ISIS’ Dangerous Plans to Create a Rift in Pluralistic Societies

Waging violence will be easier for the ISIS by harping on religious rift across pluralistic societies.

4 min read

In this file photo from 27 June 2016, a member of Iraqi counterterrorism forces stands guard near Islamic State group militant graffiti in Fallujah, Iraq. (Photo: AP)

As the US-led coalition is making an attempt to liberate Mosul from the clutches of ISIS, the world can see its footprints in areas that are far away from where it maintains territorial control. In 2016 alone, the ISIS has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in areas that are far apart, from Indonesia, to Bangladesh to Germany, and even the recent attacks in Quetta, Pakistan.

However, military strategy is not enough, as the ISIS is fighting a different battle – in the minds of the people; where there is a risk of playing right into their hands.

The ISIS claims that its ultimate apocalyptic aim is a global caliphate, established after a war between the world’s Muslims against those from other religious communities. The ISIS would like to create a divide between Muslims and those believing in other religions, all over the world and thus, terrorist attacks in countries where mixed populations live, serves an important part of this design.

In this file photo released on 25 April 2015, by a militant website,   young boys known as the “lion cubs” hold rifles and Islamic State group flags as they exercise at a training camp in Tal Afar, near Mosul, northern Iraq. (Photo: AP)
In this file photo released on 25 April 2015, by a militant website, young boys known as the “lion cubs” hold rifles and Islamic State group flags as they exercise at a training camp in Tal Afar, near Mosul, northern Iraq. (Photo: AP)

Attempts to Create a Rift

A very important aspect of ISIS’ strategy is its support and encouragement of lone wolf individual attacks by its sympathisers wherever they are. On numerous occasions, the ISIS has released videos and statements, and even published a hit list to encourage such individual attacks. Europe has seen numerous incidents where ISIS supporters have carried out individual shootings, knife attacks, and in the case of Nice in 2016, even deliberately drove a truck through a crowd killing people. Such attacks are not only harder for security agencies to prevent; they also create fear and suspicion in the minds of the population.

As Nicholas Henin, a former captive of the ISIS said, “They fear our unity more than our airstrikes”. It very clearly shows that the ISIS’ intention is to create a divide in pluralistic societies between the Muslims and non-Muslims. They hope that by carrying out attacks, they will be able to sow distrust and suspicion in order to achieve that end.

The ISIS hopes that the anti-Muslim policies and attitudes created by a post-terror environment would alienate Muslims and radicalise some, and eventually help it win more recruits and supporters. This trend has the potential of becoming a vicious cycle: more recruits for the ISIS would mean more terrorist attacks, which would lead to more anti-Muslim policies, which would create more alienation and lead to more recruits for the ISIS.

Rise in Islamophobia

The ISIS attacks in Europe have led to political developments that should be viewed with alarm. Far-right parties and leaders who have taken Islamophobic and xenophobic positions are trying to use the ISIS attacks as alleged vindication of their consistent anti-Muslim policies. According to the Brietbart, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French far right-wing National Front, saw her approval ratings rise in the wake of the Nice attacks.

The Danish People’s Party declared a need to cut down on immigration, saying that “there are too many people with a Muslim background in Denmark”. In the United States of America, presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly made anti-Muslim statements, alleging that some Muslims in America “celebrated” as the World Trade towers collapsed during the 9/11 attacks.

In the wake of San Bernardino attacks, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, till the authorities could “figure out what is going on”; he also asked for increased surveillance of mosques in the US.

Such comments are accompanied by a rise in Islamophobia, visible in anti-Muslim rallies, attacks on asylum seekers in Europe. Reports like those which say that Germans are leaving to settle in Hungary because it is “Muslim-free”, and incidents like the killing of the New York imam seem to suggest that the first phase of ISIS’ cyclic violence is in motion.


Inciting Violence

According to ISIS’ design, its violence will feed itself.  In its own publication called Dabiq, the ISIS has proclaimed it wishes to polarise society by an “extinction of the grayzone”, and spread hatred to divide society.

According to The Washington Post, the ISIS itself declared that their attacks would “compel the crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves”, and thus, force Muslims to either join the ISIS or to “apostatise”. In order to promote this agenda, the ISIS would like to show that the people from other religious communities hate Muslims.

Any anti-Muslim reaction to ISIS attacks would fit within their agenda. It would help the ISIS in their narrative that Muslims and people from other religious communities can’t coexist. The ISIS would like to use the statements of leaders like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, and images of anti-Muslim rallies, and present it as proof, that their apocalyptic war is inevitable and prophetic; in an attempt to sow hatred in the minds of peaceful and peace-loving Muslims.

While military effort is needed to defeat the ISIS on the ground, and also liberate those who are living in territory occupied by them in the Middle East, the ISIS must also be defeated in the battle it is waging in the minds of the people. The ISIS must not be allowed to spread fear, hatred and division in pluralistic societies. Any sign of unity and cohesion will be unwelcome to the ISIS. Muslims and people from other religious communities must remain united against the ISIS, in order to defeat them truly.


(The writer is a student of law, and takes a keen interest in politics, security, and conflict resolution. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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