By Atina Dimitrova
The essay takes into account the terrorist attacks in Paris on the 13th November.
The terrorist attacks in Paris were an unprecedented act of ISIS seeking the reestablishment of an Islamic Caliphate. Following the Salafist-jihadi interpretation of Sharia law, they triggered a tragedy which led to the death of 130 people after the events on the 13th November 2015 in Paris. This massive and precise organization also showed their other major aim – provoking reactions worldwide. Moreover, France carried out airstrikes against ISIS in September 2015 which automatically led to ISIS’s wish for revenge. As history shows, every war is about which side is able to exert more power over the other one so in this case ISIS wants to supersede Al-Qaeda in order to prove itself as the main force in the international jihadist movement. In addition, ISIS has to carry out high-profile attacks abroad so as to compensate for its territorial losses in
Syria and Iraq. A vital element is ISIS’s confidence in organizing such attacks accurately even if it is at the expense of their own lives. Although terrorist attacks threaten civil liberties of many different people, France is a concrete target with its ban on face covering and its poor relations with the Muslim community.
In order to achieve its aim for an Islamic Caliphate modeled after the regimes of the first Caliphs after the death of Muhammad, as The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) (2014) outlines, ISIS has to prove its ability to follow constantly its ideology based on jihadism. The first aim and respectively the initial motive for the events in Paris is to follow the ideology entirely so as to promote it efficiently later. The attacks are a consequence of ISIS’s radical interpretation of Sharia law. ITIC (2014) summarizes that “Muslims must strive to disseminate Islam in all areas of life by liberating the lands of Islam from other cultures through jihad”. This steadfast commitment to the religion for them means murdering vast numbers of people as sacred acts of justice. Haykel (cited in Wood, 2015) summarizes that “there is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness” about the organization’s dedication to the text of the Koran. The population in France consists mainly of Christians, which are a major target for ISIS. Wood (2015) states that “the tax on Christians finds clear endorsement in the Koran’s 9th chapter, which instructs Muslims to fight Christians and Jews until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” ITIC (2014) explains that nonMuslims “may be executed… and permits the killing of individual people and groups. ISIS translates the concept into executions and harassment” (also known as The concept of ‘takfir’).
After exploring the first motive, the second one is a predictable development of the ideology – it is the global provocation and the wish to win the media war. ISIS uses media as a key element to promote their videos. ISIS uploads the footage of the murders as propaganda but when every major media covers massive attacks like the ones in Paris, the overreaction worldwide is even more significant, which is their aim. The French nation has always been a priority for media outlets by being unambiguously a global power. This attack generates headlines - as LeSueur (cited in Goldhill, 2015) outlines: “This is a media war, and those who carried out this attack knew there was going to be an immediate response… they benefit from that media saturation”. It is also a way for them to “garner support within the terrorist organization” (Neumann, 2015). What is more, this creates a strong political effect – Britain, for example, started to use its hard military force against ISIS after the Paris attacks. The group wanted to divide Europe. On issues like the necessity to regulate the border control and the refugee relocation scheme the opinions have changed from the situation prior to the 13th November. In Schick (2015) there are some examples about divided Europe: Poland’s incoming Europe Minister Szymańksi argued: “With regards to the tragic events in Paris we do not see [the EU refugee relocation scheme] as being politically possible to execute.” Fico, Slovakian Prime Minister, said: “We respect that there’s a migration crisis but Slovak citizens and their security is of higher priority than the rights of migrants.” European Commission President Juncker highlights: “We should not mix the different categories of people coming to Europe. The one responsible for the attacks in Paris … is a criminal and… not an asylum-seeker.” The leading argument is that the opinions are not similar among the different nations and the countries internally present different opinions – Britain, for example, experienced many protests about whether this concept of fighting ISIS is reasonable. Neumann (2015) summarizes ISIS’s motive: promoting the idea of the Islamic religion as one opposing the West so as to create chaos. The third main aim of ISIS is seeking revenge because on the 28th September France carried out its first airstrikes against the group. Goldhill (2015) explains that the French intervention included a two-hour airstrike targeted at one of ISIL’s main sources of funding, an oil distribution center in Syria, a few days earlier than the Paris attack; France has also taken action against Islamic terrorists in Africa and has also carried out 1,300 attacks in Iraq.
