What is the point of these large scale terrorist attacks in Europe, aside from what they share in common with all acts of terror?

The first step to answering that question is to read this piece from March by Graeme Wood entitled, "What ISIS Really Wants." It's a very long, thorough, and non-sensational account of their theology. Given that they are motivated entirely by their theology, that's important to understand. The too long, didn't read version is that they want to establish a caliphate and initiate the apocalypse. Their view of Islam holds that all Muslims are obligated to join their caliphate because, and stop me if any of this sounds familiar in re: religious extremists, they alone correctly understand Islam and are, in short, the only True Muslims.

That's a very well researched take. Assuming that the people running ISIS are not naive and lacking any secular political awareness, here's what I think they want.

Europe has a lot of Muslims. Like the U.S. or any other country, European nations have some issues with immigration and suffice it to say that they haven't been welcomed with open arms. That said, Muslim immigrants to Europe appear to find living in Europe on the whole alright. Not terrible. I'm sure they feel (with justification) discriminated against or unwelcome at times but Muslims in Germany, France, the UK, etc. hardly look like they are eager to go back to their original countries of residence. The situation could be better but life in France is far superior to, for example, life in Iran. So the dominant attitude among European Muslims, especially younger ones, appears to be "Sure, this is alright."

Radical extremist Muslims do not like this. They want Muslims to loathe Western society and to be primed for radicalization. They want that for selfish reasons – to grow and legitimize their terrorist organizations. They can neither grow their movement nor succeed in their goals if Muslim kids in Europe are wearing miniskirts and going to music festivals. The problem they face is that while Muslims in Europe face discrimination, they're not treated badly enough to make them hate Western society and governments. They certainly don't hate them enough to want to start killing them. In order for Europe's Muslims to be radicalized en masse as opposed to only a few here and there becoming attracted to "The Cause," European governments would have to treat them worse. Far worse.

Logically, then, what ISIS wants is to push European states far enough to produce a massive anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim backlash. Not just a backlash in terms of attitudes and prejudices but of laws. If some far-right government came to power in France and decided, for example, to round up every Muslim into camps or to force Muslims to carry electronic devices to track their movements then ISIS and their ilk can claim to be prophetic; "See? See? Look at how they treat us!" Recruiting young Muslims to anti-Western and anti-anything other than hardcore Islam terrorism would become a whole lot easier.

That's what I think their real goal is, theology notwithstanding. The worse Western societies treat Muslim immigrants the easier it will be to craft recruitment propaganda. The more indiscriminate large scale killing ISIS does, the worse Western governments will treat Muslim immigrants. Far right, nationalist, anti-immigrant politics are already disturbingly popular in some parts of Europe and they figure that with a little more motivation in the form of random terror with big body counts they can be pushed over the edge into full-throated discrimination as a matter of national policy. In France they see a target nation that has already had race riots and other issues stemming from the social privations of its immigrant underclass. If they rioted before they could be inspired to riot again. The most obvious way to make that happen is to encourage French society and laws to start treating them even worse.

The sad thing is that it might work. I'm not sure they'll succeed in radicalizing many people, but they certainly are making headway toward fueling far-right politics in Europe.

45 thoughts on “MOTIVATION”

  • The Myths of Control, the desire to Do Something, and the quest for power disprove all the things the right says about government when they're out of power. For years, they've been saying government can't solve problems, it's up to individuals to keep themselves safe, and the government is out to get them if it gets too strong. But as soon as a terrorist attack (or an Ebola outbreak of like two people in this continent) can scare the populace, it's time for Peak Fascism.

    The White Christian Savior Guy will make it all better. Trump says he'll close mosques. Wonder if he'll register Muslims and take away their guns, too? Why should you have to, since it's obvious the answer is As Much as He Can.

  • It's a plausible (if depressing) theory of motivation. But we should not discount the role of Angry Young Man syndrome and sheer fuckheadedness.

    As this analysis states, it is not clear at this point how far the Paris killers were being directed, armed, or funded by ISIS back in Iraq/Syria, and how far they were acting independently.

