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We kill, therefore we are

Stanly Johny | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on February 13, 2015

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Violence for its own sake — that’s Islamic State for you

Extreme brutality has become synonymous with the so-called Islamic State (IS). They issue pamphlets in which the rape of female captives is justified, its online magazine Dabiq often brags about the organisation’s barbarism. Militants routinely strew the heads of victims on the streets of of Raqqa in eastern Syria which they control, and even broadcast these atrocities on the internet, including their massacre of opponents and beheading of captives. The latest was the gruesome killing of the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh — he was burnt alive in a locked cage in front of video cameras.

While for an ordinary human being, this viciousness is appalling and senseless, for the IS, it’s a rational, part and parcel of the sectarian, fundamentalist project the Sunni outfit is running. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the so-called caliph of the IS, is using excessive violence as a strategic tool, and seeks legitimacy for the same from the Takfiri ideology. In asymmetric warfare, it’s not conventional power, but the way limited capabilities are deployed that define the outcome of the ‘war’. The IS cannot match the fire power of its conventional enemies such as the US, Iraq or even Syria. Moreover, unlike the al-Qaeda, which is generally a hit-and-run terror outfit, the IS is holding on to the territories it has captured — meaning, it demands obedience from the people it rules. Here, extreme brutality becomes an effective strategy not only to overcome its shortcomings in conventional warfare but also to subjugate the people living in its territories. On the other side, Baghdadi needs some kind of religious sanction of this violence to make it both lethal and attractive to men from other parts of the world.

From the IS’s point of view, this strategy has paid off smartly. It helped the organisation emerge as the strongest militia out of the sectarian chaos in Syria and Iraq. It has carved out a territory straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. It has also helped the group attract around 30,000 jihadis from several countries. In other words, the IS could establish itself as a mass death cult mocking at all advances of modernity. It sets a dangerous precedent, as it reminds the world of the power of extreme violence in pursuing political goals.

Stanly Johny, Assistant Editor

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Published on February 13, 2015
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