The end of ISIS* will be remembered by the propagandists of the next ISIS as one more historical defeat by the stronger “non-believers”, and it will contribute in the narrative of victimization. This will be confronted from the “non-believers” side by innate hostility and excessive violence that will perpetuate the scenario again and again.
ISIS is not fundamentally different from previous violent organizations that use terrorism in the name of Islam. Like Al Qaeda* and Taliban*, its end goal is the establishment of a caliphate where life would – in theory – resemble that of the time of the Prophet Mohamed. But in comparison to its predecessors, ISIS was able to gain more space and achieve – for a limited period of time and in very relative terms - the impossible dream of most Salafist thinkers.
The root causes behind the group’s creation is a latent popular anger against current social, economic and political situations, coupled with centuries-old propaganda that delimitates the enemy (the other, usually the non-Muslim or the semi-Muslim) and amplifies victimhood. This is easily exploited by groups aiming to change the existing order. Moreover, great powers, local hegemons and other players use this phenomenon as their interests dictate.
Today it is ISIS, yesterday it was Al Qaeda, and tomorrow it will be something else or perhaps even a combination of the two. In other words, it would be misleading to think that the military defeat of ISIS means moving on to a blank chapter. It would also be deceptive to believe that ISIS, its predecessors and successors are the sole machination of some intelligence agencies.
As of now, the downfall of ISIS, a postmodern non-state actor that claims to be a state, happened in a Clausewitzian war, crushed by strong regular armies in semi-regular battles. However, most of the MENA region and parts of Africa and Asia remain an easy hotbed having all the ingredients mentioned above. The problem therefore is not as much about where ISIS’ fighters will go, than about where the next ISIS will emerge.
New ISIS Tactics: ‘Individual Jihad’ As the Greatest Threat in Coming Years
After ISIS* lost almost all of the territories it controlled in the Middle East, was decapitated and dramatically reduced its online propaganda, it is time to think about possible scenarios following the final defeat of the group in Syria and Iraq. The negative ones include resurgence of Al Qaeda after several years of decline, emergence of new hotbeds of terrorism around the world and new forms of “individual jihad” in the West.
The remaining units, which were vanquished, may try to rebuild the movement in the Middle East or elsewhere. They will perhaps attempt to go home and wage war in their different countries of origins (the “Returnees” debate). The “lone wolf” model will probably continue, and low-level terrorism will keep the world in high alert.
But those stamped with an ISIS etiquette have lost, and their glory has passed. However, the children they raised, numbered in tens of thousands, will become major problems when they come to age. Wherever they will be, they are an army of psychologically deranged or fragile elements, therefore a burden for the countries that will host them. Many of them will end up like their parents, or join the criminal cartels of the future.
Most importantly, the economic and political problems that exist in vast segments of the world, and the rise of xenophobia and racism in the richer and more developed world, are the perfect recipe for confrontation. The end of ISIS will be remembered by the propagandists of the next ISIS as one more historical defeat by the stronger “non-believers”, and it will contribute in the narrative of victimization. This will be confronted from the “non-believers” side by innate hostility and excessive violence that will perpetuate the scenario again and again.
*Al-Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS are terrorist organizations banned in Russia by court order.