Sunday, February 15, 2015

the ISIS brand

For almost a decade and a half, Al Qaeda has been less of a single centralized group than a franchise, with local militant groups applying to Al Qaeda central for the right to call itself an "Al Qaeda" affiliate. And now ISIS is trying to follow the same model:
Counterterrorism analysts say it is using Al Qaeda’s franchise structure to expand its geographic reach, but without Al Qaeda’s rigorous, multiyear application process. This could allow its franchises to grow faster, easier and farther.
Which made me think about why Al Qaeda has such a rigorous process for groups that want to be an official Al Qaeda branch. What is the downside for ISIS by dispensing with that kind of screening? For a business franchise, the concern is brand dilution--without controls someone might try to use your brand to sell something of lower quality or of a different nature that might change the public's perception of what your brand stands for. I guess ISIS's brand is based on its own extreme interpretation of Islamic law and brutality. If anyone can call themselves "The Islamic State" and be recognized as such by ISIS central in al-Raqqah, then what if a less brutal group claims to be affiliated? Or a Shia group?

On the other hand, why would a less brutal or Shia group ever want to be affiliated with ISIS? Is that even a realistic danger? I think the reason that Al Qaeda central tries to exercise some controls is that they have a more rigorous theology. It isn't just about brutality for AQ, theological purity is paramount. Unlike ISIS, it is possible for a group to go too far for AQ. In fact, that is how ISIS came about: when Al Qaeda central threw out the group that used to be called Al Qaeda in Iraq because they were being too brutal. The cast out group later became ISIS. If a group has no limits in it's brutality, the brand is easier to manage.