    To some extent, the Paris perpetrators may be of the same ilk as the Columbine killers, Anders Breivik (who committed mass murder at a Norwegian holiday camp recently), or David Copeland (the racist/homophobe/all around bigot who bombed several pubs in London in 1999).

    The ideology differs, but the actions are similar: Angry young men decide to take out their frustrations on unarmed civilians, who not-concidentally seem to be having more fun than they are.

  • Ed, that makes a lot of sense – and it sounds as if Isis may have explicitly said much the same. I've seen a fair bit of commentary referencing an editorial that ran in Isis's propaganda magazine Dabiq early this year, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. It's about what they call the "grayzone", the space in which Muslims are allowed to live in the West. They argue that attacks like those on Charlie Hebdo reduce the grayzone, reveal the hypocrisy of the supposedly-tolerant West, and force Muslims to rally to the true defenders of the faith.

    And you're right, it might well work. There are regional elections in France next month, and Marine Le Pen's National Front was expected to win big even before this. And imagine if there's an attack on American soil, in the febrile atmosphere of this election? We've already seen Trump move us closer to the sort of outright nationalist and xenophobic movements that are rising all over Europe. At least George W. Bush always took care to say that America was not at war with Islam, but there's less and less patience for even that much prudence and restraint in today's GOP.

  • Wood's piece is persuasive, but it immediately prompted equally smart-seeming criticisms. Wood: ISIS is expressing and acting on ideas and principles (caliphate; conquest) that are indeed at the heart of Islam. Others: No, ISIS is no more "truly Islamic" than the Westboro Baptist Church is "truly Christian."

    I don't know what to believe. When you have young people volunteering to get themselves killed, is it a religious phenom? A psychological phenom? A political phenom? Not that it can't be all that and more. But isn't the suicidal aspect of it what makes this version of terrorism unique?

  • The Chinese problem with their Uighur population doesn't seem to be going away, despite various government officials being sacked after it became apparent that their repressive policies were making the situation worse. China, of course, generally has no qualms about executions, imprisonment, and repressive laws, it's what they've been doing for 65 years now.

    It’s likely that the rise of the Islamic State has given a­ few disenfranchised young Uighurs a cause to fight and potentially die for. Still, experts say any increase in Uighur extremism is largely due to the fact that the very policies China says are meant to combat terrorism have actually made the threat worse.

    The irony is, of course, that the Uighur "threat" that the Chinese government is pants-wetting about seems to be comparatively minimal and amateurish compared with what's been going on in the rest of the world. I mean, hell, our adventure in Iraq helped create ISIS, you'd think the Chinese would have been paying attention to how well that worked.

    If repression serves merely to recruit Angry Young Men, then the obvious solution is… is ….

    [No, smartass "Shoot 'em down like mad dogs" has already been tried, remember?]

  • Mr. Wonderful –

    But isn't the suicidal aspect of it what makes this version of terrorism unique?

    Nah. Old people have been recruiting young men to die for causes probably since forever. Expendable. Reduces sexual competition and aggravation in general.

  • It seems to me that the "textual" model of finding out who "really" represents a religion is inherently flawed and misrepresentative. In this model you go back to source texts– Scriptures, Confessions of Faith, Documents binding on the Community– and you mine them for data. Based on what data you find, you then declare whether ISIS is "really" Islamic or Westboro is "really" Christian. But religious communities don't operate like that, EVEN IF they say they do. All major religions contain texts that can be used to legitimate terror and violence, and texts that can be used to legitimate peace and compassion. The same goes for most ideologies, in fact.

    Thus, "peaceable" religious groups will be inherently contradicting or radically re-interpreting the violent texts of their heritage. And likewise the "extremist" groups will deny or distort the peaceable texts.

