New York Times ghosts: ISIS offers its view of 'soul' of Paris and modern West (updated)

Once again, mainstream journalists covering the actions of the Islamic State seem to be struggling to grasp the "why" factor in that old-school "who, what, when, where, why and how" equation.

Why attack Paris, once again? Why hit certain parts of Paris, as opposed to other more famous, if well protected, locations? And what does all of this have to do with that word -- "caliphate" -- that ISIS leaders say is at the heart of everything they do?

Let's walk into this slowly, starting with the top of a July 31, 2014 BBC profile of The Man:

On 5 July, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known by his supporters as Caliph Ibrahim, left the shadows and showed his face for the first time, in a Friday sermon in Mosul, Iraq.
While previous pictures of him had been leaked, Baghdadi had not shown himself in the four years since he became leader of what was then the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq (forerunner of Isis, then the Islamic State). ...
In July 2013, a Bahraini ideologue Turki al-Binali, writing under the pen name Abu Humam Bakr bin Abd al-Aziz al-Athari, wrote a biography of Baghdadi. It highlighted Baghdadi's family history which claims that Baghdadi was indeed a descendant of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad's Quraysh tribe -- one of the key qualifications in Islamic history for becoming the caliph (historically, leader of all Muslims).
It said that Baghdadi came from the al-Bu Badri tribe, which is primarily based in Samarra and Diyala, north and east of Baghdad respectively, and known historically for being descendants of Muhammad.

The key word there, in terms of the mindset of journalists covering ISIS, is "historically," as in the definition of a caliph as "historically, leader of all Muslims."

In other words, the question is whether Baghdadi and his followers see themselves as tasked with the creation of a militant Islamic state in the Middle East or a truly global state for "all Muslims."

Is this a purely academic issue? Consider this passage in a New York Times follow-up story on the massacres in Paris, which ran under the headline, "Strategy Shift for ISIS: Inflicting Terror in Distant Lands."

The massacre in Paris on Friday, following bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, and the downing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, all claimed by the Islamic State, reveals a terrorist organization that has changed in significant ways from the West’s initial understanding of it as a group focused on holding territory in Syria and Iraq and building a caliphate, or Islamic state.

Note the words "the West's initial understanding" of ISIS and its goals. What has changed, the goals of ISIS or the willingness for Western leaders, and maybe even journalists, to listen to them? Has the ISIS leadership ever stated its goals as anything other than a global caliphate, built on the submission of all Muslims to its view of the faith? Why is it so important that its leader be from the Prophet Muhammad's Quraysh tribe?

If the goal is to force modern Muslims to make up their minds, to warn them against cooperation with the West, then Paris is a totally logical target.

This may connect with the targets chosen this time around, as hinted -- whether Times editors knew it or not -- in a riveting "you are there" feature on the details of the attacks. The article is full of skillfully reported details, but is totally uninterested in trying to make sense of the goals and values of the terrorists. Other than this passage, maybe:

One by one on Friday evening, all the ordinary reflexes, expectations and hopes of urban life fell away as Parisians and visitors to their city confronted nearly simultaneous attacks that spanned from the Stade de France, the national sports stadium on the northern edge of the city, to a shabby-chic district studded with bars and restaurants four miles south. ...
Little seemed to tie the attacks across at least six sites, except that all the 129 victims had been out having fun. But that was very much the point for the Islamic State militant group, which later took responsibility for the carnage and said that it had struck France’s symbols of “perversity.”

That loaded word "perversity" could have been the door to a discussion of ISIS statements about its motives for this attack. This raises a question: Has anyone seen a full English translation of the ISIS statement claiming responsibility for the attacks? I would predict that there is a fair amount of religious language in that text (update below).

Simply stated, why attack these "perverse" sites rather than, oh, the city's legendary Catholic cathedrals? Perhaps even an elite art museum or two? Well, there is this quote from a survivor:

“It took us a while to register what had happened. ... I looked at my iPhone and I had many worried calls. This is one of the most densely populated areas in Paris. There is no place that is more full on a Friday night. This is a place where young people hang out. It was a hit at the soul of Paris.”

If the goal is to convince modern Muslims to submit to a new caliphate, escaping the lures of the modern West, then why did ISIS attack where it did? Is its understanding that the "soul" of the modern West is best seen in what ISIS views as "perversity"? In other words, what do cathedrals have to do with life in modern France.

If so, the attacks are not very mysterious. If so, the "why" is staring modern journalists right in the face.

NOTE: Those interested in these topics may want to read this think piece from The Telegraph, written by Husain Haqqani, which ran under this headline:

Islam's civil war between medievalists and modernisers
The Paris attacks are the culmination of a 200-year-long battle over how Islam should respond to the rise of Western power

UPDATE: The Washington Post did put the full ISIS text online. It opens like this:

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Beneficent
Allah (ta'ala) said, {They thought that their fortresses would protect them from Allah but Allah came upon them from where they had not expected, and He cast terror into their hearts so they destroyed their houses by their own hands and the hands of the believers. So take warning, O people of vision} [Al-Hashr:2].
In a blessed battle whose causes of success were enabled by Allah, a group of believers from the soldiers of the Caliphate (may Allah strengthen and support it) set out targeting the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe-Paris. This group of believers were youth who divorced the worldly life and advanced towards their enemy hoping to be killed for Allah's sake, doing so in support of His religion, His Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him), and His allies. They did so in spite of His enemies. Thus, they were truthful with Allah -- we consider them so -- and Allah granted victory upon their hands and cast terror into the hearts of the crusaders in their very own homeland. ...
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