August 3, 2016
The Myth of the Lone Wolf and How We Must Fight Islamic Terrorism
Dear Friend of FLAME:
In the last few months, numerous terrorists, working on their own—in Orlando, Florida; in Nice, France; in Würzburg and Ansbach, Germany; to name a
few—have killed scores of innocents in the name of Islam. Just a week ago, two men, invoking ISIS, slit the throat of a French priest,
execution-style, in Rouen.
By labeling these murderers "lone wolves," the media and politicians seek to divert attention from the key motivation of the attackers—and thus
create the greatest problem society faces in trying to stop such attacks.
Despite the terrorists claims of allegiance to Allah or to Islamic State, the lone wolf theory promoted by so-called "thought leaders" seeks to
characterize these killers as devoid of ideology or sponsorship.
We're led to believe they have nothing in common, except their "mental instability."
Yet in truth, these terrorists have two important things in common—first they are Muslim, and second they swear allegiance to radical Islam.
Yet it's also true that most of these men do not belong to a terrorist organization—much as they may admire one or the other. This means we cannot
stop the murderous acts of such unaffiliated terrorists simply by attacking ISIS or al Qaeda—because these groups did not actively instigate, let alone
coordinate their crimes.
Nonetheless, we can seek to defeat this trend of unaffiliated terrorism by focusing on its roots—within the community of Muslim nations and within Muslim
religious communities. We can encourage these entities to play a more active role—not just in identifying potential killers, but also in full-throatedly branding such terrorist activities as shameful, as apostasy, as crimes against Islam.
(While we're on the subject, certainly millions of Jews would appreciate seeing the virulent anti-Semitism so rampant among Muslims also generally
denounced by Muslim states and Muslim religious leaders . . . but clearly we're many years from support for that enlightened movement.)
This week's FLAME Hotline featured article, by George Friedman, editor of Geopolitical Futures, analyzes the disturbing trend of "lone wolf"
attacks—what they are and what they're not—and places the responsibility for reversing this trend squarely on the shoulders of organized Islam.
Don't let your friends, colleagues and family members minimize these acts of terror as "mere" lone-wolf attacks. They have a common cause, and they have a
solution—if a difficult one. It's important our fellow Americans realize that these killings can ultimately only be stopped by Muslims themselves.
In addition, I hope you'll also quickly review the P.S. immediately below, which describes FLAME's current hasbarah campaign to disprove the too-common
accusation—most recently by Bernie Sanders—that Israel used "disproportionate force" against the Palestinians in the 2014 Gaza war.
President, Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME)
It's said that Israel is the Jew of the world—the victim of all manner of calumnies, from the accusation of harvesting Palestinian children's organs
and apartheid to, most recently, disproportionate use of force against the Palestinians during the 2014 Gaza war. This latter accusation was
made—ignorantly—by Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and it received a great deal of press without correction of Sanders' false statements. To set the
record straight, FLAME is publishing a new position paper in media nationwide—which explains that Israel's response to the terror group Hamas in 2014 was not only "proportionate," it was also one of the most humane defensive wars in modern times. I urge you to review this outspoken hasbarah message: "What Is Disproportionate Force?" This paid editorial is appearing in magazines
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The Problem with Fighting Islamist Terrorism
Radical Islamism is a movement, not an organization, which makes it much harder to defeat.
By George Friedman, Geopolitical Futures, July 26, 2016
The United States has been at war for nearly 15 years. The primary purpose of the war was to end the threat of terrorism posed by jihadists. The war has
taken various twists and turns, and many of the operational choices have been questioned and are questionable. It can be said, however, that regardless of
views on Iraq or Afghanistan, the fundamental strategic goal has not been achieved. Islamist terrorism remains active in Europe and shows its hand
occasionally in the United States. The shift to Europe from the United States might have been the result of U.S. operations, but it might also be a shift
in terrorist strategy for the moment.
At its heart, the United States' strategy was to identify terrorist groups and destroy them. The assumption was that terrorism required an organization.
Progress in this strategy meant identifying an organization or a cell planning terror operations and disrupting or destroying it. Since terrorist
organizations are relatively small at the operational level, the strategy has resembled police work: the first step is to identify the person active in the
organization. Having identified him, send drones or SEALs to capture or kill him.
Operationally, the strategy worked. Terrorists were identified and killed.
As the organizations were degraded and broken, terrorism declined—but then surged. These endless intelligence and special forces operations may have been
brilliantly carried out, but the strategic goal of the United States has not been achieved. The war is not being won and a stalemate is equivalent to a
loss for the United States.
