The 180

How ISIS benefits from anti-refugee sentiment

Syrian-American political researcher Nader Atassi argues anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment in the wake of the Paris attacks will only make it easier for ISIS to convince supporters there is a war between Islam and the West.
A man loyal to ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. (Reuters)

The attacks in Paris have already prompted calls for Western countries to reconsider accepting refugees from Iraq and Syria. But Syrian-American political researcher Nader Atassi argues that backlash will only make it easier for ISIS to gain supporters. 

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.

When ISIS launches attacks like the one we've just seen in Paris, what are they trying to accomplish? 

I think what ISIS wants to do is provoke a right-wing backlash against refugees and immigrant communities that come from Islamic countries, because that conflict gives credence to their world view that there is a war between the West and Islam. This Islamophobic backlash that we see happening is exactly what they want. They think that this will on the one hand, drive Europeans towards that right-wing point, and on the other hand, drive those communities towards them. 

How would that work? How would a public backlash against refugees and Muslim communities in Europe affect the ability of ISIS to recruit people and gain public support? 

ISIS believes they've set up this Islamic utopia, but all these Muslims are fleeing that Islamic utopia -- so that's kind of embarrassing to them. So they think that by provoking this kind of backlash, maybe it will lead people to sympathize with them more. Because then these people that are being welcomed in Europe will think, well, actually maybe we're not being welcomed in Europe. Maybe ISIS' world view is right, that there is this fundamental difference between our world and the West. 

It's been getting most of the coverage, but Paris was not the only target of a terrorist attack this past week. Forty-three people were killed in Beirut on Thursday, and ISIS is claiming responsibility for that as well. What do you think ISIS was trying to accomplish with the Beirut attack? 

I actually spent a lot of my childhood in Beirut, so this issue is really close to my heart. I think that, basically, ISIS are operating under a similar logic everywhere, but in Beirut the circumstances are a bit different. You have about a million Syrian refugees in Beirut, and things are tense, but there is some kind of coexistence happening. What ISIS wants is to provoke Lebanese civilians...the sectarian warfare in Beirut is also in their interest and furthers their narrative, similar to what happened in Paris.

These attacks are operating under the same kind of logic and they're killing civilians in order to provoke backlash. They're killing civilians in order for communities to start fighting each other... We need to start seeing these as the same. ISIS is operating under the same logic everywhere, and we need solidarity with all of its victims, not some more than others. 

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