From Raqqa to Paris with Hate: The Modernist Cyber-Caliphate as a Virtual Community

Carl-Ungerer_gallerylargeCarl Ungerer, courtesy of The Australian, 25 November 2015, where the title is “Paris attacks: Islamists exploit West’s open societies” … and where there already are 26 blog-comments

As the Paris attacks demonstrate, the modern cosmopolitan city is now the preferred operating environment for the thousands of jihadists returning from conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and west Asia. Six of the terrorists in Paris previously had fought in Syria. Like the Madrid, London and Boston bombings before it, significant elements of this “protean enemy” have devised a clear strategy to move from the periphery of failing states in the Middle East and North Africa to operate in Western cosmopolitan cities. Just as Western security agencies grapple with the issue of trying to prevent the flow of foreign fighters to the conflict in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State has already devised a plan to send many of these fighters back to the West, including through the irregular immigration flows that cross daily into Europe.

The threat is neither homegrown nor foreign. It is both. Europe is particularly vulnerable. Having tolerated Islamist ghettos in the outer suburbs of Paris, Brussels and London for a generation, and fumbled over a comprehensive response to the 2015 migration crisis, Europe now finds itself caught between the humanitarian impulse to open borders and the security challenge of having to track hundreds of potential suicide bombers. In France alone, the security agencies have identified more than 10,000 individuals who hold extremist views.

The ideology common to these attacks is Islamism, and its recruits undertake acts of political violence in the name of Islam, Islamic State or just God. The ideology is calibrated to the virtual world of the internet, which has been crucial for recruitment and operational planning for more than a decade. And it has responded quickly to the surveillance actions of the modern state, shifting communication patterns to PlayStation game consoles and mobile phone applications to avoid the attention of Western intelligence agencies.

In other words, although the current wave of violent Islamism seeks to re-create the seventh-century caliphate of the first “rightly guided” successors of the Prophet Mohammed, it has adapted the message and the practice to the demands of modernity and its technology.

Its organisation is also modern. It is facilitated by the expanding reach of the internet, which allows for the creation of a cyber-caliphate as a virtual community. Increasingly, it functions as an integrated global network of individuals. Its main tactic is still mass casualty terror against civilians.

This asymmetric strategy identifies itself with an ideological cause globally via news networks or internet chat rooms but it operates locally, often within the cities where the Islamist resides. The individuals who promote this extremist doctrine via the internet, social media and community venues are using the openness and pluralism of the modern, multicultural state and its technology in an effort to overthrow it.

Islamism’s universal pretensions, however, bulge with paradox. It is a network-based social order, facilitated by globalisation, without a real society. It is atomised without individualism. It can operate effectively in a bewildering diversity of settings without intellectual or political pluralism. Furthermore, Islamism has developed a capacity to turn the West’s technological advantages against it.

This asymmetric style of conflict is likely to continue and intensify in the modern, multicultural cities of the West. Indeed, as the reactions to Paris across Europe showed, the fabric of multiculturalism itself and the values of tolerance and inclusion it promotes are under severe challenge. And this is precisely what the Islamists want to achieve.

A crucial weakness of modern liberal democracy remains its lack of understanding of violent Islamism and the contours it assumes in the face of modernity. The processes of moving from recruitment to radicalisation to violence among urbanised Muslim youth is an under-researched phenomenon.

To date, research in this area has tended to focus more on the dividing lines between moderate, activist and militant elements within the broader Islamic community. And global efforts to counter violence extremism, from religious rehabilitation to financial incentives, remain underfunded and lacking in hard evidence to show that deradicalisation programs are possible or effective.

The question that remains is why do tertiary-educated children of second-generation migrants who aspire to middle-class success seek salvation not in a mortgage but in a suicide vest? What is the attraction of Salafist doctrine to this essentially young, male, middle-class urban cohort often with a background in science and engineering?

A key challenge for the Australian government is to understand the pace and trajectory of the radicalisation and recruitment patterns that have occurred in modern cosmopolitan cities such as London and Paris and to identify effective intervention strategies to mitigate the real threat of homegrown or returning jihadists developing an operational capacity in Australia. As Islamic State moves to internationalise its terror campaign, finding the right strategy just became a lot more urgent.

Carl Ungerer is head of the leadership, crisis and conflict management program at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in Switzerland and a former foreign policy adviser to the Labor government. See

EXAMPLE of BLOGS: Bob 1 hour ago = “…the fabric of multiculturalism itself and the values of tolerance and inclusion it promotes are under severe challenge. And this is precisely what the Islamists want to achieve”. I have just checked Wikipedia for terrorist attacks this year. Worldwide, there are 336 of them listed so far, about 60 of them by Islamic State & affiliates, with total death toll of more than 600. Targeted were France – 4 times, Iraq – 23, Afghanistan – 2, Saudi Arabia – 7, Libya – 5, Turkey – 2, Lebanon – 1, Egypt – 3, Bangladesh – 1, Kuwait – 1, Yemen – 6, Tunisia – 2, Syria – 3. Only few of these countries do subscribe to the Doctrine of Multiculturalism, and most are not at all strong on promoting “values of tolerance and inclusion”. If Mr. Carl Ungerer’s assertions are right, there would be no reason for IS to target those countries, and yet – they do. His claims are misleading, and must be rejected. Common sense tells us that the IS objective is something very, very different.


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