The essential problem has been a persistent misunderstanding of radical Islamism. It is a movement, not an organization. Or to be more precise, radical
Islamism is a strand of Islam. How large or small it is has become the subject of a fairly pointless debate. Its size is sufficient to send American forces
halfway around the world and it is capable of carrying out attacks in Europe and the U.S. Whether it is a small strand or a giant strand doesn't matter.
What matters is that it cannot be suppressed, or at least has not yet been suppressed.
One of the problems in American thinking is that it still draws from the U.S.' experience with European and Palestinian terrorism prior to 1991. These
groups were heavily influenced by the Soviet model and created organizations that were to a great extent hermetically sealed. The organizations had three
characteristics. First, although sympathizers might be recruited with a careful vetting process, membership in the organizations was formal in the sense
that you either were a member or you weren't. Second, the organizations protected themselves by staying, to the extent possible, at arm's length from any
movement. They were obsessed with preventing penetration. Finally, they were heavily compartmentalized so that members and operations were known only on a
These organizations were intended to be sustainable
over an extended period of time. But they had a flaw. If they could be penetrated (however difficult it might be) by informants or electronic monitoring,
the entire organization could unravel. Either it would be completely destroyed through operations or the sheer paranoia of knowing it was penetrated
somewhere would cause internal conflict or lead it to become inert.
In some cases, these organizations had no movement supporting them or the movement was so thin that it was not an issue. This was particularly true with
European terrorists. The Palestinians had a substantial movement, but it was so fragmented and penetrated that the organizations distanced themselves from
the movements. These organizations were over time broken by Western security services and bitterly factionalized to the point that the different factions
could be used against each other.
For 15 years, the operational focus for the U.S. has been the destruction of terrorist organizations. The reason for this is that destroying a particular
group creates the illusion of progress. However, as one group is destroyed, another group arises in its name. For example, al-Qaida is being replaced by
the Islamic State. The real strength of Islamist terrorism is the movement that the organization draws itself from and that feeds it. So long as the
movement is intact, any success at destroying an organization is, at best, temporary and, in reality, an illusion.
In addition, because there is a movement, the main organization can organize terror attacks by sending individuals who know little of the details of the
organization to carry out operations. But because the movement consists of individuals who understand what needs to be done, jihadist organizations do not
have to recruit people to carry out attacks or teach them how to do so. The complexity of 9/11 was never repeated and the level of simplicity has increased
over time. That means that members of the movement who have never had contact with the organization can carry out attacks. From the point of view of the
organization, these are ideal attackers. They cannot be traced back to the organization, they are not under surveillance and there are sufficient models
for them to draw on without needing to ask for advice.
In the old model, all attacks were coordinated by the central organization.
In the new model, most organizations have no contact with the people organizing operations and attacking the center will not diminish the attacks. Of late,
there have been absurd discussions about whether particular terrorists had contact with other terrorists, or whether they had been "radicalized." I assume
this means the person was persuaded to become a terrorist. In a movement, you are aware that there are others like you and who think like you. You do not
need formal attachments to respond to the ideology of the movement.
However, the idea of jihadism has permeated the movement and Muslims are aware of this. Most may reject it but others embrace it. You don't need a training
program to absorb what is all around you. If an individual doesn't know anyone who is part of this ongoing movement, there is enough on the internet, or
enough speculation in the media to draw a map for anyone who wants a map drawn. The idea that if a Muslim shoots 20 people, but has had no contact with a
terrorist organization, he might not have done it for ideological reasons might be true. But it forgets that he does not need contact with a mentor to plan
an attack, especially a relatively simple one. The movement and the atmosphere is filled with the idea.
The movement is not an organization any more than conservatism or liberalism is. There may be organizations attached to it, but it is more of a social
tendency. However, its members still communicate with each other. There are leaders in all these movements, although there may not be managers.
This tendency in Islam makes the movement difficult to defeat
It cannot be surgically removed. Some members of the movement don't wear a uniform. It is also impossible to attack the movement without attacking Islam as
a whole. And attacking Islam as a whole is difficult. There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world and any of them can believe in radical jihadism. And the
believers in jihadism are serious people, moved by their own fate. We would like to dismiss them as fools. If they were, they would be easy to defeat.
It is obvious that the conventional special operations approach hasn't worked and won't work. It is also obvious that a general war on Islam is impossible.
What is left is difficult but the only option. It is to bring pressure on Muslim states to make war on the jihadists and on other strands of Islam to do so
as well. The pressure must be intense and the rewards substantial. The likelihood of it working is low. But the only way to eliminate this movement is for
Muslims to do it. They may not want to, and they may fail if they try. But more drone strikes and announcements that another leader of some group has been
killed won't work. Our options are down to having to "live with it" or fomenting a civil war in the Islamic world. In the end, we might wind up with "live
with it" anyway.
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