Saturday, January 16th 2016
“In the present conflict between Islamic State and its international enemies, a dual battle is taking place. There is the battle primarily centred in Syria and Iraq over territory and there is a truly international conflict for the hearts and minds of Sunni Muslims globally. In order to achieve a meaningful victory against IS, its opponents must fight both battles simultaneously,” wrote Ciaran Kovach in a January 14, 2016, guest post, “Combating Islamic State on a razor’s edge: The territorial and ideological war,” on the website of the Quilliam Foundation. After discussing the “territorial” war, he went on to discuss “hearts and minds.”
- How Islamic State’s opponents go about fighting a war over territory is where the precarious duality of the conflict reveals itself. Jihadist groups have long made use of a victim mentality as a potent recruiting tool and IS is no different.
- The innumerable barbaric and callous acts of the Assad regime during outgoing war in Syria has provided IS with a very marketable message to Sunni Muslims; “Come to Syria and protect Sunni Muslims against the barbaric Shia Alawite army of Assad”.
- IS has also effectively harnessed historical distrust of the USA, its European allies and Russia in the Middle East for its recruiting propaganda. Every act of foreign intervention and particularly incidents of collateral damage to innocent bystanders can be used and, is used, effectively by IS recruiters as an exploitable avenue for radicalisation.
- IS is of course just the latest and most dangerous manifestation of transnational Salafi-Jihadism in the grand scheme of things. Unless IS is defeated in such a way that lays clear the moral superiority of the opponents of Salafism, it is simply a matter of time until another group fills the void IS will have left, a group which could be much more difficult to root out.
- This fact of course makes the reading of continued war crimes by the Assad regime and Shia forces in Iraq, incidents of ham-fisted application of air power by Russia and incidents of collateral damage by western coalition forces grim reading indeed.
- In the ongoing conflict with IS, radicalisation must not only be countered at home by governments and NGOs, but counter-radicalisation must be fully implemented into an effective military strategy against Islamic State’s military forces. It is only this way that we can walk the path towards dealing a truly lasting defeat to extremism and move towards perhaps, one day, winning the war against extremism.
- It is a path as thin as a razor’s edge and one which will require great commitment, intellect and courage to walk.