The commander of American Special Operations in the Middle East, Major Gen. Michael K. Nagata, is seeking help in learning why the Islamic State is so dangerous. If he doesn’t know, what does that say about the prospect for victory over these radical terrorists who seek to destroy everyone who disagrees with them?
“We do not understand the movement,” the New York Times quoted Nagata as saying in confidential minutes of a conference call he held with more than three dozen “experts.” Until we understand it, he said, “we are not going to defeat it. We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.”
In the pursuit of understanding ISIS, Nagata is calling for reinforcements. According to the Times, one of the observations made by some in the conference call was about the Islamic State’s “capacity to control” a population, using “psychological tactics” such as terrorism, “religious and sectarian narratives (and) economic controls.”
Enemies of the recent past have written books that served as motivators for those who followed those ideologies. The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848 and written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, formed the basis for the Bolshevik Revolution six decades later and the creation of the Soviet Union.
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In this latest war, the Koran is the textbook of jihadists, and it doesn’t help when Westerners seek to define what is “legitimate” Islam and what is not. Many in the Islamic world reject Western values and thus any Western interpretation of their religion.
A poll published last July in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hayat news found that 92 percent of Saudis believe the Islamic State conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law. Other polls throughout the Islamic world show large numbers of Muslims at least sympathetic, if not openly supportive, of tactics used by extremists.
While Nagata and his experts are studying the “psychology” of ISIS, they might also look to the moral and spiritual state of Europe and the United States. An argument could be made that radical Islamists have it partly right when they diagnose Western culture as “godless” and decadent. If their solution is the wrong one, we might ask ourselves what the right one would look like.
In Europe, the cultural and spiritual influences of Christianity have been in retreat for some time as churches close for lack of attendees. When a vacuum is created, others rush to fill it and in this case the “others” are radical Islamists.
The U.S and “experts” can conduct their surveys and studies, but while they are trying to decipher the “psychology” of ISIS, they might consider the merits of Islam’s indictment of Western “values,” which don’t seem so valuable anymore as many have become self-destructive. For Europe and increasingly in the U.S. these include: negative population growth (U.S. population growth is positive, thanks to immigration, but is nearly stagnant at 0.7 percent); a growing secularism that finds no purpose in life other than pleasing one’s self; and the exposure and marketing of the female body, which is an affront to Muslims who regard modesty as a fundamental virtue.
Self-examination and what we Westerners have allowed ourselves to become might be a useful parallel study while Nagata and his experts try to figure out how to defeat the Islamic State.
Cal Thomas, a columnist with Tribune Content Agency, appears in Opinion on Wednesdays.