Author's note: At the time of publishing, we did not know of the terrorist truck attack in New York. It shows that terrorism is still a threat. Our thoughts and prayers for those impacted by the attack.
Last week saw the final military defeat of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Iraqi military forces captured the self-proclaimed capital of the caliphate, Raqqa, and drove ISIS fighters into the desert.
At its peak, ISIS had proclaimed a capital in Raqqa, Iraq and had conquered significant territory in Iraq and Syria. Significant to Muslim imagery, ISIS declared itself a modern caliphate and its leader a successor to Muhammed. And early in its ascendancy, ISIS seemed to threaten the very existence of the Iraqi government as Iraqi forces often simply ran in early fighting against fanatical militants.
The war against ISIS, and al Qaeda before that was different in ways we haven’t fully grasped because of the nature of the terrorists themselves.
At its essence, ISIS was a collection of blood thirsty thugs whose sadism motivated them to not only do unimaginably inhumane things but to video them so that they could be proudly displayed to the world. Not even in the Nazis, as barbaric as they were, advertised their savagery and toward the end of WW II tried as best they could to hide the full extent of what went on in the concentration camps. ISIS not only wasn’t hiding their barbarism, they were parading it to the world with videos that seemed to try to outdo the one before in its sadism. They began with videos of their beheadings, then moved to mass beheadings, then burning their victims alive, then to showing captives locked in cages being lowered into pools of acid. And that’s what they did to individuals. They also attempted genocide against whole peoples. In the territory they captured they attempted to literally wipe out the total population of Yazidis, a religious minority living in areas of Iraq and Syria. And all of this in the name of a religion.
Even if one’s mind could wrap itself around justifying mass killings for any who opposed a religion, what would justify the brutal and torturous way it was done? Let’s be clear, there is no possible justification. The brutal and barbarous way in which ISIS advertised itself is prima facia proof that ISIS was driven by blind blood lust and simply used a religious pretext for its crimes.
Yet, that’s what makes it so dangerous. ISIS gives a group identity to a number of people in the world already inclined to lashing out violently and just need a justification. Radicals and societal misfits from around the world went to the Middle East to join ISIS in its barbaric crusade. As often as motivated by a shared religious fanaticism, the foreigners who traveled to join ISIS seemed as motivated by the wanton and highly publicized violence meted out to those who opposed the rabid, fundamentalist Islamic horde. Westerners were very visible in the recruiting and propaganda tools used by ISIS, the most infamous example probably being ‘Jihadi John’, a British national who was seen in several ISIS videos where captives were beheaded.
These people do not disappear. We have them in society all the time. ISIS gave them, at least some of them, an identity as well as a ‘justification’ for their blind violent rage. And that is what we should worry about and remain vigilant to oppose.
All but the most fanatical ISIS adherents knew it was a matter of time before the ‘county’ or caliphate that ISIS proclaimed would be defeated and its populations liberated. However, the term ‘military defeat’ is significant. ISIS’ armed forces have been defeated, its ‘capital’ captured and re-taken and any armed forces left have withered away. The military victory has been total. Unfortunately, the military victory is not a total victory. ISIS was never a ‘country’ no matter how much they claimed a modern-day caliphate. And so you don’t defeat ISIS like you would another country. And therein lies the danger. ISIS will continue to threaten the world with terrorist attacks, and that threat is probably higher now that ISIS has to feel that it needs a way to remain relevant. They have little power left anywhere except the power to kill innocent people and get headlines. And so that’s what they will try to do. And that’s why we should continue to be merciless in opposing them.