Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Losing the Caliphate

Speaking of bad timing, yesterday the Washington Post published an op-ed about the waning influence of Islamist terrorism. Written by terrorism experts J.M. Berger and Amarnath Amarasingam the article suggests that by losing its caliphate and being soundly defeated in Iraq and Syria ISIS has suffered a significant loss.

It will not be very much of a consolation to New Yorkers, but at a time when every talking head on television is proclaiming how powerful ISIS is in its scattered, disorganized state, how much damage it can do without mounting large scale terrorist attacks, it is perhaps worthwhile to take a step back, to take a deep breath and to evaluate the current state of the war against Islamist terrorism. It seems that we have now started winning. 

This does not mean that the war is over or that Islamist terrorism has been defeated. But still, it is better to evaluate the global situation than to cower in the corner thinking that we are weak and vulnerable.

The authors explain:

As the Islamic State evolves, we should not only remind people about its ongoing threat. We should also acknowledge and highlight the fact it has suffered enormous losses that will cripple the effectiveness of its previous approach to recruitment. As its slogan famously states, the Islamic State will likely “remain,” but it has lost far more than territory. It has lost the living, beating heart of its appeal.

Everybody wants to join a winning team. Once the team starts losing fewer and fewer people will want to join. It doesn’t mean no one. It doesn’t mean that jihadis are all going to fold up their tents and shrink back into the general population. It does mean that the West has been winning battles in Syria and Iraq. It also means that the Sunni Arab commitment—now led by a reform-minded Saudi Arabia-- to fight terror represents a good step in the right direction.

Obviously, this does not make vigilance any less important. It certainly tells us that “diversity” immigration programs should be stopped. And it means that the flow of refugees from Muslim countries should be seriously reduced.

But, it is better to think that we are winning than that we are losing. It is better to think that we are advancing against Islamist terrorism than that we are being defeated by it.

The authors explain their perspective:

In June 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria branded itself as a caliphate. Over the past year, its catastrophic loss of population centers and governing infrastructure have prompted an avalanche of analysis on the next phase, projecting the group’s likely reversion to insurgency and terrorism.

But the organizational lens only captures part of the picture. The Islamic State’s success as a protostate and its future as an insurgent/terrorist group was and is fueled by a social movement that ensured a steady flow of adherents to execute its ambitions. Understanding the movement’s appeal is crucial to forecasting its future.

What did it mean for the Islamic State to declare a caliphate?

By declaring a caliphate, the group did something that other jihadist groups only talked about, accessing a wellspring of historical, philosophical and theological details. It presented a more sophisticated rejection of the West than other jihadist groups, focused not only on “sinful” cultural elements, but also real, substantial alternatives. And thousands of people from all over the world responded.

At the least, it looked like it was winning the war against Western civilization. It could provide a place, a defined space where radical Islamists could live according to their version of Shariah law. The appeal was palpable:

Friends and family members of foreign fighters interviewed by researchers at the University of Waterloo were repeatedly told that young people traveled to Syria precisely to live in a more homogenous “Muslim” environment. One young woman from Canada moved to Syria because she felt “dirty and deadly” in her old lifestyle. Dirty because she thought the way of life in Canada was un-Islamic and deadly because she was paying taxes to a government that was bombing “her people.” In Syria, she felt this cognitive dissonance dissipate.

The Islamic State made a repeated and sustained argument that it was about governance, not simply terrorism. Scenes from the living caliphate provided a sense of authenticity and immanence to which few extremist groups could ever aspire, all extensively documented and broadcast to the world over the Internet. Islamic State propaganda provided a flood of Technicolor vignettes featuring its implementation of rules and standards on every aspect of life.

Terrorism is about destruction. It is about deconstruction used as a rhetorical tool. If it has a caliphate ISIS can also claim to have built something, to offer something other than mindless suicide bombings.
  
ISIS has been losing ground. It is no longer living in its heyday under the aegis of the Obama administration. Thus, its propaganda has shifted focus, from idyllic scenes to warfighting:

In August 2015, more than half of all video and photo content put out by the Islamic State was utopian in nature. Typical offerings included images and videos of markets, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and courts — all of the trappings of a highly entitative group, a “real” society, now destroyed by the anti-Islamic State coalition. By September 2017, according to researcher Charlie Winter, only about 10 percent of the organization’s content pertained to its utopian vision, with a sharp drop in total output and a vast increase in the proportion of warfighting content.

Of course, the group is trying to regain what it has lost. And yet, it now has little to offer those who wish to escape from Western civilization... except perhaps 72 virgins. 