In addition, there can be no doubt that although Al-Qaeda and ISIS are based on the same jihadist ideology, they are rivals. Malsin (2015) explains that it is a “struggle within the jihadi universe in which the two networks compete for funding, prestige and recruits… By controlling huge chunks of territory in Syria and Iraq… ISIS had supplanted Al-Qaeda as the preeminent force in the international jihadist movement.” As Khalaf and Jones (2014) present, 2014 has been extremely successful for ISIS in financial terms because the group looted hundreds of millions of dollars from Mosul banks. Moreover, its leadership consists mainly of Iraqis, but it has many volunteers from across the Middle East and the West. Malsin (2015) also highlights that ISIS is superior in terms of territorial base for training, extracting resources such as oil, taxation, social media presence (sometimes it produces tens of thousands of posts a day) to an extent unachievable for Al-Qaeda. It seems that the desire for power takes precedence over their own mutual Salafist-jihadist ideology following the doctrine of Sunni Islam. They both oppose the West but it is about which group will exert power more successfully.
A further point is that over the past year the allies have reduced ISIS’s territory by 25 percent (McCants, 2015). What is more, Cockburn (2015) adds that half the 550mile frontier between the Tigris and Euphrates is now held by the YPG, which means that ISIS’s access to the outside world is more limited, and that partisans can no longer travel through Turkey to join IS in Syria because of America’s intense pressure on this issue. That is why ISIS branches out by attacking Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tunisia, Beirut etc. Wood (2015) highlights that “the Islamic State requires territory to remain legitimate and a top-down structure to rule it.” And by attacking France, ISIS is assaulting the whole Western world which gives it predominance in a global aspect: it is a compensation for the military pressure it experiences in Syria and Iraq.
Another reason is ISIS’s own self-confidence that their way to create demonstrations is precise. As Cockburn (2015) concludes: “Recruiting, arming, coordinating and keeping hidden the Paris killers until the last moment implies good organisation”. ISIS is not willing to move its religious beliefs in the 21st century, which is a more liberal, tolerant century than the Medieval period, for example. For them killing is still a religiously sanctioned act. Their military expertise is unquestionable. As Khalaf and Jones (2014) show: the group claims nearly 10,000 operations in Iraq in 2013 alone with 1,000 assassinations and 4,000 improvised explosive devices planted. Khalaf and Jones (2014) also explain that since 2012 ISIS issued annual reports detailing its successful missions with the apparent aim of demonstrating its record to potential donors.
The other motivations are examined by Goldhill (2015). In France 4.7m Muslims are highly segregated from the rest by living in suburbs (known as banlieues), for example. Discrimination and poor employment opportunities are present there. Moreover, 70% of France’s prison population is Muslim without all of them having the possibility to be given spiritual guidance from professional imams. Furthermore, burqas are banned in France and hijabs are not allowed in public spaces. All these factors contribute to ISIS taking action about the disempowered Muslims.
To recapitulate, ISIS’s main motivation is how to delegate its internal and international tasks so as to establish an Islamic Caliphate. They are ideologically driven people with the radical aim to ‘purify’ the world by expanding the zone of conflict. French intervention in Syria and its problematic integration of Muslims are only part of the assailants’ motivations. ISIS’ adherents are willing to die to obliterate civilian liberties and the Paris attacks are only one way to promote the radical interpretation of Islam taking credit for it over the other militant groups.
Cockburn, P. (2015) ‘Paris attack: ISIS has created a new kind of warfare’. Independent. Saturday 14th November. [Online] Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-attack-isis-has-created-a-new-kind-ofwarfare-a6734701.html
Goldhill, O. (2015) ‘Why Paris’. Quartz. Sunday 15th November. [Online] Available from: http://qz.com/550699/why-did-the-terrorists-strike-paris-once-again/
Khalaf, R., Jones, S. (2014) ‘Selling terror: How Isis details its brutality’. Financial Times.
17th June. [Online] Available from: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/69e70954-f639-11e3-a038-
Malsin, J. (2015) ‘What to know about the deadly ISIS vs. al-Qaeda rivalry’. Time. Tuesday 24th November. [Online] Available from: http://time.com/4124810/isis-al-qaeda-rivalry-terror-attacksmali-paris/
McCants, W. (2015) ‘Why did ISIS attack Paris’. The Atlantic. Monday 16th November. [Online] Available from: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/11/isis-paris-attackwhy/416277/
Neumann, P. (2015) ‘What motivated the terror attacks in Paris’. PBS. Sunday 15th November. [Online] Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CaGHVhbixA
Schick, N. (2015) ‘What do the Paris attacks mean for the migration crisis’. Open Europe. Monday 16th November. [Online] Available from: http://openeurope.org.uk/blog/what-do-the-parisattacks-mean-for-the-migration-crisis/
The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (2014) ‘ISIS: Portrait of a Jihadi Terrorist Organization’. November 2014. [Online] Available from: http://www.crethiplethi.com/isis-s-ideologyand-vision-and-their-implementation/islamic-countries/syria-islamic-countries/2015/
Wood, G. (2015) ‘What ISIS really wants’. The Atlantic. March 2015. [Online] Available from: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/
Author of two novels published in Bulgarian. Photography lover. Journalism student at City University London