This passionate plea from television personality and academic Waleed Ali, made in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, begins with the statement: ISIL is weak.
This is true. ISIL, like any other organisation, institution and individual that resorts to violence, intimidation and slaughter, is weak. There is no strength in terror. There is only moral, intellectual, psychological and emotional weakness. To use violence is to admit defeat on all levels, though rarely will any organisation, institution or individual recognise and acknowledge that psychological truth.
The problem is, however, that weakness does not equate to harmlessness. The morally, intellectually, psychologically and emotionally weak have been responsible for the worst atrocities this world has witnessed and endured, and they have come from the east and the west, from most religions you can name, and from the secular.
It’s counter-intuitive to correlate weakness with terrorists. Terrorists terrorise, causing unfathomable anguish and disruption, disabling cities, bringing down aircraft, destroying families, creating bloodied havoc, leaving in their wake a sense of powerlessness, helplessness, rage and grief that have little possibility of resolution: why would we imagine these people as weak?
Waleed Ali is correct to call them weak in the moral, intellectual, psychological and emotional sense. But they are dangerous, and they remain dangerous, because weak does not equal harmless.
Today the city of Brussels is in lockdown in fear of a terrorist attack. ISIL are weak, but they can lock down cities. Imagine the fear and apprehension felt by residents of that city today, yesterday and tomorrow, as they wait for the next attack. And if it doesn’t come, they won’t easily stop fearing. ISIL are weak, but they are also controlling a city, manipulating its citizens through terror, and the threat of terror.
The weak are the most dangerous people on earth, because their weakness is so often expressed as brutality. To describe ISIL as weak is both true and misleading, the latter because the term “weak” is synonymous with harmless, pathetic, contemptible,vulnerable, but never with dangerous, murderous and brutal.
We can think of ISIL as weak, as Ali urges, but only in the understanding of what weakness means in this context. They are weak and they are dangerous. This danger can’t be underestimated because they are weak.