[Candyce Kelshall and Angela Lo] Civilization and the Grey Zone


The recent Paris attacks appear to demonstrate a trend in ISIS attack patterns. The violent transnational social movement has indicated their intention to target areas of co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims. Research will show that ISIS’s self-proclaimed ‘Grey Zone’ is indeed a pattern emerging in their choice of target vectors.

The Grey Zone was first mentioned on ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015, and their attack game plan has since been based on three approaches: terrorise, mobilise and polarize the globe in order to eradicate the area where this coexistence and interaction exists. In ISIS’s words, these areas are where ‘the Caliphate’ has been diluted by ‘Western crusaders’.They include all cities where moderate westernised muslims coexist with non muslims.

Based on their previous attacks and these statements it is apparent that their goal, allegedly, is to damage the social fabric of these mixed communities in the West ( the cities of Rome – modern day hegemons)  in order to engender an ‘US and THEM’ construct, thus destabilizing the nature of relationships within these communities.

The Grey Zone exists between two distinct camps: the non-violent Muslim communities versus the pro radical  Islamic extremism supporters. Attacks, especially on opposition mosques translates a clear message: those who are in coalition with ISIS enemies or simply do not support them would be eliminated. It is conceivable that community members could turn against governments who are not capable of  protecting them and to take it  upon themselves to provide that stability from within their own community.Evidence of this pattern  of degradation  targeting social cohesion,  are clearly emerging when we consider the  disintegration of national communities in Syria, Libya and Iraq. The factionalism and identity based fragmentation of these states is a lesson arguably being ignored. This is the fate that  conceivably awaits other major grey zone cities who allow ISIS’s psychological warfare attack methods, to infiltrate and damage the bonds of community cohesion in the aftermath of attacks.

On the other hand, ISIS is seeking supporters from the communities who are prepared to engage in  violent support and defence  of their identity, (e.g. Boko Horam, etc.) and would encourage them to join in as recruits, hence the increase of ideational soldiers from around the world and inspired ‘lone-wolves’ threats. In particular,  each retaliation by the west strengthens this objective as it moves communities, particularly moderate islamic communities closer to making a choice between  defending their religious identity in the face of spontaneous retaliatory attack by communities around them.  This cycle may be seen as  pushing closer to the edge, those members of their communities, who may be swayed to active violent participation .

From ISIS’s  perspective the psychological warfare is embodied in actions designed to promote fragmentation in communities – the syrian passports found intact next to suicide bombers after the paris attacks -and their infiltration into the ranks of the refugees seeking shelter in the West.As fragmentation ensues between communities, the message becomes” either you are with us or you are with THEM, who seek to persecute you.   This message is perversely echoed on the part of the West as exemplified by George W. Bush’s declaration after 9/11 attacks, ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.’ These actions move us inexorably in the direction ISIS seeks to push us in- a showdown between the armies of ISLAM (led by ISIS) and the armies of the West (the armies of Rome – the modern day hegemons.)

ISIS is marching its inspirational and ideational  army  decisively toward this outcome. It is a unique army which has no hierarchy and no command and control structure as it is doctrinal in its objectives. Its many silent supporters and active participants need no orders or support. They need only to know the objective and to gain the ability and resources to contribute to the final objective.This is why ISIS is so intoxicating to its silent membership in the diaspora- its message to those seeking glory is that they may contribute as much or as little as they can as long as the end result is chaos and fragmentation, born of fear, within the communities in which they live.

