ISIS: The Durability of Chaos

Scott Atran in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_2098 Jul. 16 20.37

Mass murder has again been visited upon France and shaken the world. Again ISIS has claimed credit, though this time the link to the group seems confusingly ambiguous, feeding new fears in the West about random violence by alienated or radicalized Muslims anywhere. It raises the urgent questions: What does the attack tell us about the changing face of jihadist violence today? And how might our own response, in turn, be contributing to it?

The local driver of the truck that mowed down at least eighty-four people, including ten children, and wounded more than two hundred, on the Nice waterfront Thursday was a Tunisian citizen residing in France. He had a police record for road rage and wife beating, but was not on a terrorism watch list and had no known jihadi affiliations. Yet supporters of the Islamic State immediately celebrated his actions on social media, and French President François Hollande directly linked the attack to France’s war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

And on Saturday, the ISIS media outlet Amaq formally claimed the Nice truck driver as “one of its soldiers” who answered the call to kill anyone from a country in the coalition against it. Such formal claims have, until now, never been merely opportunistic but refer to those who have either sworn allegiance to ISIS (like the Orlando shooter) or have actually been involved in an ISIS plot (like the Paris and Brussels attackers).

All of this suggests that trying to pin down a direct ISIS connection—while ramping up operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq—may be missing the point.

More here.