Responding to the Islamic State's Totalitarian Anger
Purpose one: The murder videos are recruiting ads. IS leaders believe the videos visually demonstrate their undeterrable will to kill in order to secure and expand radical Islamist power. The videos apparently persuade young, alienated Muslim men. Best guesses indicate IS has attracted from 20,000 to 40,000 European, North American and Asian Islamist volunteers.
IS videos leverage al-Qaida's dark psychological insight. Al-Qaida connected the Muslim world's angry, humiliated and isolated young men with a utopian fantasy preaching the virtue of violence. That utopian fantasy seeks to explain and then redress roughly 800 years of Muslim decline.
Which leads to purpose two. Murdering helpless captives shocks, insults and angers civilized human beings. IS leaders, however, love to shock and insult. To shock and insult means to defy restrictions. In its war against infidels, IS recognizes no restrictions. If this sounds a bit like a 19th-century European anarchist political trope, indeed it is.
The videos demonstrate that IS Caliph al-Baghdadi does not negotiate. He intimidates. He attacks. He kills. Al-Baghdadi apparently believes vicious disregard for human life can have beneficial battlefield effects. If a video terrifies vulnerable people living in ill-defended areas (say, a suburb of Baghdad), then the neighborhood may surrender to IS authority without a fight.
IS forces are probing Baghdad. Several IS leaders are Iraqi Sunnis with ties to Saddam Hussein's regime; they definitely want to seize control of Iraq. Two former Iraqi Army lieutenant colonels hold high positions in the IS military hierarchy. Al-Baghdadi met them when they were imprisoned at the old Camp Bucca detention complex.
IS leaders have goals beyond Iraq. Civilized people may dismiss their goals as sociopathic delusions, but men like al-Baghdadi believe control of Iraq and Libya will position them to seize Egypt (population resources) and Saudi Arabia (dominating energy resources). This regional caliphate then goes global.
Recall I mentioned anger as a legitimate civilized reaction. IS commanders are very angry men. Check out one of al-Baghdadi's video rants. Listen to him. A grand, totalitarian anger consumes him. Watch him. If you see signs of narcissism, it's there. So what if infidels and apostate Muslims react to IS videos with anger?
A consumed, grandiose character like al-Baghdadi dismisses his enemies' anger as a spasm of frustration.
On Feb. 3, IS immolated Jordanian Air Force pilot Lieutenant Moaz Kasasbeh. A video of the caged young officer's homicide by fire is on the Internet. His murder angered Jordan's King Abdullah. Jordanian airstrikes pummeled IS positions. Abdullah's rage has not subsided.
In terms of hideous spectacle, the Feb. 15 mass beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by IS Libyan allies rivals Kasasbeh's death. The victims, in orange jumpsuits, stand beside the Mediterranean Sea, facing north. After the beheadings, IS warned Italy (north of Libya, across the sea) that it intends to attack and seize Christian Rome.
The slaughter of Copts appalled Egyptians (Muslim and Christian). A righteously angry Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered airstrikes on the IS Libyan allies.
Airstrikes alone, however, will not defeat IS, Obama administration gee and haw to the contrary. Eliminating the Islamic State's angry men requires high-quality ground forces.
Al-Sisi later indicated that Egypt, in order to bring the IS murderers to justice, may openly ally with anti-Islamist factions in Libya. If alliance means Egyptian Army boots on Libyan ground, that's good news.