What is to be done? Military intervention is thwart with danger. Wood suggests that containment is the best of a bad range of options.
Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.
Denouncing the Islamic State as un-Muslim is dishonest and counterproductive,
especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them. Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.
That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.
Related: The World’s Deadliest Terrorist Organization
UPDATE: Mark Durie: Paris attacks were not ‘nihilism' but sacred strategy
UPDATE: According to Newsweek a 2014 poll found that one in six French citizens sympathised with the Islamist militant group ISIS, also known as Islamic State.
The poll of European attitudes towards the group, carried out by ICM for Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya, revealed that 16% of French citizens (both Muslims and non-Muslims) have a positive opinion of ISIS. This percentage increases among younger respondents, spiking at 27% for those aged 18-24.
A recent poll placed French president Francois Hollande’s approval rating at just 18%.
UPDATE: Interview with Graeme Wood.