of legislation. He then eliminated the social safety net brought in under Nasser, making the Islamic charities the principal source of welfare assistance for the needy.

Guess where their money came from?

After Sadat was killed, his replacement, Hosni Mubarak, continued the same policies.

You can see this process replicated in all Muslim countries. For instance, Suharto in Indonesia was late to the party but he covered the same ground much faster.

On the right, you see the original promoter of Pancasilia ideology after a radical change of heart in 1991 sporting his new name (Haji Muhammad Suharto) and Islamic garment after pilgrimage.

It is estimated that a quarter of Indonesian primary and secondary school students attend pesantrens (Islamic religious schools).

While financing this massive process of Islamization in previously secular Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia turned its attention to the 15 to 20 million displaced Muslims in Western Europe.
Although not a source of emigrants, wealthy Saudi Arabia has played a major role in sponsoring the construction of mosques, Islamic centers and schools in Europe, and has supplied them with their own imams. 
The initial wave of immigrants to France (primarily Algerian and North Africans) or Germany (Turks) or the UK (Pakistanis) were secular. In France, they tended to assimilate as there was no language barrier and inter-ethnic marriages were not frowned upon. In Germany, Turks kept mostly to themselves, always thinking of their presence there as a temporary arrangement. In the UK, the Pakistanis were in between the two cases, where their linguistic advantage was offset by the British society's unwillingness to assimilate them.

Still, all these groups accepted their minority status as a given and kept their focus on their economic activities. However, this was not the case for the second generation. They were bitter about their second class citizen status and their "neither here, nor there" identities. If their parents' national identities were weak, theirs were far too fragile to withstand any questioning.

In that context, the radical imams in their freshly built mosques and community centers set out to work. Not surprisingly, they were very successful in countries like France, the UK, the Netherlands or Germany where they could influence the second generation of disaffected Muslims.
A Nixon Center study of 373 mujahideen in western Europe and North America between 1993 and 2004 found more than twice as many Frenchmen as Saudis and more Britons than Sudanese, Yemenites, Emiratis, Lebanese, or Libyans. Fully a quarter of the jihadists it listed were western European nationals.
Conversely, these imams failed to attract people into Jihad in countries like Spain and Italy where most of the migrants arrived after 1990.

These two elements, that is, weak national identities and the diffusion of radical Islam that challenged them provided the ingredients of our Jihadi bomb.

They created the "Us" part of the identity.

To complete the circuit, we needed a "Them" component.

And that was furnished by the cataclysmic event we call simply 9/11.


The attack on the Twin Towers will one day be marked as one of the most important events in modern history. It literally changed the course of history.

But for our purposes here, its most important consequences were to convince hundreds of millions of Muslims that "the West" was out to destroy Islam and Muslims.

In Muslim countries, the preaching of the radical imams had already laid the groundwork by citing the examples of Bosnia and Chechnya where people seemed to be oppressed, attacked and killed just for being Muslim. It seemed like this was the case everywhere, even in India.

When 9/11 occurred, from W's fateful decision to declare a crusade to his determination to invade a Muslim country that had nothing to do with that attack, everything seemed to fit with what the radical imams had been saying in madrassas and mosques around the globe. For the pious masses it was now crystal clear that the West was determined to destroy Islam.

Mind you, this was not just a skewed and off-the-mark perception foisted upon gullible people by some evil clerics. It contained a solid empirical basis. As Colonel Bacevich recently noted, since 1980, the US bombed, invaded or occupied 14 Muslim countries.
Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.
[hat tip Greenwald]
So, it wasn't too hard to back up those claims.

Moreover, in the West, the public opinion turned frosty towards Muslim immigrants. In the months after 9/11, there were a series of violent attacks against anyone looking Muslim-ish. Anti-Muslim violence was on the rise in Europe as well, even though most EU members do not collect statistics on the subject.

In a recent book, Glenn Greenwald suggested that a multi-tier justice system emerged after 9/11 with Muslims at the bottom as sub-persons.
One of the things that I talk about in the book is that there has always been a two-tier justice system where (...) if you are wealthy and well connected (...) you are basically insulated from accountability even for egregious law breaking. And then there is the second tier, where if you are poor and powerless, you are subjected to entirely different rules, you have this incredibly harsh criminal justice system that comes crashing down upon you even for trivial transgressions. 
But now there is even this lower tier, a tier of nonpersons, or sub-persons, where there is not even the pretense of the rule of law, and that is basically Muslims who are accused in some way of being involved with the support of terrorism. (...) And so you see the creation of an even lower category of the law that is very much grounded in this bias against Islam and Muslims that is just a further distortion and deviation of the idea of equality before the law.
While the first generation of Muslims in Western Europe remained shaken by this new situation, the second generation, their kids, who grew up with the echos of the radical imams' fervent sermons, were swept by the lure of this comprehensive identity that channeled their anger and frustration and sense of victimization.

