ISIS' Big Mistake: Breaking bin Laden's Rules

Al-Qaeda leader urged fighters to avoid butality: William Saletan
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2014 1:00 PM CDT
ISIS' Big Mistake: Breaking Bin Laden's Rules
Syrians hold copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, during a demonstration to stop fighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and rebels, in Aleppo, Syria, Jan. 6, 2014.   (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

Osama bin Laden was, to put it mildly, not a nice guy. But in some ways, he looks like a gentle soul compared to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The group, which al-Qaeda has disowned, breaks all seven of bin Laden's famed rules for effective terrorists, William Saletan at Slate points out; that's why Saletan thinks that, despite its current power and wealth, "ISIS is destroying itself." Here are some examples:

  • Don't fight civil wars. Bin Laden warned that this would "weigh on [local] people" who "will start to want to stop the fighting" and turn to secular governments. By calling itself a state, ISIS is explicitly seeking civil war.
  • Don't kill civilians. Yes, bin Laden killed plenty, but he said he regretted it, saying that it alienated people.
  • Don't show bloodlust, lest you look like "animals and killers," bin Laden warned. But ISIS exults in its brutality, cutting off people's heads and promising to wipe out Shiites. "It's hard to imagine propaganda better designed to repulse the public and galvanize the enemy," Saletan observes.
  • Don't rule harshly. Within days of taking Mosul, ISIS said it would put anyone who didn't repent to death. That kind of thing alienates more moderate potential Sunni allies.
  • Don't fight your allies. It was the Iraq insurgency that taught bin Laden this lesson, as Sunni fighters turned against al-Qaeda after it attacked civilians. But ISIS has publicly feuded with al-Qaeda and other Syrian rebels, and destroyed the homes of Baathists.
"We've been here before," Saletan concludes. "Eight years ago, jihadists in Iraq made the same mistakes. They alienated the public and were driven out by tribes that had fought alongside them." That they've returned at all is the result of Nouri al-Maliki's government ruling harshly itself and persecuting Sunnis. For more, read Saletan's full column. (Read more terrorist stories.)

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