Why we shouldn’t celebrate the imminent demise of IS too much

There is indeed good news coming out of western Iraq and eastern Syria these days.  When is the last time anyone said that?  Islamic State (IS), a truly barbaric terrorist group if there ever was one, is on the outs.  It is about to lose Mosul and maybe even Raqqa and, according to recent reports, has lost most of its territory and a lot of its income.  The self-styled Caliphate proclaimed by Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, who may or may not be dead, is all but finished and the mosque from which the wannabe Caliph made his pronouncement was blown up by his own people.

Three cheers for the impending end of IS!  We will all be happy to see the back end of a terrorist group that threw people off buildings and got 8-year olds to execute its enemies.  The group’s ‘state’ was a parody of a real country, although a very violent one.  Everything that did not abide by IS’ hateful and narrow interpretation of Islam was banned and those who had the misfortune of living under its rule – we’ll get to those who chose to in a bit – were part of a hell on earth.  Just like the 1,000 Third Reich, however, IS social experiment in how not to govern is going to end a little short of its goal of ‘baqiyah‘ (remaining).  Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Nevertheless, our celebrations must be muted.  The disappearance of IS is not what some may think.  The group will continue to wreak havoc on the region, and throughout the world, for the foreseeable future.  There are at least four primary reasons for this:

  1. IS may be on the ropes but it has already spawned a whole whack of affiliates and groups which have pledged allegiance to it.  The strongest one appears to be in Libya, with a few thousand fighters perhaps, and others can be found in SE Asia, the Horn of Africa, Yemen, India, Afghanistan and elsewhere.  These groups may not be as lethal as IS, and some may decide to rescind their allegiance, but they will remain a threat for some time, in large part due to point #3 (see below).
  2. Tens of thousands of ‘foreign fighters’ have left their homelands to fight for the ‘Caliphate’, making the choice to live in a ?utopian? Islamic polity.  Those that are not yet dead or disgusted by the subhumanity of IS may return home to bring the fight to out shores.  We have already seen the carnage of the ‘returnees’  in Europe and I fear we will see more.
  3. Some already have moved on to the next conflict (for more details see my upcoming The Lesser Jihads).  The Philippines is witnessing a surge in IS fighters or supporters and there are dozens of conflicts around the world that could experience a similar rise.  ‘Jihads’ won’t end any time soon.
  4. Most crucially, the ideology underlying IS’ raison d’etre is still with us.  Many Islamist extremist groups espouse the use of violence as a ‘fard ayn‘ (individual obligation) and will continue to kill and maim in many places.  While some of the precepts of IS may not last much longer, the more general sense of grievance and the belief in the ‘Common Narrative’ (under which the West hates Islam and is at war with it) are harder to dispel.  Much more work at a very local, grassroots level is necessary in this regard.

So yes let us fete the disappearance of the vile IS and recognise all those that contributed to its death.  But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we are out of the woods yet.  The forest is a vast one and there are many saplings waiting to shoot up (and out).

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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