FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Hard Truth About Daesh and How to Fight It

Beirut, Lebanon.

Many factors combined to produce the nightmare that is Daesh (ISIS): the US invasion of Iraq, Gulf Arab sponsorship and financing, as well as Turkish complicity on many levels. To this list could be added the growing power of Iran, the sectarian reign of Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, the barrel bombs of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Hizballah’s intervention into Syria (a list that is de rigueur for the Gulf and Western media complex).

The roots of Daesh, however, go much deeper and are much older. To uproot them would take a great deal of time. But that does not mean that Daesh—easily one of the greatest dangers this region has ever faced—cannot be defeated. The fact that the group has decided to stake out a territory, a first among radical Islamist groups, is the key to its destruction.

Utopia by the Sword

Hardcore Islamist groups may operate in specific areas out of the reach of the authorities, far away from the major population centers. But these monsters are very much the product of milieus that have developed (to varying degrees) all across the Muslim world, in addition, apparently, in places such as Brussels and Paris.

There are of course historical factors that have led to this—sometimes they are more direct like the sense of humiliation Iraqi Sunnis felt after losing control of the Iraqi state and the dismantling of the Saddam-era army they dominated. Certainly some people are drawn to such ideas due to poverty and deprivation, although most, if not all, of the movement’s leadership is solidly middle class, including a vast network of supporters with deep pockets in the Gulf.

There is a far broader context that has to be considered to understand the appeal of militant jihadism in places as varied as West Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central and South Asia. The movement’s message resonates because it offers a resolute and familiar answer to the multiple and complex crises that plague most modern Muslim societies. It offers certainty and stability in a fast-changing, increasingly turbulent world.

Historically, such ideas have gained broad support in different parts of the globe, particularly in societies going through a profound social and economic crisis, like fascist Germany of the 1930s. A closer parallel, in my view, is the experience of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, which like Daesh, emerged from the near-apocalyptic devastation inflicted by US bombing and occupation and, in turn, committed some of the worst horrors in modern history.

Stubborn Despair

The vast majority of Muslims live in developing countries with all that life entails in such societies in terms of poverty and social injustice, not to mention the often corrupt and repressive regimes that dominate political life in many places. And since the wave of anti-colonial struggles and the rise of various nationalisms that more or less fizzled out in the 1970s, these societies—with a few exceptions—have failed to recapture that sense of unity and purpose that prevailed as they fought for their liberation.

In the Arab world, the malaise has only been exacerbated by a series of humiliating military defeats and occupations either at the hands of Israel or the United States. Even the tumultuous and, at first, hopeful events that unfolded during the “Arab Spring” did little to reverse the prevailing despair. Worse yet, it led to the strengthening of the most reactionary forces in the region, unleashing the long-repressed radical Islamists with the open support and sponsorship of the Gulf monarchies and emirates on the official level.

Such is the general context that has led to the proliferation of groups like Daesh, and it will take time for these underlying factors to change in any significant way. That, however, does not mean that nothing can be done to fight these organizations and their network of support. Quite the contrary, in many ways the emergence of Daesh can be turned into an opportunity to bring about a speedier end to the takfiri experiment altogether.

Smash the State

To begin with, Daesh’s growth over the past two years has been meteoric, to say the least, but its project is in no way sustainable over time. The group’s fundamental strategy is to be constantly on the offensive on all fronts, inviting anyone sitting on the sidelines to bomb the “caliphate” to smithereens. And even those living under their control, who may have well supported them at first, quickly begin to chafe at their rule.

Also, the fact that Daesh has distinguished itself by actually claiming a geographical area renders it far more vulnerable to physical destruction than the likes of al-Qaeda, which operates in diffuse cells, occasionally carrying out bold attacks like the recent one on the Radisson hotel in Mali. (The latter’s approach seems to have lost much of its appeal, given how quickly it was eclipsed by Daesh in many parts of the world.)

In the long run, Daesh has no way of surviving as a caliphate and its star will eventually wane, even among many of its supporters. Nevertheless, the group poses an immediate and pressing danger due to the scale of horror it is capable of committing each additional day it survives. (The Khmer Rouge, for example, only managed to rule Cambodia for four years, in which time their policies led to the death of over 1.5 million people, in a country whose population was only 8 million at the time.)

More importantly, smashing the “Islamic State” would represent a strategic blow to the further growth of these extreme forces of reaction as a whole. Only then can we begin to focus on the equally difficult task of dealing with the structural and underlying causes that led to its rise, which is certain to be a longer, far more complicated, process.

More articles by:

February 21, 2019
Nick Pemberton
Israel, Venezuela and Nationalism In The Neoliberal Era
Chris Orlet
The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Fair Taxation Scaremongering Tour
Bruce E. Levine
“Heavy Drinking” and the NYT’s Offensive Obit on Herbert Fingarette
Lisi Krall
This Historical Moment Demands Transformation of Our Institutions. The Green New Deal Won’t Do That
Stephanie Savell
Mapping the American War on Terror: Now in 80 Countries
Daniel Warner
New York, New York: a Resounding Victory for New York Over Amazon
Russell Mokhiber
With Monsanto and Glyphosate on the Run AAAS Revokes Award to Scientists Whose Studies Led to Ban on Weedkiller in Sri Lanka and Other Countries
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Fake National Emergency Moves America Closer to an Autocracy
Alex Campbell
Tracing the Threads in Venezuela: Humanitarian Aid
Jonah Raskin
Mitchel Cohen Takes on Global and Local Goliaths: Profile of a Lifelong Multi-Movement Organizer
Binoy Kampmark
Size Matters: the Demise of the Airbus A380
Elliot Sperber
For Your Children (or: Dead Ahead)
February 20, 2019
Anthony DiMaggio
Withdrawal Pains and Syrian Civil War: An Analysis of U.S. Media Discourse
Charles Pierson
When Saudi Arabia Gets the Bomb
Doug Johnson Hatlem
“Electability” is Real (Unless Married with the Junk Science of Ideological Spectrum Analysis)
Kenneth Surin
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Another Boondoggle in Virginia
John Feffer
The Psychology of the Wall
Dean Baker
Modern Monetary Theory and Taxing the Rich
Russell Mokhiber
Citizens Arrested Calling Out Manchin on Rockwool
George Ochenski
Unconstitutional Power Grabs
Michael T. Klare
War With China? It’s Already Under Way
Thomas Knapp
The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall, It’s About the Separation of Powers
Manuel García, Jr.
Two Worlds
Daniel Warner
The Martin Ennals and Victorian Prize Winners Contrast with Australia’s Policies against Human Dignity
Norman Solomon
What the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign Means for Progressives
Dan Corjescu
2020 Vision: A Strategy of Courage
Matthew Johnson
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail