By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
The terrorist organization known as Daesh in the Middle East and Europe but as ISIS or ISIL in the US is in a death spiral.
Daesh hit its peak of territory in 2015 on taking Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s al-Anbar province.
Since then, it has virtually been rolled up in Iraq, having lost all of al-Anbar except a small town on the Syrian border, having lost all of Diayala and Salahuddin provinces, and having lost most of Ninewah, including 75% of Mosul, its last remaining metropolis.
(Its capital, of Raqqa in Syria, is a town of about 100,000, the capital of Raqqa Province, which had 900,000 people before the Syrian civil war broke out but about half of those fled to Turkey, especially the Kurds in the north).
Daesh still holds Hawija, a town of 100,000 before its occupation that is likely half that now; and Tel Afar, a largely Turkmen town that was likewise smallish before the Daesh onslaught. It is likely even smaller now, since all the Shiite Turkmen will have fled. I wonder if Daesh has as many as a million people living under its rule in Iraq any more. Some 400,000 of those are in West Mosul, which will likely fall to the Iraqi central government within a few months. At that point Daesh and its phony caliphate will fairly quickly be completely rolled up as a governmental entity. They will continue to be strong in some villages and city neighborhoods and will continue to carry out terrorist bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, but they won’t be a government.
Once it has lost the small amount of territory it now has in northern Iraq and a slightly larger swathe of eastern Syria that is still under its authority, what will Daesh do?
Many adherents will defect and just go home in disappointment. Many have already been disappointed by the brutality and inhumanity of Daesh rule, and have fled. Daesh tries to stop such defections at present, but its ability to do so is rapidly declining. You often meet with a meme that once a young man has served in a radical organization he is thereafter always dangerous. In fact, many former radicals have abandoned their radicalism for a perfectly normal life back home.
Some former members of the caliphal mafia state will go underground, forming cells, and attempting to continue to run extortion rackets and carry out terrorist bombings in Baghdad and Damascus.
Yet others will try to haunt the West, which they will blame for their defeat. Daesh propaganda on the internet has already worked its way into the dreams and nightmares of a handful of petty criminals and ne’er-do-wells who have pulled off terrorist attacks in Europe.
It was such a loner and minor criminal, Khalid Masood, who drove his vehicle into people on Westminster Bridge and then stabbed a policeman guarding parliament. He wounded some 40 people, some of them catastrophically, and killed 3, in addition to committing suicide by cop.
Although Daesh claimed to have been behind the plot, the diction of their message makes experts suspicious that Masood had little or nothing to do with the organization. He had been a misfit and deviant for some time.
Daesh, as it sinks into obscurity and loses the shooting war, will likely turn to terrorism and attempts to win the civilizational war (not between Christianity and Islam but between humaneness and ruthlessness). In some instances, it will plot out attacks, using its own command and control. In others, it will just try to get into the heads of rebellious adolescents or far right wing religious nuts and convince them to carry out attacks.
But the big play for Daesh is a long game in which the organization manages to herd Europe’s tens of millions of Muslims into radicalism, using the European far right such as Marine LePen. It will attack Christian Europeans and secular ones in an attempt to get them to mistreat European Muslims. Then it will offer itself to the latter as their protection, as their muscle in the face of white hostility. This strategy was the one Daesh pursued in Iraq, with a great deal of success over a decade, allowing it to grab 40% of Iraqi territory.
A lot of politicians will fall for this ploy, and give Daesh what it wants by enacting unfair and discriminatory policies toward Western Muslims. Our own Donald J. Trump is a dupe collaborating with this Daesh plot as we speak.
A lot of media fall for Daesh tricks, too. Giving them 24/7 coverage for a stupid technique like running down helpless pedestrians with a vehicle is unwise. The Masood attack in London had no military implications at all and never actually threatened British national security. Some 1700 pedestrians are run over and killed every year in the UK. The attack by a white nationalist youth on Quebec Muslims in a mosque, which killed more people though it wounded fewer, did not attract wall to wall coverage.
Daesh wants you to be afraid. Refuse fear. Daesh wants you to hate Muslims. Find a Muslim and show them some love. Keep doing this and after a while there won’t be any Daesh. Nonviolence, peace and love are the only way to defeat stochastic or random radicalism and terror, whether those diseases have taken hold in white supremacists or in stray Muslims.