    A case in point: Most Christians before 1700 or so would have a very hard time with Modern Christianity with its egalitarian gender stance (even in "conservative" churches), allowance of ethnic diversity, pro-democracy stances, anti-slavery stances, and general preference to seek peaceable solutions to international conflicts, as well as a developmental/critical approach to liturgy, doctrine and even Scripture. This is because most Christians across most ages accepted what seem to us quaint ideas: Divine Right of Kings, slavery, female subjugation, and the naturalness of war as a means of solving problems. Very few Christians had ever been around radically different cultures or ethnicities. Most also accepted the Faith (and Scripture) as something complete and unchanging, handed down from on high, and forever binding.

    The Church may still have the same doctrinal norms– the same Scriptural books, the same Creeds, the same belief in Incarnation, Trinity, sacraments, etc.– but how those norms are held and the cultural context that is taken as "natural" has changed radically.

    All of this is to say that what counts as a legitimate version of a Religion is determined not by the texts, but by how the community actually practices the texts. This identity is fundamentally flexible. So even if groups like ISIS can still claim some legitimacy as interpreters of Islam, it is in the cultural interest of Muslims and the world in general to help the "norm" for the Muslim Faith to shift toward the peaceable. To allegorize and de-literalize the texts of terror. To help the Muslim world build liberal and tolerant institutions in which critical study is encouraged. Once that shift is made, hopefully Islam will reach the point that ISIS style terror is as inexplicable and unnatural to them as burning witches and heretics is to modern Christianity.

  • I don't know why you say that for a young Muslim, life in France is superior to life in Iran. Have you been to Iran — or do you know only what the so-called MSM has told you about it? The vision that the PTB would have us see is a country with mullahs leading mobs shrieking "death to America" on every corner and Iranians threatening to beat any foreigner they encounter. Visitors to Iran dispute that demonized view.

    Iran, like most countries, has its problems, but if you're a young Muslim guy in France who is marginalized and discriminated against because of his race/religion, have no money, and, because of "austerity," no job prospects beyond a part-time pizza delivery boy, Iran — where you're at least accepted, if not economically better off — may not be bad idea. It's not exactly a hell-hole.

  • My understanding- based on reading Muslim and ex-Muslim sources- suggests to me that ISIS is more like "true Islam," as traditionally understood, than most never-Muslims claim.

    Islam is a political system- like democracy or communism. So, the entire point of Islam has always been to set up a global caliphate, run according to sharia law.


    A major issue in Islam has been the question of how to be a good Muslim when living in "Dar al-Harb" (i.e. the "world of war," which is what they call all countries not run according to Sharia law.) It's like saying, "How can I be a good communist when I have to make a living as a shopkeeper in a capitalist country?" This is an issue which
    ISIS is exploiting, in the ways Ed describes.

    The problem is that non-Muslim, never-Muslim liberals keep saying "Oh, ISIS isn't true
    Islam." There's a word for that: kuffarsplaining.

    The debate goes like this: ISIS quotes the Koran to justify their actions. And then some never-Muslim liberal turns up his nose and says, "Obviously these morons are too dumb to understand their own religion."

    Guess which one is more convincing to a Muslim sitting on the fence?

    Obviously the vast majority of American Muslims do not support terrorism. But they also aren't practicing anything that is recognizable as Islam, as traditionally understood. I'm not interested in debating whether it's "true Islam" or "more legitimately an expression of Islam." I'm interested in reality. The reality is that nobody is impressed (except for liberal never-Muslims) when ignorant liberals pretend that 1400 years of tradition doesn't exist.

    OTOH, people are VERY impressed when hateful conservatives say that all Muslims are terrorists. Why? Because of this:

    Conservative bigot: "Mohammed described himself as a terrorist. In fact, he said that Allah had given him a special gift for terror, and that terrorizing the infidels would eventually make the whole world submit to Islam. That's why it's called "Islam" (i.e. "submission.")"

    Liberal: "God, you're such a bigoted moron that there's no point in talking to you."

    Conservative: "But it's in the hadiths."

    Liberal: "Not all hadiths are considered reliable, you ignorant, hateful piece of shit."