Date Location Venue Method (attack itself) Methodology (weapon)
Jan 4, 2015 Arar, Saudi Arabia Iraq border Suicide bombings Bombs
Jan 7, 2015 Paris, France Charlie Hebdo offices & traffic stop & supermarket Hostages & Gunfire Rifles
Jan 27, 2015 Tripoli, Libya Hotel Gunfire & Explosion Guns & Car bomb
Jan 29, 2015 Sinai Peninsula, Egypt Military base & hotel Bombing Roadside bombs
Feb 15, 2015 Libya Coastline execution Execution of hostages Beheading
Mar 18, 2015 Tunis Museum Gunfire Guns; Disguised in military or police uniforms
Mar 21, 2015 Sanaa, Yemen Mosques Suicide bombings Bombs
Apr 2, 2015 Sinai Peninsula, Egypt Sinai Peninsula military checkpoint Gunfire & Bombing Grenade launchers & Assault Rifles
Apr 13, 2015 Tripoli, Libya South Korea (Sun) & Moroccan (Mon) embassies Gunfire & Explosion Bombs
Apr 18, 2015 Jalalabad, Afghanistan Bank Suicide bombings Explosives
May 5, 2015 Garland, Texas* Dallas ‘prophet Muhammad’ cartoon exhibit (thwarted) Gunfire Inspired by ISIS; Guns
May 20, 2015 Sirte, Libya Confrontation with Libyan militias
May 22, 2015 Qadeeh, Saudi Arabia Shiite mosque Suicide bombing Bombs
Jun 17, 2015 Sanaa, Yemen Mosques & Houthi Headquaters Suicide bombing Car bombs
Jun 20, 2015 Sanaa, Yemen Houthi Mosque Bombing Car bombs
Jun 26, 2015 Kuwait City, Kuwait* Shia Mosque Suicide bombing Bombs
Aug 8, 2015 Abha, Saudi Arabia Mosque Suicide bombing Bombs; Explosive belt
Oct 31, 2015 Sinai Peninsula, Egypt* Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 Bombing (unclear detonation) Explosive device
Nov 12, 2015 Beirut, Lebanon Burj al-Barajneh (Shia-majority district); Mosque Suicide bombing Bombs (Explosive vests)
Nov 13, 2015 Paris, France* Central Paris Mass shooting; Suicide bombing; Hostages Bombs (explosive vests) ; Guns;
Nov 17, 2015 Yola, Nigeria Yola market & truck stop Suicide attack Bombs

Information compiled from (The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/islamic-state-attacks/  and Aljazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/nigeria-market-bombing-151117213718605.html )

The end of the Grey Zone could be the start of something that has always been in the making: mirroring Western (hegemonic)  actions to project a reflection to the west of the consequences of their own activities.By eliminating the sanctuary for identity based hybridity, and dividing the global body in half, the ISIS-led half could have the power to determine the direction for civilisation itself, a job that the West has always been selfishly fighting to maintain through cultural and economic hegemenoy. If the West has created the binary existence of ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘the Third World’, ( and the west is developed and first world)the intersection between countries where cultures, religion and ideology co-exist and mingles,  provides ISIS with gold mines to extract recruits, intelligence, resources and plant the seed for extremism to be groomed and persevere into the future.

Europe has vectors which have been locked and loaded- the small but significant communities where different religious bodies interact, co-exist and merge into civil society in the west. No matter whether they are at peace, or peaking in tension, ISIS is going to keep aggravating the stability while stoking the embers  of internal combustion. That is why fighting ISIS or ‘the idea of ISIS’ is a generational fight. If there is a possibility ISIS is defeated, what are the costs? A violent change in the international system, how we treat cross-border conflicts, international relations itself, and a new definition of a civilisation. But could the world handle that?

To read more about the Clash of Civilizations, please refer to Victoria Dittmar’s article: The Clash of Civilizations 2.0

About the co-author: Angela Lo is studying International Relations and Sociology at the University of Sussex. Her main interest lies in understanding and analysing transnational criminal activities, terrorism, security and intelligence in global affairs.

Featured image: Open Democracy (https://www.opendemocracy.net/nafeez-ahmed/isis-wants-destroy-greyzone-how-we-defend)


About Author

Candyce Kelshall

Candyce Kelshall is Doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, University of Buckingham. She is an Independent advisor to British Transport Police and Metropolitan Police. She is a former UK Royal Navy Reserve Officer and SCC Officer. She is the author of two books on Civil/Military relations. “Armed Forces and Government” and “Mutiny and Revolution: Military pressure Groups”.