West's Catch 22 on ISIS: Does it appease, or fight?

Story highlights

  • Every action by ISIS designed to alienate moderate Muslims and decent human beings, writes Zain Verjee
  • Verjee: Only result they want is more violence as violence is what swells their ranks
  • In Somalia only when a focused crackdown was put in place did the success of piracy abate, she adds

Zain Verjee is a former CNN anchor and U.S. State Department correspondent. She now runs the Zain Verjee Group, a media advisory company and media production company that focuses on telling stories in emerging markets, in particular Africa. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN)The burning death filmed, produced and edited on videotape is a watershed moment for ISIS and for the Kingdom of Jordan.

It is clear now that ISIS was never going to release Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, there was never going to be a deal. The hoax of an alternative outcome in exchange for the failed suicide bomber was nothing more than an effort to humiliate Jordan and demonstrate the growing power of the movement.
Zain Verjee
The main objective of such a strategy is simply to widen the base of supporters in the region and inside of Jordan. The CIA says there are between 20,000 and 31,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, and the great majority of these foreign fighters are from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
    There are three messages to understand from today's barbaric footage. First, ISIS is about death or nothing. There is no end game. This is not a movement that wants longevity as their every action is designed to alienate themselves from moderate Muslims and all other decent human beings.
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    Their actions are designed to provoke violent response so that they can achieve martyrdom. There is no focus on expanding and maintaining their territorial boundaries as their external pushes are too infrequent to imply a master strategy and their fighting force, asymmetric and able but too thin to maintain an all-out conflict with the technologically superior western forces.
    The wider their spread, the weaker their ability to maintain the gains. There are no obvious objectives. The only result they want is more violence as violence is what swells their ranks.
    Second there is a history between ISIS and Jordan, which has cracked down on the group's supporters, putting many in jail. ISIS started out with al Qaeda in Iraq, whose senior official was the Jordanian, Abu Musaab al Zarqawi. He split from al Qaeda because that group disagreed with his radical approach of even killing moderate Muslims. Zarkawi took his fighters and joined with elements of Al Nusra, which was fighting in Syria, laying the foundation for the creation of the modern-day ISIS. Zarkawi was killed in a U.S.-led strike in June 2006.
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    According to Candyce Kelshall from the Center for Security and Intelligence Studies at University of Buckingham "there is a silent minority of supporters in the country but the majority moderate and outraged population's cry will get louder. Many don't want Jordan involved in the bombing campaign against ISIL [alternative name for ISIS]. This will cause cracks within the country.
    "There is no underestimating the anger in Jordan over this. People want vengeance. Lt. Kaseasbeh came from a powerful family and a powerful clan within Jordan. This cannot be underestimated in terms of Jordan's next steps." Jordan is a strong US ally and it would be inconceivable that the US is not going to respond to this in some capacity.
    The third message is a lesson taken from Somalia. Pirates in that lawless country were able to terrorize the East African waters because the world allowed it. Violence by the pirates became normalized and the west accepted the increased business and financial risk.
    Only when a focused crackdown was put in place did the success of piracy abate, however, as soon as the ships move, piracy will see a resurgence. This is the problem we face now with ISIS. Sending troops or assistance, or technical advisers or funding or weapons will only work so long as that assistance is maintained.
    Kelshall adds "what we appease we allow. What we fight we make stronger ideologically. ISIL needs to be wiped out but it is the idea that their behavior is acceptable that must be wiped out. An eye for an eye will only consume the whole body, eventually." Killing the idea that we accept this barbarism is the mission that must be embraced. There will be a response.