Last night I had the privilege of hearing a briefing on the Isis movement at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport. The speaker was Professor Hayat Alvi, Ph.D. Dr. Alvi is on the faculty of the War College and is one of the leading scholars in the area of Middle Eastern issues. I saw myself as ignorant about the birth and emergence of the Isis phenomenon. Articles available in the American newspapers and on TV are sketchy, assuming that we Americans know more about the terrorist group than we do.
I cannot begin to capture all of the details Dr. Alvi presented in the briefing, but there are points which I will retain as I continue to follow the blood-stained trail of these murderous terrorists.
- The main point Dr. Alvi made was that Isis principles claim to be orthodox Islamic. In reality, they are regressive, espousing beliefs and practices that precede the 7th century founding of Islam. They carry none of the more humane and traditionally Islamic understandings that have embraced a more “progressive” understanding of the Islamic faith. That is not to say that Islam is progressive; to the contrary it is, by definition, an ancient religion that has chosen to adhere to understandings that are ancient, as well. But there is a more moderate progression in contemporary Islam than that which is articulated by Isis.
- Devout Muslims do not support Isis. Much of the resistance to their march through the Middle East has come (and is coming) from Islamic countries. Isis is somewhat of an embarrassment to much of Islam.
- Isis is not founded upon a geographical principle. That is to say, their purpose is not the establishment of a specific nation. To the contrary, Isis sees itself as a non-geographic movement more intent upon the conversion of the world to their pre-Islamic beliefs. They have no respect for geographic boundaries. The “Nation” of Isis is a spiritual one, not a physical one.
- Therefore, attempting to battle Isis as if it was a nation is not effective. The current effort to bomb the movement out of existence is fruitless. There will be some benefits from the bombing, but killing off the current leadership of the Isis movement will not end its existence or its effectiveness. There is a whole generation of potential leaders capable of picking up the banner and continuing on.
- A ground war against the Isis military will probably be necessary in order to slow down the expansion of Isis in its current configuration. It will be bloody and complicated.
- The Isis movement is well funded and not a ramshackle gathering of misfits. There is big money supporting the movement. The leadership is clever, and well-schooled in contemporary methods of war. Their understanding of the use of media (including social media) as a weapon is quite advanced.
- But ultimately, the war against Isis must become one based upon the mind rather than the body. It will take a long time to overcome the Isis challenge…perhaps generations.
I did not leave the briefing with good feelings. To the contrary, I was discouraged. However, I believe that Dr. Alvi is a powerful vehicle to be employed in educating the American people about the ramifications of this Isis moment. I strongly commend her as a speaker. She is articulate and presents herself well as a speaker. It was clear that she is knowledgeable. This was not a political speech or a programmed, biased presentation. Facts replaced fiction.