FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Manuel García, Jr.
Heartrending Antiwar Songs
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
David Yearsley
Performance Anxiety
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail