Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate

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John F
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Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate

Post by John F » Fri Mar 18, 2016 4:31 pm

In December I recommended Joby Warrick's "Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS" for those who want to know our enemy better. It narrates the history of the rise of the Islamic State and the personalities involved both in ISIS and on the American side. Abdel Bari Atwan's "Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate" partly overlaps Warrick but as its title promises, tells more about how ISIS uses the Internet for covert communication, disseminating its propaganda, and converting recruits.

The first chapter, "Masters of the Digital Universe," sets forth "the paradoxical clash between advanced twenty-first century technology and the Salafist-jihadist interpretation of Islam which espouses the values of life in the seventh century." That is no longer a clash; ISIS now uses social networking platforms (Facebook, etc.), Twitter, Skype, and web sites. It exploits anonymous, encrypted platforms such as Kik, WhatsApp, VPN/Tails, and TOR. The latter was developed for the U.S. Navy as a secure browser, but now anybody can download it for free.

Atwan says, "The head of the Islamic State's media department is Ahmed Abousamra, a Syrian who was born in 1981 in France and then brought up in Massachusetts where his father is a well-known endocrinologist. He obtained a degree in IT and worked in telecommunications before becoming self-radicalized; he encountered no obstacles in relocating to Aleppo in 2011 thanks to his dual Syrian-American nationality. Under Abousamra's direction are several media organizations with full-time staff... These are solely for the purposes of propaganda... [They employ] professional journalists, filmmakers, photographers, and editors... and have brought in cutting-edge technology and qualified operators. As a result, its film output is of a quality more usually associated with national broadcasters or even Hollywood." This goes some distance toward explaining Islamic State's effectiveness in converting and recruiting people from all over the world.

Also valuable is a chapter on the relation between Islamic State and Saudi Arabia. Because both espouse the same extremist sect of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism, many wealthy Arabs and even the Saudi Department of General Intelligence sent generous funds to ISIS, until the Saudis realized that they themselves were in ISIS's sights, whereupon they declared the Islamic State their enemy. But some 92% of the country's population view the Islamic State favorably.

These are just a few of the things I've learned from this short, well written book. Islamic State is not the rag-tag band of extremists that hid out in northern Iraq; it has all the characteristics of a nation-state, including territory it controls and a standing army of 100,000. And while its military force, though well armed with weapons siezed in Iraq and Libya, lacks high-tech weaponry and particularly control of the air (no air force), one of its soldiers is said to equal 10 of its opponents', since ISIS's soldiers are literally ready and even eager literally to fight to the death. They are not to be destroyed by carpet bombing parts of Syria and other bright ideas offered by the foreign-policy ignoramuses now vying to be our next president.
John Francis

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