“Bizarre,” “hard-line” and even “barbaric” are words that often describe terrorists and their activities, but “evil” carries a stronger moral quality. “Evil” is a strong word, but in the case of the Islamic State (IS), it may be appropriate. Media and political attention to the IS, also known as ISIS and ISIL, has grown after the execution of American journalist James Foley and threatened violence against several other Western hostages, but the IS’ brutality should not be our only concern.

For many in America, the existence of terrorists in the world has been normalized. America has avoided serious attacks for more than a decade, and the atrocities committed by these groups often seem isolated and remote.

The IS must not be taken lightly, and we must recognize the menace they pose is qualitatively different than that of many terrorist organizations around the globe.

“[The IS] is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The historical political agenda employed by the likes of Adolf Hitler is being repeated by the IS, and we would be wise to take note. First, establish an enemy and highlight the “damage” they have inflicted on your followers. Next, call upon history and set a vision for a return to former glory. Then, control education and indoctrination. Finally, amass military and economic power.

Then execute…both literally and figuratively.

Without a doubt, the IS has crafted its enemy as the infidels and heretics they claim have caused the deterioration of both Islam as a faith and world political power.  Moderate Islam and Western society have become the antagonists holding back a return to prominence for the IS.

The IS is also sophisticated enough to weave in historically relevant components into its narrative. In June, the IS declared the areas that it occupies in Iraq and Syria as a new Islamic state, or caliphate, with al-Baghdadi being named Caliph Ibrahim. This historic and ideological move has tremendous meaning. The caliph claims authority over and responsibility for all Muslims. The bold step of proclaiming a caliphate is a direct and aggressive claim of power.

Prior to assuming the title of caliph, Al-Baghdadi had already taken on the historically relevant name of Abu Bakr, the first Muslim caliph following the prophet Muhammad’s death. The geographic relevance of occupying Syria also carries historic importance. Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate, one of the largest empires the world has ever seen.

In short, the IS is promoting a return to glory for Muslims who adhere to their ideology and tactics. First, they seek to purify Islam of heretics. Anything less than their hard-line version of Islam based on sharia is unacceptable. Westernized Muslims with more moderate and tolerant religious views are arguably more of a target for the IS than so-called “infidels.”

While both the IS and al-Qaeda seek the emergence of an Islamic state, the brutal measures of the IS moved al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to disassociate his organization from the IS. Shockingly, the IS is too extreme for al-Qaeda.

With potentially billions in funding and a well-trained military force, the IS functions more like a military state than an inexperienced band of ideologues. In fact, The Atlantic reports that the IS is instituting a “soft-power governing strategy” which includes “social services, religious lectures and da’wa (proselytizing) to local populations.” ISIS, though highlighted for its brutality by the media, is unmistakably in the business of state building and pushing propaganda.

While the IS will undoubtedly seek to win hearts and minds where possible, it will never hesitate to use violence to maintain compliance with its power structure. IS is antithetical to the ideals of a free society. In fact, it seeks to end freedom, stifle religious differences and entirely control those it rules according to the perspectives of its leaders.

Many Americans understandably struggle with the idea of more military involvement in the Middle East. At the same time, targeted strikes and strong-worded condemnations may be insufficient to derail the IS.

The emergence of the IS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi mark the rebirth of the type of fascist evil Americans have defeated before. Relatively speaking, that evil is in its infancy, but growing fast. In the past, we have decided as a nation that combating some evils in the world is worth the price of American lives. That is a heavy decision for our political leaders and our country, but we must consider that the new threat posed by the IS may merit that type of response.

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