It enabled them to replace the dubious and second class identity of their parents with the idea of belonging to a global community regardless of class, ethnicity and skin color.

And joining was easy.

Show up for prayers, listen to the imam. For the rest, Wahhabi imams distilled the entire religion into two simple behavioral rules.

No alcohol and women have to cover themselves.

There are a number of studies that established that the use of Islamic garments like burqa, niqab or hijab skyrocketed after 9/11. It was both a statement of defiance and a sign of belonging to a larger community.

But, as is always the case, women ended up paying a much higher price for the same defiance. What began as a sort of protest act, soon led to tremendous intra-community pressure on women who refused to cover themselves up.  Moreover, it also served to marginalize Muslim women and justify overt discrimination against them.

The second generation's sense of being targeted and victimization triggered other pointless acts of defiance like open air Friday prayers in some suburbs of Paris.These and countless other polarizing acts were actively encouraged by the radical imams in Western Europe.

For instance, the best known case, the infamous cartoons for the Prophet incident, was wholly fabricated by these imams. The 12 cartoons were published in September 2005 in a local Danish paper and nobody cared much. A local association filed a complaint with the authorities but that was it. Until that is, a few months later, some European imams began a tour of the Middle East to whip up some reaction and as we know they succeeded beyond measure.

Helping those imams gleefully were the right wing parties like Front National in France or the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. They discovered that pointing to the nature morte created by these radical imams, a.k.a. the second generation Muslim men with shaved heads, long beards and shalwar kameez outfits with niqab wearing wife in tow was a surefire way to get more votes. And engaging in debates about the violent and misogynous nature of Islam proved to be even better.

And they did. And the other side said, I see your bet and I raise you.

In that sense, you could say that, given the inherent problems with the Muslim identity, the public reaction after 9/11 and the goading of radical imams provided the perfect platform for Jihadi recruitment.

But there is one more element to the puzzle. Why did they choose ISIS over any other Jihadi outfit, including and especially al Qaeda?

That, as they say, is an excellent question.


If you have been reading this blog for some time, you might be aware that I am fascinated by ISIS or more correctly, by the forces that seem to be behind ISIS. I maintain that ISIS actions cannot be explained if we go with the assumption that they are a bunch of displaced Muslim youngsters trying to reach martyrdom.

They are far too skillful for that. Their military strategies are exceptional and military operations are highly efficient. Their multimedia empire is peerless and their ideological moves are very intelligent.

There is simply no such Jihadi organization in the world. More importantly, there is absolutely no reason for a Jihadi organization to built itself like ISIS and to do what ISIS has been doing.

I would suggest that the main reason why people from 80 different countries flock to ISIS is the fact that the new and radically different identity it offers solves more than one problem: Joining ISIS frees you from your past allegiances, provides you with redemption and resets the Muslim identity question that arose in the aftermath of the abolition of the Caliphate.

Look at this poster.

It says "Jihad is purification no matter who you are or what sins you have, no good deeds are needed to come before it. Don't let nothing hold you back."

And the punchline, "Sometimes people with the worst pasts create the best futures."

I was wrong to call them the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS. The team behind this is anything but. Selling redemption is not easy and clearly ISIS has the tools and the creative team to conduct a very successful advertising and marketing campaign.

You know of their incredible multimedia machine and their astute use of social networks. They have film studios churning out high quality, feature length movies.

They tweet incessantly their battle exploits to a growing global audience. They have Android apps that can re-tweet those messages eliminating the possibility of blocking their marketing efforts.

Their slick campaign targets specific market segments and speaks the language of these media-savvy young people.

But this is not all marketing, there is substance behind all this.

After their initial successes, ISIS did something unexpected. It changed its name to Islamic State and declared itself the Caliphate. I have to confess that, at the time, I did not get the significance and cleverness of this move.

I knew that symbolically, ISIS was striving to give to those lost Muslim masses a chance to recreate the golden age of the Rashidun.
Seventy years after the Prophet's death, this Muslim world stretched from Spain and Morocco right the way to Central Asia and to the southern bits of Pakistan, so a huge empire that was all… under the control of a single Muslim leader," says historian Prof Hugh Kennedy. "And it's this Muslim unity, the extent of Muslim sovereignty, that people above all look back to." 
But I did not immediately grasp the enormous significance of ISIS' move. By changing its name and the nature of their organization, ISIS provided a clear and definitive answer to the question that emerged after the abolition of the Caliphate.
 "Do Muslims need to live in an Islamic State? What should that state be like?"
The answer was yes and that new state was to be called the Islamic State.

Hence the name change.

In short, ISIS provided a brutal and radical solution to the Muslim identity issue that emerged after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate.

Or to put it more economically, ISIS reset the clock to 1924 and rendered the national identities moot.

Hence the attraction.

20 October 2014

Turkey's Growing Isolation

Several items for your consideration:

-  Last week, there was an election for five non-permanent members of the UN's Security Council. Turkey was one of the three countries to compete for the two seats reserved for the voting bloc known as Western European and Others.

Turkey's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu was quite confident as he boasted, during a pre-celebratory cocktail at Waldorf Astoria, that their candidacy received supporting letters from 160 countries.

In the end, in a humiliating defeat, Turkey lost out to New Zealand (145 votes) and Spain (132 votes), receiving only 60 votes.

Tellingly, this normally obscure and underreported event was the top news item on BBC and Newsweek announced the results as "Turkey Loses U.N. Security Council Seat in a Huge Upset." Most news outlets indicated that these results were directly attributable to Turkey's dubious and cynical policies in the Middle East.

-  Also last week, General John Allen, Obama's special envoy for the coalition against ISIS and Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state met with Turkish officials for two days to get them to commit to specific steps against ISIS. They failed.

In between, National Security Adviser Susan Rice announced that the Turkish government agreed to the use of its Incirlik base for strikes against ISIS.

Within hours, a Turkish government spokesperson denied the existence of such an agreement.

- Still last week, the US held its first ever direct talks with PYD, the main Syrian Kurdish political group, which is also affiliated with the PKK. Considering that the PKK is labeled a terrorist organization by the US and EU, this is not an insignificant development.

On Sunday 19 October, Obama called Erdogan to urge him to do more to help the Kurdish rebels. A few hours later, Erdogan said this to reporters
“In recent days there is an idea floating around of giving arms to the PYD in order to fight against ISIL. The PYD for us is the same as the PKK and that is a terrorist organization. It would be wrong to expect a ‘yes’ as an answer from us [for full cooperation] if a friendly country and a NATO ally like the U.S. openly admits such support for a terrorist organization.”
In other words, "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would not allow Kurdish fighters to receive any transfers of American arms."

Within hours, the US Central Command (Centcom) announced that several C-130 cargo planes made multiple drop of arms, ammunition and other supplies to Kobani.

Centcom also said that it conducted 135 air attacks against ISIS, 11 of which took place in the last two days.

To sum up, in the last five days, Turkey lost its seemingly solid bid to be a member of the Security Council for two years. It witnessed its primary ally the US to start a direct relationship with an organization Turkey considers a terrorist group. The same ally increased the number of sorties and air strikes to help the Kurdish defenders of Kobani. And when Turkey refused to allow the supply of arms to Syrian Kurds, the US bypassed it completely and dropped whatever supplies it deemed necessary.

If Erdogan does not get the message, I think the head of a race horse on his bed will be the next signal.


The message has been received.
In a policy reversal, Turkey is to allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross the Syrian border to fight Islamic State (IS) militants in Kobane. (...)

The announcement came shortly after the US carried out air drops of weapons to Kobane's Kurdish fighters. (...)
The Turkish announcement is a surprise and a significant shift. 
It turns out that when Obama called Erdogan, he informed the Turkish President that air drops were going to take place.

I picture Obama rolling his four fingers under his chin while sporting a crooked De Niro smile.

17 October 2014

Turkey, ISIS and the Kurds: A Case Study in Cynicism

A good friend of mine asked me an interesting question.

She wanted to know why the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS are so determined to massacre Kurds and take the Kurdish border town of Kobani.

The answer is not as straightforward as you might think and it includes a heavy dose of cynicism on the part of Turkey and some other silent players.

Let me start with a few reminders about ISIS.

Cynical Mercenaries

When the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS popped into our collective consciousness barely four months ago, we knew very little about them.

The more we found out the less their stated goals made sense.

For instance, we realized that they had no interest in fighting against the staunchly secular government of Bashar al-Assad. This is the guy whose father was (in)famous for ruthlessly massacring ten of thousands of Islamists.

Similarly, we learned that ISIS had no interest in extending its Jihadist message to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. They say that is because they consider Hamas apostate.
One tweet stated, “The Hamas government is apostate, and what it is doing does not constitute jihad, but rather a defense of democracy [which Salafists oppose].” Another tweet said, “Khaled Meshaal: Hamas fights for the sake of freedom and independence. The Islamic State: it fights so that all religion can be for God.” 
Yet we know that the same ISIS is working in alliance with former Baath party officials in Iraq.

And we also know that they have been working closely with the current Turkish government. If Hamas is apostate then they would have to find a new term to qualify the AKP government.

Finally, we found out recently that ISIS was selling oil to Turkey and buying arms from the Assad regime.
IS exports about 9,000 barrels of oil per day at prices ranging from about $25-$45 (£15-£27).
Some of this goes to Kurdish middlemen up towards Turkey, some goes for domestic IS consumption and some goes to the Assad regime, which in turn sells weapons back to the group.
How is that for cynicism?

All of this tells me that the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS are a cynical mercenary outfit. Of course this applies to the leadership, as the actual fighters are misguided idiots who have no clue about anything (that is the subject of an upcoming post).

To make this point, I outlined their slick marketing, multimedia and IT operations. I also provided the main rationale for their formation and their operational goals.

What Is Their Mission?

If you didn't click the last link above, where I explain my argument in some detail, you might find the short version of my thesis unconvincing. So I suggest you do.

But if you prefer not to read my elucubrations, in a nutshell, their mission is to create a Sunni state from the ashes of the former Sykes-Picot countries. Hence the initial name of ISIS or ISIL.

And the primary motivations behind this mission are
(a) Qatar's desire to build a pipeline crossing a shorter and safer area to sell its natural gas to Europe,
(b)Turkey's desire to have the spigot in their country in order to become a major energy hub and
(c) Europe's desire to reduce Putin's energy leverage.

On this last point, you probably know that Europe is too dependent on Russia for its annual energy imports of almost 500 billion cubic meters of natural gas (which is valued at about $170 billion annually at current prices). That dependency is one of the main elements behind the Union's muted response to Putin's annexation of Crimea and his erratic foreign policy in Ukraine.

Qatar is the only viable alternative source. And Pipelineistan is the best route.

You can add to these my global hypothesis, which is the US desire to control the distribution of gas and oil in order to maintain its superpower status against rising Asian rivals (and its relatively recent eagerness to solve the Palestinian and Kurdish issues to achieve that goal). Someone else put it more economically than me:
To control oil flows across the planet and deny market access to recalcitrant producers is increasingly a major objective of American foreign policy.
In that sense, if you ask me, my Pipelineistan thesis passes the Occam's Razor test for a number of odd occurrences.

What Can Pipelineistan Explain?

It explains how ISIS became the wealthiest terrorist organization in the world in a very short period of time. Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, they could never have done it by selling oil or by collecting ransom money. They have billions. They received the bulk of it from Qatar, their non-denial denials notwithstanding.

It explains why Turkey's Islamist government trained, armed and provided healthcare to ISIS terrorists.

It explains how Saddam's elite officers are helping ISIS at every turn.

Think about it. Aren't you surprised by the extraordinary military feats of ISIS, supposedly a bunch of Islamist young men from all over the world, including Western Europe and North America?

If, as the corporate media maintains, their equipment of armored vehicles and tanks came from the retreating Iraqi army, how do we explain their extraordinary skill in using them. After all, we are also told that "a regular IS tank driver is trained to drive his tank at night with a thermal camera, and that the commander of the team has enough tactical military knowledge to best deploy his tanks."

Do you know how long it takes to acquire such skills? Do you seriously believe that a bearded idiot who was plucked from the Saint Denis suburb of Paris would be able to do this after a couple of weeks of training in the aftermath of Mosul invasion?

ISIS attacks are not just ruthless, they are militarily innovative and very effective. You cannot do that with a ragtag army of misguided idiots. But you can do it if the band of idiots is reinforced with well trained experienced soldiers.

Finally, my hypothesis also explains why the US and its allies were completely unmoved when ISIS was occupying large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria or when they slaughtered Christians, Yazidis and other minorities. As we know, they sprung to action only when ISIS moved north to Erbil to threaten Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)'s oil fields.

In fact, even though ISIS has been building up forces near Kobani for some times now, coalition airstrikes were few and far in between until these last days.
According to Salih Muslim, the coalition has yet to effectively bomb IS positions near Kobane. "That is why the IS thinks it is safer to deploy most of its forces near Kobane in order to protect them from air strikes," he says.

Most coalition air strikes have targeted areas near Mosul and Irbil in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria. 
As one pundit put it succintly, Kobani is not Erbil.

In short, if my hypothesis is correct, the recent events would indicate that ISIS was seen as a necessary evil by the relevant actors. And consequently, their destruction would not be desirable before they finished the job of creating a new Sunni state. Incidentally, this is supported by Obama's and Cameron's assertions that the war against ISIS will be a long-term campaign.

Having established the parameters of my argument, let me turn to the question of why ISIS has decided to attack the Kurds instead of consolidating its grip on the territories it occupied.

Why ISIS Is Attacking the Kurds?

There are several reasons for ISIS' determination to attack the Kurds.

The first one is what I have been maintaining over the last two years: Kurds are the only coherent and capable military force in Syria and Iraq. Without their acquiescence, it would be very difficult for any group to establish their supremacy. FSA or al Nusra Front all failed and if Kurds are not defeated eventually, ISIS will also fail in its bid.

In that sense, ISIS (correctly, in my opinion) sees the Kurds as their main regional rival. This is not just a military assessment. Kurds are also a major impediment to their rule in Syria. Their ideology and organizational structure are fiercely secular. They allow women to have a more or less equal position in all their institutions, including their combat troops. You can say that they represent the anti-ISIS.

This would not have been (and it is not) a big deal in Iraq where ethnic cleansing took place a long time ago and Sunnis tribes and Kurds live in separate regions. But in Syria, especially in the north, Kurds and Arabs still live side by side. Most places have both Kurdish and Arabic names: as you know, Kobani is also known as Ayn-al-Arab.

You could argue (and correctly, in my opinion) that they did not have to go after the Kurds this early and with this much fierceness.

For that, Kurds blame Turkey. And correctly, in my opinion.

The AKP Government and ISIS

The new President (and former PM) Recep Tayyip Erdogan gets upset when someone suggests that his government has been assisting and supporting ISIS.

But the evidence shows that closely collaborating with ISIS (and other Jihadis before them) has been one of the pillars of his Syria policy.

For instance, his government allowed ISIS to have recruitment center in Turkey and never intervened when thousands of young men joined them.

ISIS fighters have been freely crossing the Turkey-Syria border in both directions. A couple of days ago, Der Spiegel reported this:
Meanwhile, IS continues to have a surprising degree of freedom of movement on Turkish soil. On Oct. 4, a plane operated by Turkish discount airline Pegasus landed at Hatay airport in the southern Turkish province of the same name. Among the passengers on board Flight PC 4180 were nine men, likely Uzbeks and a Saudi, all wearing the dark-green outdoor jackets, sandals and ankle-length pants favored by the radicals. No one stopped the group and not a single official at airport security asked any questions. They were able to leave the airport unchecked before climbing into a minibus and disappearing.
 This is from a recent interview with a former ISIS idiot:
We were initially told by the IS field commander to fear nothing because there was cooperation with the Turks at the border. The watchtower light caught us and our commander said everybody should stop but do not look at the light. He talked on the radio, then the watchtower light began to move after 8-10 minutes and that was the signal saying we could safely cross the border.
Turkey has been providing arms to ISIS by the truckloads.
According to the Hurriyet report, the truck in question was stopped by police attached to anti-terrorism squads shortly after leaving the town of Reyhanli near the Syrian border.
Three men on the truck — who were later revealed to be members of Turkey’s intelligence service, Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (MIT) — prevented the police from searching the truck, arguing it was outside city limits, where jurisdiction belongs to the gendarmerie. The gendarmerie was then called in, and their cursory search reportedly revealed weapons and military equipment. (...)
The truck was subsequently released and allowed to continue to Syria.
As early as the beginning of September, a discovery in Iraq triggered tensions between Ankara and Washington. IS munitions found there were manufactured by MKE, a Turkish state-owned defense company. The revelation fueled suspicions that Turkish authorities may be providing direct support to IS -- with or without the government's approval. [emphasis mine]
And last and possibly the least Turkey is also a significant source of income for ISIS:
 Mahmut Tanal, a lawmaker from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told The Daily Beast he was trying to get an official government comment on reports saying that ISIS was exporting up to 4,000 tons of fuel to Turkey every day and earning $15 million every month from the trade. “I am expecting some answers here,” he said. [He never got one]
This symbiotic relationship is so cozy that some people in Turkey believe that the government had allowed the Mosul consulate to fall [link in Turkish] and let ISIS grab 46 Turkish citizens because they needed a pretext not to join the fight against the band of idiots. Apparently, for days, the Ministry did not reply to the consulate's "mayday" messages and returned their call only after the building was overrun by ISIS to instruct them to surrender.

Even after that pretext was removed, Turkey took its time to pass a parliamentary resolution to join the anti-ISIS coalition but so far it has taken no steps in that directions. Coalition airstrikes still do not use Turkish military bases. And Turkey has not provided any assistance to any party that fights ISIS.

That cynical attitude is also on display in their dealings with Syrian Kurds. Early in October, they held secret talks with the leader of PYD, Salih Muslim and promised him that Turkey would not let Kobani fall.  And then they did absolutely nothing, save perhaps, sending a lone truck with medical supplies.

They allowed civilian refugees in but refused safe passage to Kurdish militia to join the fight in Kobani. The situation was so strange that, in an unusual move, the UN envoy for Syria called upon Turkey to let Kurdish fighters join the fight in Kobani.

Instead, the new Turkish PM Davutoglu went on CNN to claim that Turkey would help Kobani only if the international community made a commitment to overthrow al Assad and establish a no flight regime and a buffer zone.

As you might be aware, none of these conditions can be met without a Security Council resolution. And Russia would never allow such a move. Gazprom is too lucrative a business to let Turkey realize its energy hub dreams.

Moreover, a buffer zone implies that Turkish troops would enter Syrian soil and invade a large region. Guess who inhabits that region in Northern Syria?

Why Is Turkey Hoping ISIS Would Decimate Syrian Kurds?

This is where cynicism skyrockets.

There are several reasons why Erdogan hopes that ISIS would invade Kobani and kill everyone there.

The first one has something to do with Erdogan's blueprint to hold on to power. Which the same as Karl Rove's 50 percent plus 1 accompanied with a heavy dose of polarization.

During the last presidential elections, the results were presented as if he received 52 percent of the vote in the first round. But in fact, despite spending massive sums and facing a highly inexperienced and deeply unpopular opposition candidate, he received the same number of votes his party got in the municipal elections, that is 44 percent.