    Conservative: "The hadith in question is in Shahih Bukhari, a collection containing only reliable hadiths, all of which are considered to be binding on all Sunni Muslims."

    Liberal: "Well, obviously you know NOTHING about Islam, so I'm going to take my marbles and go home."

  • The Pale Scot says:


    Shipping explosives and AK’s thru multiple countries that have strict guns laws displays access to smugglers and especially money that lone wolves aren’t likely to have. It’s likely that the weapons were driven from Iraq thru Turkey and the Balkans, who aren’t known for their restraint about searching border crossers.

    @Mr. Wonderful

    That sounds like perspective bias, the 7 Mountain Dominionists and other christianists DO Believe they are the only real christians, and everyone else are minions or dupes of the Adversary.

    P.S. One of my favorite activities as a lapsed Irish RC is to bait them with “upon this rock I will build my church” and “Apostolistic Succession” etc. Tell them they’re nothing but godless pagans following a cult.

    Always good fun to be pissing off the prods.

  • How many true Islams can dance on the head of pin?

    No one runs their religion according to the ancient holy books of whatever bullshit, they can't because it's always a contradictory mass of nonsense that adheres into no functional or workable system of beliefs or behavior. Actual believers don't usually even dispute this, though they typically want to say it in a way that sounds better. For example, people in the U.S. who call themselves biblical literalists believe in things like the LeHay version of the End Times, which aren't really in there without resorting to some tortured reasoning on the level of Charlie Manson listening to Beatles records.

  • c u n d gulag says:


    Just because the terrorists play their tune, doesn't mean any of us have to dance to it.

    Of course, terrorism plays right into the hands of conservatives. I helps them spin their tales of hate and fear, and their "hope" that the seeds of those sprout throughout a nation – and, the world.

    Terrorism brings with it easier paths to Fascism (even more than we already have here – and in Europe).

    The reason I haven't commented here and at others of my favorite "Libtard" sites, is that I was in the hospital, and then rehab.

    Finally, I'm home two months after reconstructive ankle surgery and rehab, and have consistent internet service. *

    I've been reading when I could.
    In a lot of pain, still, but healing!

    Another two months in a huge metal cast that looks like it was put together by a child with spare Lego parts.
    Then, a big boot for 3-4 months.
    Then, I can drive again!

    Also, too – thank the FSM for Obamacare and Medicaid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    * Note to young people:
    Don't stick your foot in your mouth too often, or you might have to go through what I did. ;-)

  • So, the French got "unfrench*" and bombed the fuck outta ISIS.

    It's "assymetrical warfare". As usual the innocents (for a given value of "innocence") are slaughtered by fundies/RWA or other totalitarian fuckwads.

    * This is believable if you know NOTHING about french colonialism in the period between 1600 and 1960 or so.

  • cund gulag: Welcome back! Glad to hear you made it out of your surgery and rehab relatively unscathed. Here's hoping your pain lessens more each day and you find yourself dancing jigs in no time!

  • @The Pale Scot: It's clear this was a well-organised group with connections outside France. Whether they were directed by the "official" ISIS leadership (insofar as such a thing exists) is less certain.

    @Skipper: Most French Muslims are of Algerian or other north African descent. Very different from Iran, and less appealing as a place to live.

  • @Mo
    "…China, of course, generally has no qualms about executions, imprisonment, and repressive laws, it's what they've been doing for 65 years now."
    Or 650 years, or ~6500 years.

    Nice asterisk :) You had me frothing at the mouth at the word 'unfrench' on the French and warfare.

  • "…Muslims in Germany, France, the UK, etc. hardly look like they are eager to go back to their original countries of residence."

    It's also worth noting that at this point, in 2015, a substantial proportion of the Muslims in Germany, France, the UK, etc, *are in* their original countries of residence. Jus sanguinis notwithstanding, there's a whole generation of young Muslims who have only ever lived in Europe and may identify to a greater or lesser extent as European.

