William Braniff, executive director at START, served as an expert witness providing Congressional testimony on "What is the State of Islamic Extremism: Key Trends, Challenges and Implications for U.S. Policy," before the House Armed Service Committee on Feb. 13, 2015.
Braniff previously testified before the same body on a similar topic approximately one year ago.
In this testimony, Braniff discussed the dramatic rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the intervening 53 weeks since he last appeared before the House Armed Services Committee. Using data from the Global Terrorism Database, Braniff examined the increase in terrorism attacks and deaths attributed to terrorism since the rise of ISIL and the declaration of a caliphate. He also compared ISIL's strategy of escalation, or using military superiority to eliminate or subjugate rival insurgent groups, to al-Qa'ida's strategy of attrition, or waging a protracted war against the West, specifically aiming at the United States.
Braniff then condensed ISIL's appeal into five basic points:
- Sectarianism - ISIL has benefited from the already elevated levels of sectarian tension in the post Arab-Spring world. Broad anti-Assad sentiment in Sunni majority countries helps to lessen those governments' responses to ISIL.
- Righteousness - ISIL enforces a strict interpretation of Islamic law
- Obligation - The establishment of a physical Caliphate has created an obligation to defend it and build its institutions
- Strength - In comparison to al-Qa'ida, which is sometimes cautious, ISIL appears decisive, confident, and contemporary
- Urgency - ISIL sees the establishment of a Caliphate as a sort-term opportunity to host the final apocalyptic battle between Muslims and the non-Muslim world
Finally, Braniff explores potential implications and counter-terrorism strategies.
Read the written testimony online
Braniff, William. 2015. "House Armed Services Committee Hearing 'What is the State of Islamic Extremism: Key Trends, Challenges and Implications for U.S. Policy'" Washington, DC: United States House of Representatives. (February): https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/WilliamBraniff_HASCTestimony_Feb15.pdf