19 November 2015

Why ISIS will not win


On the plus side – they’re a bunch of losers who are going to lose. On the negative side – it’ll take some time, and another version of IS will take their place unless the ideology which underpins their fanaticism is diluted. To do this, even while military action is ongoing, we must stop saying ‘This is nothing to do with Islam’, because it is. However, we must never start saying ‘This is Islam’ because it isn’t.

IS will lose for a number of reasons, among them that they are mostly a bunch of losers. Many of the Arab fighters are poorly trained, and relative to what is increasingly coming up against them, poorly armed. The outsiders, from Europe, or America, sometimes converts, sometimes born into the Muslim faith, are sometimes society’s misfits, former low life thieves and drug pushers, alienated from even their own communities and considered odd – especially by women. Jihad offers them redemption from their sad lives and to make amends in the name of God. They also get to wear cool neck scarves and carry Kalashnikovs. In Bradford and Brussels they couldn’t get a date – in Raqqa there are dates aplenty and child brides thrown in for good measure.

But what happens, after they reach peak apocalypse – and there is no caliphate, no end of days?

It could be argued that IS reached its high point in May of this year when they took the city of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province. Since then there have been a few serious territorial gains, but several losses.

It had already lost the Syrian town of Kobani and over the past two months ceded further territory along the Syria/Turkish border. In Iraq Tikrit has been retaken, the Baiji refinery area stabilized, and just this week the Iraqi army announced major advances in Ramadi with about half of the city back under its control. At some point, the under-performing Iraqi army will get its act together and head north for Mosul.

All this time IS has been coming under intense pressure from air strikes albeit mostly from the Americans. These will now intensify as the French step up what were limited strikes in Syria. Russia will also be hitting more IS targets given the news that they accept the Russian jet in Sinai was brought down by what was probably an IS bomb.

The Kurds are on the front foot against IS in both Syria and Iraq, and the Americans now have several Special Forces units inside Syria. There are unconfirmed reports that the IS leadership in Raqqa is fleeing – possibly heading across to Mosul in Iraq which is the biggest city they hold.

IS is strongest in Sunni areas, but even here intelligence suggests that the local populations are sick of their brutality and strange ways. The leadership cannot build a real state. They lack the basics of nation building including legitimacy or a unity of purpose.

All the above poses a difficult question for the leadership. If their ‘Caliphate’ shrinks, (as it has by at least 10%) how do they keep convincing the cannon fodder of the rank and file that they are carrying out Gods plan?  IS says it is fulfilling Islamic prophecy, especially in Syria where the end of days will begin, but running away, having the leadership taken out, being killed in large numbers, being rejected by local populations, and losing territory doesn’t quite fit that narrative.

For months now we have been hearing reports of large numbers of defections, or of fighters being executed for trying to leave the front lines. It’s possible some of these are stories planted by their enemies, however, given the situation IS finds itself in, they ring true.

IS will go the same way as the gang it replaced as the poster boys of Jihad – Al Qaeda. Its leadership will be killed or kept on the run, and it is destined to lose more territory next year. It will still be able to carry out atrocities in Paris and elsewhere, but gradually it will be taken apart. The problem is the tens of thousands of fighters it leaves behind, and its ideology. That will remain to feed the next version of IS.

This is because it is to do with Islam. The politicians who say it is not are usually just trying to buy themselves some peace and quiet. They know what everyone else does, and if they didn’t they would not bother to spend millions on anti-radicalization programmes.

The next time you hear a political leader say ‘This is nothing to do with Islam’ listen carefully. Almost always, within a couple of sentences, they will go on to say ‘This warped version of Islam’, and thus contradict themselves.

It is wholly wrong to say ‘This is Islam’. That is horribly offensive to hundreds of millions of people who take the spirituality, kindness, and hospitality of their faith very seriously. However, unless the link between people blowing themselves up, due to certain teachings of the faith, is made with that faith – how can the issue be tackled? It is like trying to solve a problem without defining what the problem is.

If it is accepted that there is a problem within the faith, then those of that faith, helped by outsiders of good will, can try to solve the problem. Loud and clear the message can ring out -the ‘Sword verses’ need to be understood as not being applicable today, there is no such thing as a dhimmi, religion and the state can be separate etc. Demonstrations against those who teach otherwise can be organized and hate preachers both shunned and held to account for spreading a version of Islam which is neither true, nor relevant in the modern world. The poisonous, self-defeating culture of helpless victim-hood, which is rampant across the Middle East and beyond and promoted by unscrupulous ‘community leaders’, can be changed into a confident, open, self-reliant modern body politic ready to engage, teach, and learn.

In the 1970s, as the extreme right wing grew in Britain, and the extent of racism became more obvious, hundreds of thousands of young people from within the majority population went on demonstrations, organized concerts, and realizing this was coming from within the culture spoke out saying  –we will beat it, and yes, effectively telling the extreme – ‘Not in my name!’

Our media gives platforms to extremists and calls them ‘spokesmen’ when often they are self-appointed obsessives. There are many modern European Muslims, their voices need to be heard if they are to be the future of modern European Islam.

The military battles will play out, and IS will lose. But unless the Islamist ideology is acknowledged, confronted, diluted, and softened – it will still be with us, infecting generation after generation.

This article was originally published by Tim Marshall at The What And The Why, and can be found here.

Tim Marshall was Diplomatic Editor and foreign correspondent for Sky News, and now runs the website The What And The Why, where this article was originally published.