A Global Epiphany on ISIS

It took only a moment for the whole world to become aware of the savagery and the delight in the slaughter of human beings by Islamist extreme groups.  That moment was the display of a skilled video of a masked jihadist in black clothes apparently preparing the brutal beheading of James Foley, the 40-year-old American photo-journalist, on August 19, 2014.

The whole world has been horrified by the insane, uncivilized behavior of ISIS (or ISIL) and its rejoicing in its deranged conduct.  There could be no better illustration of the sadistic nature and the level of barbarity of the Islamic jihadists, ISIS, and others.  Yet curiously, previous public displays of that barbarity attracted little, if any, notice by the Western media and political leaders in the U.S. and Europe.  Earlier in August, the ISIS terrorists released another video portraying a number of their group preparing to slaughter with knives some Syrians, associated with the Free Syrian Army, who were tied up. This video was almost wholly ignored by the Western media, as were the killings by ISIS of hundreds of people, attacks on minority groups, and instillation of a doctrinal Islamic state, a modern caliphate based on sharia law.

The Western countries have reacted with some strong verbal language and mild military action to the murder of Foley.  British Prime Minister David Cameron asserted that Islamic jihadism is not a distant problem, but rather “our concern here and now.”  President Barack Obama spoke of the United States being “relentless” in reacting to ISIS and also ordered air strikes in northern Iraq against ISIS to stop its advance.  In addition, the revelation that a considerable contingent of Europeans, and some Americans, have joined ISIS, and other Islamist jihadists, and that the murderer of Foley is reputed to be a 23-year-old London rapper of Egyptian origin, has been a wake-up call to Western security services about security in their own countries.

It is heartening that Middle Eastern, as well as Western, countries have realized the danger to their countries, have condemned the atrocities, and are preparing to react to them.  Countries not always friendly to each other or to the West are beginning to line up.  They now recognize that the mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan, the jihadists in Algeria and Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip all have the same disregard for human life and are characterized by inhumane zealotry.

Saudi Arabia has for some time been concerned by the growing power of ISIS, and of radical Sunnis (takfirism).  Its grand mufti, Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, now refers to ISIS as enemy number one, against which decisive measures must be taken.  The country has already pledged $100 million to combat terrorism in the Middle East.  Kuwait has closed the Islamic charities that it believes give money to the jihadists.  Western observers have long known this to be the case.

Tactical alliances in the Middle East are forever changing.  The Kurdish group PKK, formerly regarded as a terrorist organization, is welcomed by the U.S. and the EU, as helpful in fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  Turkey, which has allowed most of ISIS's supplies to come through its territory, has, at least temporarily, been less hostile to the Kurds in the north of its country.  The loathsome Bashar al-Assad Syrian regime has been bombing ISIS bases in Syria.  Even Qatar, a country that has substantially funded terrorist groups, is now reconsidering its aid to them.

Prime Minister Cameron insisted that immediate action is essential to stem the onslaught of the exceptional dangerous terrorist movement.  There is no choice but to rise to the challenge.  He might have gone farther and looked to Israel as the example showing the way to meet and overcome the challenge.

In this necessary battle against the evil forces of ISIS and of Islamic jihadists, aspects of Israeli behavior against aggression may be useful, even if used as a metaphor.  One of the elements of that behavior, used first to deal with attacks on Jews in prewar Europe and now incorporated into the training of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), is Krav Maga (Contact Combat).

This form of combat was devised by a Jewish man named Imrich Lichtenfeld, born in Budapest, who lived in Bratislava (Slovakia) as a champion boxer and wrestler.  Disturbed by the prevalent anti-Semitism in the 1930s, he worked out street-fighting tactics to deal with Fascist and Nazi assaults against Jews, and the anti-Semitic thugs.  He left for Palestine before the Second World War and taught his system to the IDF.  Krav Maga can best described as a combination of wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, Kung fu, and Savate. It is a combination of kicks, strikes, and different forms of punches.

What is important are the principles of Krav, which, using it as a metaphor, are valuable for peace in the Middle East.  Individuals must first avoid confrontation and should remove themselves from danger.  They must then try to de-escalate any verbal interaction or dispute.  If these do not succeed, the individuals, or Israel, must start a process not only of self-defense against all variety of attacks, but also of a vigorous counter-offensive as soon as possible.  The tactics include hitting as hard as you can, neutralizing the enemy as soon as possible, using what you can to get the upper hand, and maintaining awareness of surroundings.  They also entail learning to understand the psychology of confrontation, and identification of potential threats before they occur.

The actress Jennifer Lopez was one of the celebrities who trained for a number of months in the art of Krav Maga.  She obtained better starring roles in her movies as a result.  The Western countries should now adopt the principles of Krav and take part, if not always star, in the fight against Islamist jihadists.