Daesh is not a group, but an ideology

Top Stories

Daesh is not a group, but an ideology
The body of killed Islamic State fighter lies on the ground after fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic state group in Karama Neighborhood at the eastern side of Mosul, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017.

Capturing Raqqa won't be enough, the world needs to come together to kill all its means of sustenance

By Lorenzo Kamel (Geopolitics)

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Mon 9 Jan 2017, 10:52 PM

Last updated: Tue 10 Jan 2017, 12:55 AM

The fall of Aleppo last month to the Russia-backed forces of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has spurred yet another wave of discussion about the prospects for ending the civil war. Despite the recent countrywide ceasefire, guaranteed by Turkey and Russia, between Assad's forces and most rebel groups, most seem to agree that the conflict is far from over.
After all, Daesh has not agreed to anything - and is not going to.
These observers are right about one thing: the war in Syria will not end until Daesh is defeated. But the belief, espoused by many, that the fall of Raqqa - Daesh's self-declared capital - will achieve that goal is, to be frank, wrong.
To be sure, Raqqa is, in the words of the French historian Jean-Pierre Filiu, "the operational command centre" for Daesh terror attacks, such as the murder of 12 people at a Christmas market in Berlin last month, or the killing of 39 at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's Day. But the conclusion of Filiu and others that Raqqa's fall is the key to ending attacks on Europe conflates the Syrian civil war's causes, symptoms, and solutions. In fact, while Daesh's short-term prospects are certainly linked to Raqqa's fate, its long-term survival and influence will likely be decided thousands of miles away.
From an operational perspective, Daesh's future will be decided largely in Tunisia, the country that has sent the most foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, and the home country of the Berlin attacker. This partly reflects the authorities' failure to produce sufficient economic opportunities for its young population, at a time when the country's nascent democratic transition has raised expectations. As Shams Talbi, a 55-year-old man from the poverty-stricken city of Kasserine explained to me in 2015, "many young people in our area consider Daesh as means to regain their dignity."
Reducing the number of fighters flocking to join Daesh's ranks thus demands the economic and social integration of marginalised regions. Otherwise, young Tunisians (and others) will continue to find themselves so desperate that criminal groups like Daesh look like the most reliable socioeconomic equalisers.
Daesh's future will also have much to do with France, the European country that supplies the most fighters to the group - a fact that likely reflects its aggressive form of secularism. France is one of only two countries in Europe (Belgium is the other) that bans the full veil in its public schools. And it is the only country in Western Europe (other than Belgium) not to gain the highest rating for democracy, according to Polity data. Seventy per cent of France's prison population is Muslim. All of this lends a hand to extremist recruiters.
The final key determinant of Daesh's survival will be the willingness of countries, particularly in the West (and especially the United States), to recognise, finally, that oppressive regimes are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The fall of Raqqa would mark a major victory against Daesh. But it would not mean the end of the group or its violent attacks, which would surely persist, perhaps in new forms. To defeat Daesh once and for all, we need to recognise - and eliminate - its many sources of sustenance.
Lorenzo Kamel, a historian at the University of Freiburg's Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS), is a senior fellow at the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) and a nonresident associate at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES).
-Project Syndicate

More news from