  • For the first 1700 years (at least) of Christianity, people who followed it regularly slaughtered those whose understanding and interpretation of it differed from their own, but eventually, a large enough percentage of them came to the realization that trying to annihilate all of those they disagreed with was not the best way to go through life that those days are, hopefully, behind us. I hope the Sunnis, Shias, and all of the other varieties of Islam don't have to go through several hundred more years of bloodletting before they come to share that position.

  • a large enough percentage of them came to the realization that trying to annihilate all of those they disagreed with was not the best way to go through life that those days are, hopefully, behind us.

    You're kidding, right? Bible-thumping abortion clinic terrorists come immediately to mind … then there's the perpetual bomb-em-into-the-Stone-Age crowd … and the Germans sending their neighbors to the camps was only 70 years ago.

    Fundamentalist Christians relish disasters, hoping each one is an indicator of the End Times that they're so looking forward to, when they'll all be saved and everyone who's been having fun will die horribly. They're actually looking forward to the annihilation of all those they disagree with. The only thing stopping them from helping out with the smiting process themselves is that they can't get away with that anymore. They haven't realized a damn thing when it comes to peaceable co-existence.

  • It's also a non-trivial point that these extremists see citizens of Western countries as complicit in the wars these countries make on Muslim-majority countries. Converts to Islamism state again and again that this or that bombing campaign on Iraq/Libya/whereever convinced them to make war in return.

    So maybe we in the west might try to not bomb a Muslim country for, say, a decade or so, and see if that helps. I know, I know, it's hard to resist – tactical bombing is so EASY in a desert. But lets exercise a little self control and see if that doesn't help the situation a bit.

  • Pretty much what I've been thinking, expressed more artfully. We're looking at a recruiting campaign, with collateral damage. And Cundgulag, glad you're back, speedy recovery!

  • Somewhat o/t,but ISIS/ISIL/Daesh are primarily a Saudi/ Qatari/U.S.-supported group intended to whack Assad's Syria and Iraq's Shia-dominated govt. Should they beat up on some Turkish (and Iraqi) Kurds while they're at it all the better. Surely their "ideology" is more of a recruiting tool than a deeply held belief among the real leadership, who we're told are largely the Baathist Iraqi army officers Jerry Bremer cashiered in 2003.

  • Am I the only one that sees this as a more-virulent (and marginally more fact-based) but otherwise mostly identical phenomenon to the growing "OMG WE R SO PERSECUTED" fantasy among the Christianists?

    It's the same goal: prompt angry young men to do terrible things in the hope that everyone else will do what the Angry Invisible Man In The Sky says.

  • These people are antique. There's nothing new here other than better weaponry.

    They're afraid of themselves and of course any slight deviation in doctrine. Giving 16 year-olds with not much to live for, really cool guns and encouraging them to make a lot of noise is cheap too.

    Aiming at REAL deviants in western countries is one way for them, to justify for their existence.

  • Geoff nails it. The crocodile tears are amazing from our sociopathic elites. Daesh was created by our best buds in Arabia, the Saudis, and it doesn't require being a conspiracy theorist to posit plenty of cash from the black budget side of the CIA, which we are assured is for our benefit.

  • I can think of two or three long term approaches which will solve no immediate problems.

    1) If nation building is too expensive, try not-nation building. And it would have to be pure of heart, what's more. Real support for the local situation, not a money-funneling mechanism to US corporations. Done right, that would take about two generations to help.

    2) Switch everyone over to clean, sustainable energy. If oil is irrelevant, the Saudis go pfft, and the biggest engines of sociopathy run down. Oh, and we won't spiral into planetary climate disasters. But I gather this option is unrealistic because it's too expensive. (Two percent of global GDP, is the last figure I heard. Unlike moving everyone away from the coasts, which will be easy.) Also, it would take about 50 years.

    3) which is really a subset of 1): funnel education and money toward women in the whole swath from North Africa to South Asia. They're not angels (read about the experiences of maids working for some Saudi women), but by and large, they're noticeably less crazy than the angry young men who feel better shooting guns. Timeframe for this transformation: forever.

