CTX Journal Vol. 6, No. 3
From the Editor
"ISIS is losing. ISIS is definitely losing, and that's why they're striking at more soft targets abroad." That was the sort of left-handed reassurance coming from the media chatterati after the worst mass shooting in US history (and that's saying a lot) over the weekend of 11–12 June at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. Mid-massacre, the young gunman dedicated the bloodshed to ISIS, just before the final shootout that killed him.
Is there a connection between ISIS and this killer? Does it mean something that the shooter's parents are Afghan immigrants? Did ISIS orchestrate the mayhem? The question of whether this attack was another local act of violence by an "ordinary" American psychopath or an act of anti-American terrorism by a violent lone-wolf jihadist—or maybe both—will likely remain open for some time to come. Indeed, the belated self-congratulation that ISIS issued may have been purely opportunistic, once the group's leaders discovered their name had been mentioned.
More attacks went down in Istanbul (29 June), Dhaka (1 and 7 July), and Baghdad (3 July) over the 10 days before I finished this letter. Here's the dilemma: in modern liberal democracies—and everywhere else—how do we parse domestic terrorism? Can we really hope to separate the personal grievances of individuals from their susceptibility to the ethnic or political or religious grievances that so many terrorist and insurgent groups cultivate? If you can convince someone who is filled with frustration and a personal sense of impotence not only that his rage is justified, but also—most importantly—that his impulse to violent retaliation is justified, then you might have yourself a terrorist.
For instance, this issue begins with an investigation by Major Eric East of the ways in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has used his personal background and education, the consolidation of territory and populations, and a professional bureaucracy to establish his own legitimacy as "caliph" and normalize the status of the Islamic State as a "caliphate." Based on a theory of horizontal (popular) and vertical (institutional) legitimation, MAJ East describes the ways in which Baghdadi has carefully crafted his image to win and maintain support, and inspire his cadres to extraordinary violence.
Next up is Captain Marius Kristiansen's exploration of radicalization in Norway. While the number of Norwegians who have gone to Syria to fight alongside ISIS extremists remains small, the challenges confronting the Norwegian government are significant. CPT Kristiansen makes clear that rewriting Norway's national guidelines on deradicalization and counterterrorism represents a vital first step.
Our next two articles take us to the Asia-Pacific region and focus on two kinds of domestic terrorism. The first essay is a reminiscence by Brigadier General (Ret.) Hiran Halangode about an episode in Sri Lanka's long, bloody civil war between the separatist Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Army. BG Halangode describes how, over the course of a week in mid-1990, several isolated, undermanned army encampments fought to repel waves of well-armed LTTE attackers who sought to annihilate them. The second essay is by Lieutenant Commander Gilbert Villareal, who examines the plight of the Philippines' indigenous populations on the island of Mindanao. These mostly poor, isolated communities are forced to choose sides between a chronic violent neo-Maoist insurgency and the armed forces of a too-often unresponsive government.
For our final feature article, Michael Tierney describes the innovative way in which Canada has reorganized its counterterrorism community in the wake of a notorious intelligence failure. The goal of the reforms has been to find the right balance between honoring each agency's mandates and enabling vital collaboration.
The CTAP interview brings back Brian Fishman to discuss the history, current status, and future prospects of ISIS. In conversation with Dr. Doug Borer, Fishman delves into the important questions of what makes ISIS different from al Qaeda and other predecessors, and what its enemies need to understand if we are to defeat it.
Finally, in the occasional column State of the Art, designer Ryan Stuart explores the artwork of Terminal Lance: The White Donkey, a graphic novel based in Afghanistan. She uses her professional art background to explore how the combination of drawing and text opens up layers of meaning that neither one can quite achieve on its own.
We have several publication announcements for you, so be sure to check those out.
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Managing Editor, CTX