Are we failing the ideological Turing test in the case of ISIS? (a crazy ideas thread)

It is easy to think of the ISIS as just a bunch of lu­natics who kill peo­ple be­cause they be­lieve God told them to do it, but if we take a closer look at how they are or­ga­nized and how suc­cess­ful they are, (and es­pe­cially how suc­cess­ful they were at the be­gin­ning), this seems to be an over­sim­plifi­ca­tion. Sure, most of their low­est level fighters are prob­a­bly be­long­ing to the “brain­washed and crazy” group, but I guess the lead­er­ship is al­most cer­tainly not. They know and use mod­ern me­dia very well, they are effec­tive at re­cruit­ment, ad­ver­tis­ing, or­ga­ni­za­tion, and se­crecy. Their suc­cesses are aided by the fact that they know how we think much bet­ter than how we know how they think.

Most of what they do seem to be very ra­tio­nal from a util­i­tar­ian point of view: they de­stroy pre-is­lamic his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments (which pre­vi­ous Is­lamic theo­cratic gov­ern­ments left in­tact) to show their sup­port­ers that they are in con­trol and that they are se­ri­ous, they try to trick NATO and the Rus­si­ans to com­mit ground troops, so they can re­cruit the less rad­i­cal Mus­lims to defend their homes against “for­eign con­querors”, and they cater for both the re­li­gious fa­nat­ics, and for the op­por­tunists. They have many mer­ce­nar­ies on their side, sim­ply be­cause they can pay them bet­ter than oth­ers in the re­gion. They also gain re­cruits by promis­ing them wealth and power, so not all their rhetoric is strictly re­li­giously mo­ti­vated.

With the most re­peated as­sump­tions about their true goals and mo­ti­va­tions be­ing “they just want power”, “they are just crazy”, and “they just en­joy be­ing evil”, it seems that we are failing the ide­olog­i­cal Tur­ing test.

There­fore, I sug­gest a thread similar to the “Crazy Ideas Threads”: let us as­sume, that the top lead­er­ship of ISIS is com­posed of com­pletely ra­tio­nal and very in­tel­li­gent in­di­vi­d­u­als, and let’s try to guess what their true goals and mo­ti­va­tions are. I have a num­ber of ideas, but I can find many ar­gu­ments both for and against them. I en­courage you to crit­i­cize the ideas I came up with, and sug­gest your own the­o­ries.

    1. The premise of this ar­ti­cle is wrong. The ISIS are re­ally just a bunch of idiots, and their ap­par­ent suc­cesses are only caused by the pow­ers in the re­gion be­ing much more in­com­pe­tent than ISIS

    2. They want to cre­ate a sovereign na­tion and be­come its rul­ing elite.

    The prob­lem with this is that their cur­rent eco­nomic model is un­sus­tain­able in the long term. When con­quer­ing and loot­ing new ter­ri­tory makes up most of your in­come, once you ex­hausted an area, you need to find new places to con­quer. When you can no longer do it, your econ­omy col­lapses. Un­til now, loot­ing the towns they con­quered, sel­l­ing ar­ti­facts and rob­bing the banks found in the town made up a large part of their in­come. They have no real in­dus­try to speak of, ex­cept for sel­l­ing the oil ex­tracted by already ex­ist­ing in­fras­truc­ture. If you think this is the real an­swer, please in­di­cate a re­al­is­tic eco­nomic model for the ge­o­graph­i­cal area which is mostly defined by the power vac­uum they man­aged to ex­ploit, and which as of to­day seems to be mostly filled by them, mak­ing them un­likely to con­tinue to gain sig­nifi­cant new ter­ri­to­ries.

    3. They just want to amass as much wealth as pos­si­ble, and then com­fortably re­tire to some se­cluded place.

    The prob­lem with this is that they made some of the great­est pow­ers on the planet their en­e­mies, who will have a high prob­a­bil­ity of find­ing and hunt­ing them down if they, for ex­am­ple, just re­tire to a sunny beach of a trop­i­cal is­land.

    4. Try­ing to make their ide­ol­ogy more dom­i­nant (aka spread­ing Is­lam in gen­eral)

    I find this the least likely as the main goal. Also, if this was the case, they are coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. So far Is­lam was very suc­cess­ful in the last few decades to gain a big­ger and big­ger foothold in the Western world, helped both by de­mo­graph­ics and by the pre­dom­i­nantly left-lean­ing poli­ti­cal elite in Europe en­courag­ing the ac­cep­tance of and sub­mis­sion to Is­lamic cul­ture in Europe in­stead of en­courag­ing the im­mi­grants to aban­don their cul­ture for the cul­ture of the host na­tions. How­ever, the re­cent ter­ror­ist at­tacks, and the many atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the re­cently ar­rived asy­lum seek­ers, while hurt­ing Euro­pean econ­omy, will prob­a­bly lead to Europe be­ing more skep­ti­cal re­gard­ing Is­lam, which might re­duce the chances of Is­lam peace­fully and silently spread­ing. So these events, if in­deed or­ches­trated by ISIS, might have been suc­cess­ful in harm­ing the econ­omy of their en­e­mies, but I don’t know what an effect they had on the spread­ing of Is­lam. I’m tend­ing on be­liev­ing in a nega­tive effect, but I just don’t know enough fac­tors to know it for sure. I be­lieve the vi­o­lent at­tacks in the Western world are done mostly to show their own fol­low­ers at home how pow­er­ful they are and how weak their en­e­mies are.

    Other, not nec­es­sar­ily ra­tio­nal mo­ti­va­tions:

    - they just saw an op­por­tu­nity and ex­ploited it, they have no long term con­tin­gency plans.

    - they re­ally be­lieve that what they do will, in the long therm, benefit the peo­ple in the re­gion.

    Note: by pre­sent­ing the above the­o­ries, my goal was not to claim them to be true or false. My goal is to listen to in­ter­est­ing ideas and the­o­ries which maybe didn’t oc­cur to me be­fore.