Civil wars of regionalisation: what we can learn from ISIL

US aircraft flying over Iraq, October 2014 (DOD).
US aircraft flying over Iraq, October 2014 (DOD).

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David Murrin is the author of Breaking the Code of Historythe culmination of decades of personal research across a wide range of disciplines. David compellingly argues that human behaviour is not random, but determined by specific, quantifiable and predictable patterns fuelled by our need to survive and prosper. He has called this cycle The Five Stages of Empire, which due to its fractal nature is applicable to empires, all the way down to the cycle of the individual. According to David, to resolve the issues confronting us today we cannot merely study the past. The human race will need to understand this precise algorithm of behaviour that has caused us to re-enact the same destructive cycles in ever-greater magnitudes, in order to change our future. He is also a Global Fellow at PS21.

According to the Breaking the Code of History five stages of Empire model, a nation or region passes through the Darwinian fire of a regional civil war at the end of the first stage (regionalisation). This may look like a chaotic process, but in reality it is just another example of natural selection at work within the human social structure. Such civil wars are essentially about the selection of the most effective leadership that enfranchises and empowers the broadest segment of society, allowing the nation or region to ultimately grow and expand beyond its borders to become an Empire.

To better understand the nature of such a regional civil war, we can study the one currently underway across the Middle East. Most importantly, we need to comprehend the force that drives this process. Quite simply, the forces of change derive from expansive demographics, as regionalisation is driven by an expanding population which near the end of the stage creates a large demographic bulge comprised of young people in the teenage to mid-twenties. However, as this young group expands rapidly, the economy is unable to grow at the same rate and unemployment and disenfranchisement become widely spread. The result is a youthful group that, instead of seeing a prosperous future, feels depressed at what lies ahead.

Faced with a metaphoric brick wall and, consequentially, a low sense of self-esteem and depression, these youngsters then become vulnerable to new ideas that will give them a sense of value, purpose and the promise of glory and salvation, enhanced by the belief that such a course will provide a brighter future. Recruiters look for signs of despair in candidates at their lowest ebb and under financial pressure. Part of their toolkit of persuasion and grooming is the use of the emotions of envy and resentment to justify violent actions.

When faced with poverty and hardship, these young militants are prepared to risk their lives more readily than those who perceive a comfortable future ahead of them. To the latter sector of society (both within the region and on the outside), their actions seem inexplicable, and yet they are following an inevitable logic. By promising an afterlife and employing the religious meme of Islam, ISIL and other fundamentalist groups can make death appear but a transformation to a better life–if one acts for the collective cause. From this perspective, suicide bombing has an inevitable logic that is reinforced by strong collective expectations that override individual survival instincts. These suicide soldiers are far from unique in regional civil wars, notjust confined to the current Islamic civil war.

This powerful social process explains how a young Tunisian, from a good moderate family but feeling down and depressed, was successfully targeted by ISIL recruiters and ultimately committed to what we in the West perceive as the most horrendous act of terrorism: spraying a tourist beach with bullets, killing thirty-nine. Terrorism is not the correct description, however. Rather, it was quite simply an act of war. This war is one where the radical forces of Islam are fighting opponents in both the Middle East and the West in order to gain the pole position as crusaders for Islamic beliefs. Successful attacks against the West have a logical reward: just like people switch sides from a losing football team to a winning one, so will the population move towards ISIL as it becomes more powerful with every successful attack.

Looking forward, there will come a time when the civil war of regionalisation across the Middle East has been won, possibly by ISIL. Once they stop fighting themselves, they will inevitably expand their combat-hardened, militarised society outwards with great energy and thus assault the West with a much higher intensity. The West must realise that it is entwined in a generational war with ISIL as but a manifestation of the Middle East’s ascendancy, and to win peace it has to be more proactive. Most importantly, as we did with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, we seem to underestimate ISIL, thinking of it as a terrorist group rather than an aspiring nation. This will be our undoing as it will prevent us from applying maximum force to achieve a rapid collapse of ISIL.

The West’s vulnerability has been compounded with the infusion of Islamic cultures into Western society, blurring the frontline. This vulnerability will only increase with time as the rate of population growth of the Islamic subset is faster than other populations.

So what can nations like Britain and France, who face a threat from both within and outside their boundaries, do? The first step is to understand the process that drives the regional civil war in the Middle East from every perspective: how it impacts the young men within Islamic British society and the path that leads them to what we term radicalisation–an association with the rise of their homeland along the empire cycle.

Second, said nation should enact measures that give young people hope and a sense of collective national purpose by strengthening an all-inclusive national identity so it can resist impingement from other value systems and effectively enhance the collective immune system. This need to create a collective identity that is broadly and strongly held and can resist other value systems would traditionally be described as nationalism, or pride in one’s nation. It seems time that Britain and France clarify their national secular values and expectations of their citizens.

As to how to defend against the generic external threat from what is essentially a new rising Islamic empire, the population is too big to blanket with foreign aid, despite the UK’s not-insignificant budget at 0.7% of GDP. Instead, perhaps we should target critical areas that the ISIL recruiters operate in and watch and counter their moves step by step. Then, where possible, we should degrade and slow down the expansion of ISIS wherever it appears with all means at our disposal. This essentially means a land war to deprive ISIL of its power base and the land it has taken and occupied. Afterwards, we need to stay long enough for a democratic nation to become secure rather than leaving the job half done (as in recent years). Giving democratic nations like Turkey and Indonesia a major role in that process might make it percieved as not an ‘East versus West’ issue but rather one of Islamic extremism versus Islamic democracy.

Most importantly, the West needs to recognise that we are at war and that, despite the politicians’ spin tactics, it never stopped. Thus Western nations must commit to a strong defence policy and to spending much more (at least double) to ensure that we demonstrate the intention and capability to defend ourselves. This would be a clear reversal of the current signals we are sending: defence cuts that have made us weak and vulnerable compounded by past half-hearted military actions. This commitment alone will heighten our sense of national pride and in so doing be a part of the process that raises the bar for radicalisation.

Looking further afield, the Middle East is certainly not the only threat that the West faces. Thus, perhaps it would pay for Western strategic planners to look at other areas in the world that are near the end of their regional phase of Empire and ask if they too might be at risk of a civil war. Even more relevant are nations that have been through their civil war and entered the phase of expansion to Empire, and that are busy converting demographic expansion into economic and military expansion. Any guesses who that might be?

This piece was originally posted on on July 2, 2015.

PS21 is a non-ideological, non-national, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

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