In other words, the dirty little secret is that 56 percent of the electorate either abstained or did not vote for him. So he is after the 50 percent plus 1.

Turkish general elections will be held in eight months in June 2015. The main leader for AKP will be the newly minted PM Ahmet Davutoglu. He is a slightly dorky university professor with the charisma of lawn furniture.

It is very likely that, without Erdogan at the helm of the party, the AKP will see a significant decline in its electoral support.

There are two remedies. One is to intensify the climate of polarization to hold on to his conservative base.The other is to try to grab some electoral support from the opposition parties.

Most pundits assumed that he would make an overture to the Kurds, especially after their candidate's resounding success in the presidential elections.

Instead Erdogan's lieutenants opted to go after the votes of the ultra-nationalist National Action Party (MHP).  Their base is staunchly anti-Kurdish. If Kobani were to fall and Syrian Kurds and PKK fighters were killed along with civilians, most MHP supporters would see this as a positive development.

This why he has recently stated that ISIS and PKK are the same.  And this is why a prominent AKP politician declared that ISIS is better than the PKK. The MHP base would eat this up and wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment.

From Erdogan's cynical perspective, Kobani's fall (and the subsequent massacre) would bring other advantages as well. The military wing of the Kurdish movement will be considerably weakened. Both the PKK and PYD suffered heavy losses during the siege and if the city is captured many more fighters will perish.

There is also a PR bonus. A Kobani massacre will be marketed by ISIS as a major victory. And it will tarnish the PKK's reputation (especially after their decisive contribution to the retaking of Mosul dam) as a formidable fighting machine who held its own against the mighty Turkish army for decades.

Moreover, while Kobani is not a strategic town, its loss would make it very difficult to connect the three enclaves in Syrian Kurdistan:
The Kurdish areas in Syria are not like the Kurdish areas in Iraq, which are all connected. There are three enclaves in Syria. Afrin is now safe, the enclave in Aleppo province, because ISIS has been kicked out of Azaz, which is now controlled by anti-ISIS groups. Kobani is now completely surrounded by three sides, and then you have the provinces of Hassakeh and Jazira, but they are bordering Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, so Kobani is the easiest target for ISIS because it is surrounded on three sides. 
That in turn means no unified Kurdish region in Syria.

Erdogan is betting that after the 2015 elections he could go back to the defeated Kurds and offer them some new rights and avoid the statehood issue altogether.

Will Erdogan's Cynical Plan Work?

I doubt it.

For one thing the US is fed up with Erdogan's cynical games. In the last three days, they intensified air attacks around Kobani and as a direct result, as of this morning, the Kurdish leaders in town were saying that ISIS fighters are "being driven out of Kobani."

Tellingly, the US has just held its first ever direct talks with PYD, the Syrian branch of PKK. If this is not a kick to Erdogan, I don't know what is.

While a defeat and a massacre might have weakened the Kurdish resolve, a victory would have the opposite effect and would embolden the Kurds and the PKK. The siege and the heroic resistance would also turn into a mythical narrative that would almost certainly bolster the Kurdish national identity.

Similarly, a Kurdish victory would make ISIS look vulnerable: If they could not defeat an army of men and women fighting with light arms against tanks and artillery, how good are they?

From a domestic point of view, Erdogan's cynical ploy deeply offended the Kurds in Turkey, including those who traditionally voted for conservative parties like the AKP. Already scores of people died in demonstrations in various regions and elder Kurdish statesmen are warning that Kurdish electorate have become very radicalized.

All of this means that Turkey is entering a very delicate phase. Erdogan has nowhere to go, so he is likely to double down. His recent decision to break the two-year old ceasefire and order the bombing of PKK positions near Iraq was his way of provoking the PKK.

He hopes that the PKK will take the bait and relaunch the civil war with Turkey. He could then point to them as terrible terrorists and his cynical electoral plan might still be workable.

But the US and European powers declared that they will supply the Kurds with modern equipment and arms. They realized that given the proper tools, Kurds could put a check on Jihadis and prevent them from grabbing more land (like Aleppo which was likely to be the next target). They could also be trained for directing air strikes.

All of this strongly suggests that the PKK will gain strength, become more prominent in the region and end up with a significant portion of those arms. In fact, Germany said that it might provide arms to them directly.

That would be Erdogan's worst nightmare.

But if it happens he will have no one but himself to blame.


This is from the New York Times today:
Signs of the toll on the militants began to emerge Friday. A video apparently taken by Kurdish fighters showed the aftermath of an airstrike: In the midst of collapsed buildings and pulverized vehicles, the fighters walked among body parts as they toured the razed site. 
On a cellphone purportedly captured from a dead Islamic State fighter, voice messages sent to a friend, according to a rebel media activist who heard them, revealed the sudden swing of the battle: from supreme confidence that the capture of Kobani would take 10 days to laments as the militants were surrounded by Kurdish fighters, who had “popped up” everywhere. 
“All of my group is killed now, and I’m left alone here,” the activist quoted the militant as saying.
And coincidentally, just about the same time, Turkey said that it "is now allowing the U.S. to launch unmanned aircraft to fly over Syria. But so far, traditional warplanes are out of the question."

