Will Daesh/ISIS remain potent threat post-Baghdadi?


The Daesh/ISIS terrorist group’s violent extremism, the outcome of a nebula of problems, will continue to manifest itself in various forms following its leader’s demise last month, including guerrilla warfare and virtual terrorism, warn experts.

“It would be very optimistic to say that the death of Baghdadi will bring an end to Daesh/ISIS,” said Hilmi Demir of TOBB University of Economics and Technology in the Turkish capital Ankara, an expert on radicalization, Salafism, sectarian conflicts, and Daesh/ISIS.

After its defeat in Mosul in July 2017, Daesh/ISIS changed its offensive tactics and strategies to maintain the organization’s existence and functionality, said Demir, referring to al-Naba, an Arabic news magazine of Daesh/ISIS.

The magazine openly asked the organization to return to guerrilla warfare, he said.
Demir said that instead of controlling a piece of land, in the coming period, the group may resort to ways causing maximum damage to the enemy with minimal losses.

It will continue to carry out small-scale terrorist activities in the countryside and cities, he warned.

He highlighted that alienation of certain local communities by the PKK/YPG terrorist organization and Shiite militias will create a suitable space for the organization.
Daesh/ISIS has become a “global brand” whose propaganda network is still very strong, he noted.

“Daesh/ISIS will continue to exist in conflict zones which suffer from a lack of central power in different parts of the world,” Demir said, pointing to the group’s so-called “provinces” in Indonesia, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Libya, and West Africa.

Ideology as main motivation

“It is their ideology rather than their leader that motivates Daesh/ISIS and similar organizations,” Demir said.

He said although Daesh/ISIS’s sphere of influence spreads into geographies inhabited by Sunni populations, the roots of its religious ideology and beliefs can be traced to a strict form of Wahhabism.

“The advocates of this ideology antagonize all Muslims except themselves, reject negotiation and dialogue and accept the armed struggle, which they call ‘resistance’ and ‘jihad’, as the only option,” he said.

“The spread of ‘radical Salafism’ facilitates the terror group’s recruitment of new militants and provides a basis that legitimizes its acts of violence.”

Demir noted that the religious and political ideology that provides legitimacy to Daesh/ISIS is constantly being strengthened, not damaged, by the ongoing war on terror.

Cultural, social, political problems as drivers of radicalization

The ideology of Daesh/ISIS, however, will remain alive not only because of its religious understanding but also due to other factors, Demir said.

From a holistic approach, Demir argued that Daesh/ISIS’s violent extremism should be considered within a framework that considers political, social, cultural and religious factors at the same time.

Underlining that the vast majority of foreign fighters who joined Daesh/ISIS did not receive any religious education, Demir said most of the fighters from Europe or Asia were individuals who were pushed towards radicalization.

“Discrimination, marginalization, and attacks on lifestyles in their home countries make people vulnerable to propaganda by terrorist organizations,” he stressed.

Increasing Islamophobia in the West, China’s oppression and marginalization of Uyghur Turks and increasing “white” fascism and left-wing extremism in the West will continue to provide means for Daesh/ISIS, according to Demir.

Anatolian wisdom most important power against radicalism

Demir said Daesh/ISIS caused the greatest damage to Muslims, especially to the Sunni thought itself.

Concepts such as “Sunni terrorist” and “Sunni jihadist” which we have never seen in literature before have become widespread after the emergence of Daesh/ISIS.

While the YPG/PKK terrorist group, which recruited thousands of foreign fighters from Neo-Nazi and left-wing extremist groups, was acquitted by world public opinion, Sunni thought has falsely begun to be seen as “a source for terrorism”.

Highlighting that the ideology of Daesh/ISIS cannot be reconciled with Sunni thought, Demir pointed to the importance of Turkey’s experience, which managed to combine religious values with democracy and pluralism for the struggle against Daesh/ISIS and similar terrorist organizations.

“Anatolian wisdom and experience is our most important ideological and soft power,” he said.

“Turkey should become more prominent in the fight against radicalization and should better explain its experience and soft power.”

Dissemination of accurate religious knowledge crucial

“The struggle in the field of security should continue as before, and also accurate religious knowledge should be disseminated to the groups who are potential candidates for the organization,” Mehmet Ali Buyukkara, deputy dean of the Faculty of Islamic Sciences at Istanbul Sehir University, told Anadolu Agency.

He said the transfer of the experiences of those who have left Daesh/ISIS will also make a positive contribution to the struggle against the terror group.

Efforts to prevent the radicalization of potential groups, especially the relatives of Daesh/ISIS militants, should continue, he added.

Tens of thousands of Daesh/ISIS families and their children should firstly be released from the prisons and removed from the camps in Syria and Iraq so they can live in more humanitarian conditions, and after that, they should be put on trial, according to Buyukkara.

Violent extremism outcome of nebula of problems

Even if Baghdadi’s death hurts the will of the group, it cannot completely break it, as Daesh/ISIS is a “sociological phenomenon”, Baris Caglar, a political scientist at MEF University in Istanbul, told Anadolu Agency.

“Nothing has finished, but the group has certainly been weakened after its leader’s death,” Caglar said.

He described Daesh/ISIS as an ideology and as “the manifestation of the transformation of an anti-system sociological movement into violence.”

“Al Qaeda or Daesh/ISIS are the current labels that signify an anti-hegemonic violent sociological movement whose drivers are worldwide problems emanating from an economic, political and identity-crisis variety.

“Even if Daesh/ISIS dies as a brand or name, the pertinent sociological ills will keep on manifesting themselves in other guises, groups, and names,” he warned.

“The vocabulary is certainly religious, and its deviant ideology plays an important role in driving people to violence.”

Caglar said violent extremism is “not only about a particular interpretation of a religion”.
Violent extremism is the outcome of a nebula of problems, he said, which afflicted all people across the globe.

“Globalized security makes it everybody’s problem, and what people do or do not do about it plays a part in its curtailing or expansion,” Caglar said.

Daesh/ISIS as ‘virtual movement’

Caglar added that Daesh/ISIS had a great influence of “virtual radicalization” which was never reached before by any terrorist organization with its graphic videos and regular social media broadcasts.

“Significantly, Daesh/ISIS has been a virtual movement with and through its social media power,” he said.

Underlining that the terror group would maintain its claims of a caliphate, Caglar stressed that as the organization now lacked a physical domain, it would be more effective in the virtual space.

“The organization will continue to make caliphate propaganda and recruit supporters via the Internet,” said Caglar.

He highlighted that this strong virtual influence could not be destroyed only by killing the leader of the terror group.

“It still recruits people of many different backgrounds even after its leader’s incapacitation,” he added.

Daesh/ISIS will continue to exist as an “ideology” or a “discourse of violence” rather than establishing a physical domain, he stressed.
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