    And if all that happened, the vast vendettas between shades of Muslims would become as muted as the wars between Protestants and Catholics.

    (Yeah, I know, it doesn't work as a joke and it's not even funny.)

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    Thank you, Anonymous, for saying everything I wanted to about the role of Islam in this behavior. The jihadists have scripture on their side so long as it is read literally (which is certainly the way Mohammed meant it to be read. Did you know that according to traditional Sunni theology, the Koran was not created in Arabia, but rather read and later recited by the Arch Angel Gabriel to Mohammed. Gabriel read it in heaven, which is where the actual Koran has always resided. Every human-made book of the Koran is actually a copy of that heavenly original. Nuts, right?).

    However, most 'actual' conservative bigots don't tend to speak the way yours does.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    Also, @Nate and @witless chum

    You guys keep analogizing the Koran to the Bible. But they are not the same. And Mohammed was not the same as Jesus.

  • democommie said:

    "You are completely full of shit, you fucking moron."

    Here's a talk by Sarah Haider (from Ex-Muslims of North America) explaining the obvious: that closed-minded "liberals" like democommie make things worse when they shout down any attempt to discuss Islam, because they play into the hands of conservatives and Islamists. She also explains the implicit racism behind a lot of the attacks launched by people like democommie.

    Not that it matters, because my experience has been that plenty of self-described "liberals" don't actually give a shit what Muslims or ex-Muslims have to say about Islam.

    It seems to me that a real liberal would, you know, actually listen to what people say about their experiences, instead of shouting them down.

    Welcome back, CUND.

  • Beleck, I agree in principle that we shouldn't feed trolls like democommie. But since he and I are both long-term members of this community, I feel the need to rebut his accusation.

    I don't use the words "Muslim" and "liberal" as if they were monolithic. Evidence? I specifically state that real liberals aren't hatemongers like democommie.

    From my earlier statement, which prompted him to insult me:

    "Obviously the vast majority of American Muslims do not support terrorism."

    And this is the whole problem. Islam is something we simply can't discuss, because there are a lot of people- both liberal and conservative- who are quite racist and don't want to hear what Muslims and ex-Muslims have to say about their own experiences. So if I bring up Sarah Haider's talk about how this is a problem, democommie just tries to shut down the conversation by saying I'm "full of shit" and telling lies about me. Sarah Haider fears for her life because she's a murtad (apostate,) but heaven forbid she be allowed to talk about her own experiences.

  • If I might amplify on Ed's point a bit:

    Some of the survivors of Jonestown said that they stayed with the cult even after realizing that Jim Jones was a psycho. They didn't believe he was God, but they still believed him when they said the outside world would persecute them for having been associated with him. This is a big tactic used by cults: even my evangelical high school tried very hard to present the outside world as a nightmare of persecution, so we would believe that evangelical Christianity was our only option.

    Apparently _Dabiq_ (the magazine of ISIS) is very big on talking about the refugee crisis, showing pictures of that drowned refugee child, etc. And they explicitly make the claim that Muslims will be persecuted throughout the world unless they make hijrah and join ISIS.

    So yes, I think Ed is spot on. Mission Accomplished for ISIS: the GOP governors are now rejecting refugees, and ISIS is willing to accept those refugees with open arms. In particular, I read that ISIS is really getting desperate to build their population because their tax base and skills base (doctors, for example) is fleeing the caliphate.

    And again, if you look at that Sarah Haider talk, she is very clear in saying that people like democommie are making this worse. If someone tries to talk realistically about Islam, and the response is "you're full of shit, you fucking moron," it means there's no pressure on non-ISIS Muslim governments to reform, no support for internal critique of Islam by moderate Muslims.

    Think about it this way: there are plenty of underground railroad-like organizations that are meant to help apostates escape persecution. Murder of murtads- both by governments and by their own families- is a serious issue. If we can't talk about that without some liberal flinging obscenities, then these people are in the same position as those who knew Jim Jones was a fraud, but felt like they had no option but to stay in Jonestown.

Comments are closed.