28 August 2014

Things You Might Not Know About ISIS

The Islamic State (IS) or as I like to call them, the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Although they burst into our collective consciousness a very short time ago, media outlets refer to them as if they have been around forever. And ISIS manages to grab headlines by committing increasingly grisly acts of terror, preferably on camera. In the span of a few months, they managed to eclipse Al Qaeda and became the face of the Salafist movement. And it is an ugly face. Unfortunately for Muslims, now, it is also the face of Islam in the West.

But what do we know about them and how do we explain their success?

There is no doubt that, at the rank and file level, they have bloodthirsty idiots who are willing to do anything to belong. A lot of them are second generation Muslims who live in Western societies.
There are estimated to be about 3,000 citizens from Western countries currently fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria, the London-based Royal United Service Institute (Rusi) says. 
According to Rusi, the majority are believed to be from the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France and the Nordic nations. 
The UK government says up to 400 British nationals are fighting alongside militant groups.
There are even some converts from very unlikely places. The rest is composed of unhappy Jihadis from Saudi Arabia, North Africa and the Gulf region.

Unhappy Jihadis and misfits from all over the place is nothing new, you might say. That covers just about all Jihadi terrorist organization. True that.

But when you look beyond the idiots who commit atrocities on camera, you see an organization unlike any other in the Salafist terror universe.
At the top the organization is the self-declared leader of all Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a radical chief executive officer of sorts, who handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago. 
He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army. 
They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.
Note the management and corporate terminology..

But the New York Times piece that implies that al-Baghdadi recruits former Saddam generals to work for him is based on the claims of a single individual. What is more accurate is that ISIS and former Baath Party senior leaders are in an alliance. And the latter are in senior management positions. This is from Foreign Policy.
U.S. officials have been closely tracking the Islamist-Baathist alliance for months. Almost as soon as Mosul fell, on June 10, it was obvious that JRTN forces had been waiting for their arrival. Reports from the scene said ISIS fighters quickly disappeared and were replaced with armed men loyal to the Baathists and former generals. The group already held sway in key Iraqi cities, including in Tikrit, which fell on June 11. But Mosul was the real prize, and a key strategic point because it's a historic seat of power for the ruling Sunni elites who want Maliki gone. 

After taking the city, the Islamic State, then known as ISIS, installed a Baathist and former Iraqi army general, Azhar al-Obeidi, as the new governor. And another former general, Ahmed Abdul Rashid, was named governor of Tikrit, where he has been credited with leading an ISIS-Baathist defense against the Iraqi Army, analysts said. ISIS's new allies were an ideal political face for their occupation. JRTN's leaders "have a long history of running Iraq, so it just feels right and natural to the people that they should be in charge," said Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. 
I already mentioned how Mosul was a military joint venture. We now know that governance was also left to senior Baath Party folks.

I want you to appreciate this fully.

Islam is a religion based on orthopraxy as opposed to orthodoxy. The term was coined by Karen Armstrong in her excellent book on Islam. It means purity of practice is more important that purity of doctrine.

Accordingly, the Salafist movement is about returning to the origins of Islam (i.e. to the first Muslims) and emulate their actions and behavior to recover their purity of practice. (Salaf means predecessor in Arabic, just as khilaf, from which Caliph (khalifa) is derived, means successor).

ISIS claims to be the purest, the most authentic of Salafist groups, i.e. the one closest to the actions of early Muslims.

Yet, not only does ISIS work in very close cooperation with former Saddam officials, it is also a hypermodern organization that operates like a multinational marketing and media company. It employs a large group of highly skilled media and computer professionals to conduct a media-savvy marketing campaign.

Let's start with the movie business.

Did you know that ISIS has been making feature length movies?

ISIS Film Studio

I am not referring to their gory YouTube stuff. I am talking about Hollywood style epics like The Clanging of the Swords IV (no link from me to those idiots, besides it is no longer on YouTube).

And yes, the IV is a node to the Hollywood tradition to sequels. This one is the fourth in the series, apparently. The film contains scenes that are a hat tip (homage?) to Hollywood action blockbusters.

The shot on the left is from Zero Dark Thirty. You know, the termination of Bin Laden with extreme prejudice. The one on the right is from the ISIS studios.

And there is this one.

Not too shabby, right?

If it was not marked clearly on each image, would you have guessed ISIS frame correctly?

I wouldn't.
Swords IV was made by professional film-makers, al-Janabi also claims – and independent observers think he might be right. "The official Isis operation released photos of them filming – and it's all on equipment that we use at Vice," says Vice journalist Aris Roussinos, who reports extensively on both jihadists and their online activity. "It's high-quality equipment that they're actually very technically skilled at using, in a way that the other rebels aren't. They're also really good at Photoshop."
ISIS Marketing and Advertising Department

Take a look at this recruitment poster. Have you seen anything like this from any other Jihadi organization?

Or this.

This is far removed from the crude 72 virgins marketing.

They know their market (disaffected youth in the West and the East desperate to belong) and they offer them a purpose in this world and salvation in the next.

They are offering a redemption.

And as it befits their target market, their visuals emulate video games and action movies, as you can see in that picture.

There is more.

Do you remember the speed with which they achieved name recognition?

They came out of nowhere with their terrifying videos and within weeks they were the best known terror syndicate in the world, rivaling even the mother of all terror syndicates, the Al Qaeda.

And then, they swiftly changed their brand name to IS and now every news organization dutifully uses this to report on them. This is one of the most successful re-branding operations I can think of.

Developing Special Apps and Working Twitter

Vice is Montreal-based news organization with an unorthodox approach. They send fearless young reporters to scary regions to do in depth interviews with locals. The format is more short documentaries than straight news.

A couple of months ago they reported that ISIS made its debut on Twitter and made a huge splash very quickly. They had 67,000 tweets on their first week and soon they began reaching a much larger group.

Right away, they developed an Android application called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, which allows them to be very prolific on Twitter.
In April 2014, the group developed a free internet application called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, which automatically posts tweets - approved by Isis media managers - to the accounts of the application's subscribed users. 
The posts include hashtags, links, images, videos and other content. Almost 40,000 tweets were posted in a single day during the recent clashes in Iraq. 
40,000 tweets by the ISIS idiots in one day. Just this figure tells you how media-savvy these bloodthirsty terrorists are.

Moreover, the Dawn of Glad Tidings is designed to use third party Twitter accounts to make blocking their message next to impossible. The tweets are automatically picked up and re-tweeted.

Twitter has been trying very hard to get rid of ISIS propaganda material and so far their success was limited. There are many young idiots in Saudi Arabia or in the Gulf region wha were eager to install this app to allow ISIS spread its message of terror.

Moreover, when YouTube and FaceBook started removing offensive materials, ISIS management channeled their marketing effort to a decentralized network called Diaspora. I knew of Diaspora because I read up on IT stuff everyday. But most people have never heard of this completely decentralized social network. It was created just a couple of years ago by four students in New York using crowd-funding from KickStarter. As a decentralized network with no central server, it is simply impossible to stop ISIS from spreading its marketing material.

(ISIS and Diaspora, yes, I am aware of the irony. And it is multifaceted.)

This nimble shift and in-depth knowledge of social media and high technology shows that ISIS is in a whole different league.
[A]nalysts reckon no other group has as sophisticated a grasp of social media as Isis. Members of one of Isis's main Sunni rivals in Iraq – the Ba'ath party-linked Naqshbandi – are more likely to upload their leaders' speeches to YouTube, "and I don't think anybody pays any attention to that stuff", says Zaid al-Ali, the author. Over the border in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra has a more nuanced approach, and may even have similar numbers of online supporters. But when JM Berger analysed their respective performances in February, he discovered that Isis-linked hashtags received up to four times as many mentions as those promoting Jabhat al-Nusra. 
"Jabhat al-Nusra have been outclassed and outcompeted by Isis on every level – on the battlefield, and in the battle of media operations," concludes Vice's Aris Roussinos. "Either they've got fewer resources – or they're less in tune with the modern world in a way that Isis doesn't seem to be."
Which, once again, begs the following question.

How Salafist Can You Be on Twitter?

Others wondered about this as well.
Isis want the people living in the lands they now control to return to the ultraconservative traditions that – they claim – the earliest Muslims lived by. Yet this regressive goal is accompanied by a hypermodern propaganda machine that sees Isis's sadistic attacks promoted by a slick social media operation, a specially designed app – and well-made videos like The Clanging of the Swords IV.
My take is that the presumed cognitive dissonance is not real.

An Australian ad executive once suggested that marketing and religion overlap almost entirely. She offered eleven point: Grandeur, Vision, Enemy, Storytelling, Mystery, Belonging, Evangelism, Rituals, Symbols and Sensory appeals.

Which means that the senior management knows what they are doing and the rank and file idiots eat it up. In fact, the message is directed not only to them but to all the disaffected second generation Muslims around the world.

And sadly, it is working.

A Word on ISIS Material

As you know I am not a moralist. But if you are as repulsed by the atrocities of ISIS foot soldiers as I am, you should not look at their clips, or better yet, you should not share them with your friends. Doing so helps their marketing machine.

I was quite sickened by the fact that the Foley beheading video went viral within hours. Several friends of mine sent me links and I could see that the video was popping up everywhere. My friends meant well as they were horrified and they wanted me to see how horrible "those people" are. But watching the video would be like collaborating with the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS, since this is exactly what they want us to do.

Finally, if you want to know the issues surrounding Jim Foley's capture (along with another American journalist by the name of Austin Tice), read this very informative piece.