The authors conclude that we should not believe that setbacks do not matter. And we should not believe that losing the caliphate will only make ISIS terrorists more brutal and more determined. True enough, people who have nothing to lose can, at times, be extremely violent. And yet, there might now be fewer and fewer of such lost souls. 

In the West weak-kneed appeasers believe that we in the West are responsible for the rise of ISIS and al Qaeda because we treat Muslims so badly. By their reasoning, all we need to do is to be nice to Islam, close Gitmo, send Taliban commanders back to the battlefield, and presto, the threat will dissipate. It was the Obama policy. It gave us ISIS and the caliphate.

In truth, ISIS became far more potent when it declared a caliphate. It then could offer hope and a home  as concrete signs of victory. Isn't war about occupying territory? 

The caliphate, along with successful terrorist attacks, was the best recruiting tool ever. Muslims from Western Europe especially flocked there. They pledged allegiance to its leaders. They were even rewarded for their efforts. Some have now returned to Europe, to the chagrin of the Europeans who mistakenly offered them refuge. Draining that swamp is going to take time and energy... but at least we should understand that we are engaged in a winning fight.

6 comments:

trigger warning said...

Focusing on the simple fact that Bur'aq Obama's oft-bemoaned Misunderstanderers of Islam will melt back into the stinking souks and mountain ratholes they emerged from to continue their murderous Jihad, as many on the Diverse Left do, is a perfect example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

No, the fall of Raqqa does not "solve" the Misunderstanderer of Islam problem, but it does deny them a football stadium to entertain the masses of Misunderstanderer spectators who revel in the spectacle of immolations, dismemberments, hangings, beheadings, and other various and sundry forms of Sharia "justice".

I consider that to be an unalloyed Good Thing.

What is missing here is a brilliant, iconoclastic, Marxist theoretician to devise a counterintuitive, redistributionist solution that, administered properly and with limitless budget, will turn swords into ploughshares. Obviously, building more schools was just not enough. :-D

Sam L. said...

tw, I am IMPRESSED.
Another thing that is missing, is Europe fighting them, too. They seem to have declared "they ain't gonna war no more", not that they are, now, anyway.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: In the West weak-kneed appeasers believe that we in the West are responsible for the rise of ISIS and al Qaeda because we treat Muslims so badly. By their reasoning, all we need to do is to be nice to Islam, close Gitmo, send Taliban commanders back to the battlefield, and presto, the threat will dissipate. It was the Obama policy. It gave us ISIS and the caliphate.

I'm not sure Obama was particularly nice to Muslims, assuming we have to show how brutal we can be to innocent people to prove we're against brutal people. Obama expanded drone attacks greatly during his presidency.

I do agree that it looks like "hearts and minds" is where the real war is being fought, and we can't bomb bad ideas out of people's minds, or not unless we want to preemptively murder every person who might become infected in bad ideas. And so we have to accept there's going to be more small scale terrorist attacks before ISIS is done.

It would be nice if every terrorist attack in the U.S. was proof of the evil of ISIS, and every imperfectly directed drone attack in the middle east by the U.S. was proof of our determination for peaceful coexistence, but that twisted logic seems to be easily reversed.

TW is right, building schools was not enough. But I'm not sure doubling down on friendship with Saudis (and their Wahabism schools funded on oil profits by our addiction to cheap oil) against Shiite Iran solves any problems besides how to expand our arms exports and increase the means to violence in the region.

Jack Fisher said...

and for a different opinion:

http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/

Ares Olympus said...

Interestingly this isn't just a "war" between Islam and the West. ISIS isn't the only propaganda source. Now we know social media can enable Russians to create fake political protest moments from both sides to encourage actual conflict on the streets in America. Pretty impressive. Of course they're not the cause, they merely light the match of our fears.
https://www.wired.com/story/six-revealing-moments-from-the-second-day-of-russia-hearings

So the reason FDR said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" isn't because they world isn't dangerous. It's because our fear can make us idiots, ripe and vulnerable for manipulation by people we don't know and whom mean us no good.

Among people from any background, some will be more vulnerable to propaganda than others, like Trump happily retweeting neonazi propaganda that most whites are killed by blacks, and when challenged, he naively asked "Am I supposed to check every tweet?" Yes! said Fox leftist Bill O'Reilly.

Anonymous said...

Ares Olympus:

Something is true... on the other hand, something else is also true.

Whatever

It’s a boring rendition of same old, same old.

Give him the hook.

Anyone can see both sides of an issue. It takes a gut and spine to make a choice.