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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fault Line

In catching up on the news on the weekend, I skim some articles and skip others. But I read every word of those on the group wreaking havoc in the Middle East, the Islamic State.

The focus comes from a news man's sense that the outfit sits on one of the fault lines of history, where enormous forces are slowly grinding against each other.

Last week's coverage of a White House conference on violent extremism illustrated that friction. The president urged respect for human rights, religious tolerance and the democratic principles of peaceful dialogue.

But he was speaking to leaders of countries that rule with strength, corruption and suppression of critical voices.

The forces that caused the Arab Spring and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood have not gone away, they are being held down. And while the leaders of those movements have nothing in common with the Islamic State, their foot soldiers would.

The group's reach has also been spreading outside Arab lands. The latest executions in Libya took place much closer to Europe than previous atrocities, and the group's recruiting continues to reach with surprising efficacy into Europe and the United States.

There is, it seems to me, a key ingredient in the group's success -- its appeal to those outside the established order.

The string of recent news stories focused on campaigns to combat the group's recruiting show clearly that the recruits are those on the margin, petty criminals, the young and angry, those with Middle Eastern and African backgrounds and a sense of being locked out.

For example, the young man who shot up a café and a synagogue in Denmark this month, killing two people, before he was killed, was described by the Danes as a violently deranged youth with only the merest connection to religion. But, as one of the Danish commentators said, it was enough to give him an ideological framework and, most importantly, a target.

I read that story and remembered covering the prosecution of the Middle Eastern men who crossed from Canada in a plot to blow up the Seattle Space Needle and other targets on the West Coast. The evidence showed they too were petty thugs, trading in stolen passports and guns.

That connection between petty crime and extremist violence has not changed much. But those plots and plotters, as significant and dangerous as they were, don't compare to the ongoing power and mayhem of this new outfit.

That power, I believe, comes from the group's position astride a slip line between two powerful forces in time. One is made up of the old Middle Eastern regimes with royal and military leadership, endemic corruption and a financially privileged elite.

The other is made up of newer elements, a vast group of young men who don't have much to lose, a maxed-out anger and a feverish belief in their religion, its rules and taboos. Roiling that dark pool are the explosive elements of sectarian division and military suppression.

That is the grinding of the plates, the old order with the money and the might against the new order of chaos, the churning, restless, growing forces of the disaffected, angry and violent.

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