Originally published 4 October 2017
The 1 October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas and the rapid claim by ISIS of the shooter as a soldier of the Caliphate has generated several articles and comments by lots of people. Many of those writing and speaking on this topic addressed the claim of responsibility by ISIS as a grab for notoriety and not a serious claim. Some have made the argument that ISIS has rarely done this in the past and should be taken seriously until more is known. Others piled on by scoffing at the claim and linking it with Twitter statements weeks earlier where ISIS followers took pleasure in the destruction and suffering caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. These commentators argued that ISIS’ claim of responsibility for Vegas is as silly as them claiming responsibility for hurricanes hitting the United States.
Those who are scoffing and dismissing the ISIS claim are seeing this too literally and missing something very important. This is not like fact-checking a political leader or some other public figure. To understand this claim, one must approach it from ISIS’ perspective. This is not about fact. This is about narrative.
If an ISIS follower believes that he is part of the Caliphate, that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the Caliph, the proper and only accepted successor of the Prophet Mohamed, then this person is inclined to believe that the United States is the enemy. Not just the enemy of ISIS and it’s Caliphate, but the enemy of God. In this belief, the United States is seeking to thwart the efforts of the true believers and followers of God. By so doing, the United States is open to the punishments and wrath of God. ISIS is the instrument by which God will bring about His purposes on the earth, or so the argument goes.
If one understands this reasoning then it can be clear how any harm that happens to the United States can be construed as being the will of God and also supportive of ISIS. Any person who brings pain and suffering, according to this line of thinking, is therefore serving the interests of the Caliphate. In effect, any shooter, bomber, mass murderer, etc. can be seen as a soldier of the Caliphate as they are serving the interests of the Caliphate in causing suffering to the conceptual enemy of God and the physical and literal enemy of ISIS.
It may be found that the Las Vegas shooter did have some direct connection to ISIS. Whether he did or not does not negate the claim made by ISIS just as the criticisms about claiming responsibility for hurricanes does not negate the fact that an “act of God” did tremendous damage to multiple American states and territories. The shooter harmed America. By definition, his actions served the Caliphate and thereby he is, in some form, a soldier of the Caliphate. The recent hurricanes have harmed America. By definition these acts of God have served the Caliphate and thereby, in some form, serve the interests and support the actions of ISIS.
ISIS is functioning in a world where they maneuver in the narrative space. The narrative space is where they see success now and in the future. It is their belief, their ideology, and their conviction of rightness that allows them to conduct themselves as they have regardless of the successes or defeats on physical battlefields. For those of us opposed to ISIS and their ilk it is imperative that we understand this maneuver in the narrative space and become proficient in such maneuver ourselves so that we can use our own powerful narrative of inclusion, opportunity, freedom, and rule of law to dominate and win on the narrative battlefields that matter in the Twenty-first Century.