The best and worst of times for ISIS

It’s the best of times and worst of times for ISIS. The group had a big week, claiming credit for attacks in multiple locations: Iraq, Turkey and Indonesia, which killed a total of nearly 70 people.But ISIS’s evolving strategy to go after easier, “soft targets"--innocent, civilian populations-- is likely fueled by its losses on the battlefield and setbacks to its infrastructure. The attack in a Baghdad mall on Monday was likely retaliation, say analysts, for the recent routing of the group from its stronghold in Ramadi, western Iraq. Meanwhile, the attack on tourists, which killed 10 Germans, on Tuesday in Istanbul may have been to punish Turkey for its participation in an international military coalition which has stepped up campaigns against the group in Syria and Iraq.On Thursday, ISIS claimed responsibility for a major attack in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, with a strong tradition of religious tolerance. The New York Times recently reported analysts’ view that “a tiny fraction of the [Indonesian] population is radicalized, but in recent years, the country has grappled with rising tensions between moderates and hard-line groups, some of them peaceful and others militant, promoting what they say is a purer interpretation of Islam.”Militants have in the past targeted symbols of that tolerance--churches, Buddhist temples, and Western businesses, tourists, and organizations.Terror, as experts remind us, is the weapon of the weak. ISIS is struggling to match conventional armed forces, so it is preying on the unarmed and innocent. Major attacks against civilians secure terrorists’ ultimate goal of instilling fear and garnering media attention, giving them undue and disproportionate influence to their actual threat. Watch Canadian terrorism expert Tom Quiggin’s insightful analysis of this topic below: Terrorism Basics: Fear and Knowledge.[embed][/embed]Ahmed Saadawi, the celebrated Iraqi author of the award-winning “Frankenstein in Baghdad,” counseled in the above NYT article that fear is precisely the goal of terrorists. “When fear controls a society, it will distract and confuse people’s minds, and it will erase the lines between enemies and friends.” Saadawi’s novel takes on the topic of fear as it breaks down social trust and bonds. “How it makes people scared to walk in the streets, thinking, who is the enemy? Who is the friend?”President Obama in Tuesday’s State of the Union address got it right when he addressed the issue of the Islamic State. “But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence.That is the story ISIL wants to tell. That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.”