Expert on ISIS: 'There is nothing that we could do to remain safe'
Last week's terror attacks in Paris have raised new understandings about the structure and motivations of the Muslim extremist group ISIS. As more information comes to light about the tactics used for targeting the west, AOL.com spoke exclusively to Shiraz Maher, a Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College London, who studies Muslim extremist groups. A former Muslim extremist, Maher has used his first hand knowledge about the operations of extremist Muslim organizations to explain the workings and objectives of the Islamic State.
Read more special coverage on the rise of ISIS:The complicated origin of ISIS explained
AOL.com: Why do fundamental views on western culture translate into violent action for ISIS?
Maher: To the Islamic State, the world is completely divided into binary terms between Islam and non-Islam. And there is no shade of gray. There is actually a policy strategy called 'destroying the grey zone.' And destroying the grey zone is precisely that ... this idea that you can be a British Muslim or be a French Muslim or whatever it is that you have multiple identities that you [have] integrated. All that sort of stuff they are completely opposed to. It is absolutism. And, to be honest, that even applies to a lot of Muslims. So, for example, they are very upset with the refugees who are coming over to Europe. They say 'why are you fleeing that way? Westwards when you should be coming eastwards. We are the caliphate, we are the state for you, the home for you' and so on and so on.
AOL.com: After the Paris attacks what is the continued threat to Europe and is there a different threat to the rest of the world, including United States?
Maher: I think the threat to Europe right now is pretty substantiated and is quite acute because this huge crisis in forming right now in Syria and Iraq and is happening right on Europe's door step. It's easy for these individuals to move across. A lot of fighters for Islamic State have European passports, so they're able to move across the continent with a degree of ease, and because mainland Europe is one continuous landmass, there has been a proliferation of firearms, particularly from criminal gangs in Eastern Europe that jihadists have been able to get their hands on. For the United States, of course since it's so far away, it has a better chance. I think the likelihood of [an ISIS attack like Paris] happening in the United States is quite low. What the United States is more likely to experience is a domestic attack, something coming from someone in the country who is a citizen who either became radicalized and sympathizes with IS and has not been able to travel for whatever reason and therefore decides to take activism at home.
AOL.com: What actions by the west fuel greater anger by Muslim extremist groups such as Islamic State?
Maher: So it is a very interesting debate about what activity upsets them. Some people think the fact that we have been bombing the Islamic state has aggravated them, it clearly has, but Islamic State was annoyed and angry with US and regard US as being an enemy when the first thing the west did, was drop aid into the Sinjar mountains [Iraq] where the Yezidi were fleeing. It demonstrates that dropping [aid] is as incendiary and offensive to Islamic State as dropping a bomb. The U.S. was helping people with the worst case of suffering by a group that has institutionalized sexual slavery and actually sought the end of the Yezidi as a race and as a group of people. It is quite a breathtaking situation to see unfurling before your eyes. In that context Islamic State believes that it has revived the state, believes very strongly in that notion that it will hasten the end of time, the end of days. In that context there is nothing that we could do to remain safe because Islamic State strongly believes it must conquer Rome. That's referencing Islam scripture that says the final battle will come between the Muslims and Rome. Rome is of course referring to the superpower of the day - of course now it is the west, it is the United States, France, Britain on and so you know at some point Islamic State believes it has to confront us militarily with terror tactics in order to have this decisive confrontation.
AOL.com: This is pretty dark and seems like there is probably no action except military action that the west can do to contain the problem. Is that correct?
Maher: I think you hit the nail on the head with the word 'containment'. The fact of the matter is the Islamic State is well embedded, it does control huge land masses, it has very dedicated fighters, it has relatively good equipment and so in that context you what we can do is recognize we are not going fix the problem. We are not going to have this resolved by just marching in and fixing it. The real issue for the west right now is one of management, we need to manage the problem, we can manage it down, and we need to contain the risk and threat of international terrorism emanating from a part of the world's population. I don't believe the very limited rather unimpressive bombing campaign that the United States is leading right now is going fix the problem. It's about containing and managing the situation. That is the best we can hope for unfortunately.
AOL.com: This sounds like you are saying the west should find a way to put them in a box and throw away the key.
Maher: Try to keep them in that box and unfortunately every now and then, if I can be frank, a bit of s**t will dribble out from it. There will be some spill over from that box.
AOL.com: What should people who don't know a lot about Middle East and Muslim politics try to understand about the Islamic State today? How should we make sense of the current situation?
Maher: I think people need to understand is that the Islamic State has moved on from just from what we consider to be a terrorist group. It is sort of occupying the space above that in a way, beyond being an insurgence. It is a quasi state. In that sense it has attracted and a mobilized a phenomenal, staggering number of people and we need to understand this is going to be a long-term threat. It is not something we are going to be able to resolved quickly or necessarily neatly. It will persist for quite some time. I always think about it in terms of decades. So people need to understand the threat of terrorism emanated from the region is something that is going to be with us for a very long time and there is no perfect solution. We have to look at it in terms of managing and containing the best we can.
AOL.com: People might read your view and begin to fear every Muslim around them as an extremist, is that an appropriate reaction?
Maher: The bottom line is the Islamic State is widely reviled by scores and scores, the vast majority of Muslims, and what the Islamic State wants to do through events like Paris, and they it explicitly, I am not just imputing this or speculating, they have said it themselves very clear. What they want to achieve by this is to produce a backlash against Muslims. They want Europe and the West to become more xenophobic, more hostile to outsiders, more skeptical of Islam and Muslims because they want Europe to pull in one direction, which is away from all of those things. The Islamic State then wants Muslims to pull away as well, come back to that strategy of destroying the gray zone.
More special coverage on the rise of ISIS:
ISIS doesn't want to be known by this name anymore
US security response to Paris attacks likely can't stop ISIS
The complicated origin of ISIS explained