The end of a war, or at least a phase of a war, would normally be celebrated with victory parades, speeches, and even holidays. The end of the current ISIS war in Iraq and Syria has been mostly ignored, lest perhaps someone not politically correct be given credit.
Former President Obama tried ignoring a problem, withdrawing, even declaring premature victory. Things seemed only to get worse. It turned out that the war really was not against “terror”, a mere abstraction designed to hide from the Western public the religious cause motivating the most zealous warriors. The war was against the men who fought to expand Islam. Their defeat, in retrospect, lacked only one thing, the political will to deal with the warriors themselves. This political will is what has changed.
The ISIS analysis of the war was that modern armed states, because of their population’s moral laxity, could be defeated or thrown into chaos by old-fashioned armed believers who were willing to give up their lives to promote the transformation of the world into praise of Allah.
In this process, two things became obvious. One was that the use of terror as a means to extend a religion can work, at least in the short run. The second was that the same purpose might also be achieved through massive immigration, use of democratic processes, and demographic increase.
The ISIS terrorist thesis has certain romanticism about it. Nuclear weapons, sophisticated missiles, and air power, so it seemed, were not needed. What was required was the ability to take the war to the back-yards, stores, and streets of any modern city. To accomplish this goal, what was most needed was manpower scattered throughout Europe and America. It required shock troops willing to take lives of the infidel even while giving up their own lives in flaming glory. This new force needed to be random, haphazard, so that all major and minor cities were constantly on the alert for the next attack.
A well-placed bomb, a killing of 20 in a theatre or an airport was all that was necessary to cause havoc and gain fame for the ISIS cause. No police or militia could protect everything. All of these goals were accomplished by any invasion under the guise of refugees and immigrants into the places where such damage could be most effective. This goal was greatly facilitated by a policy that considered every immigrant to be a victim of poverty or discrimination.
In the meantime, ISIS managed to gain a good amount of territory, set up a government of sorts, and present its cause as a noble and just one in the eyes of many believers and non-believers alike.
What the ISIS leaders misunderstood, it turns out, was not Western public opinion, but the nature of its elite military opponents once someone organized them and permitted them to fight without the combat restrictions of the Obama regime.
In a sense, modern professional armies have little relation to civilian armies created by conscription and reviled by ideological opponents. People begin to realize that they depend more on the military than the military does on them. It is the military that stands for the more basic standards of honor, service, and protection. ISIS was not all wrong about Western decadence but the military has preserved many sturdy Western values.
Once the focus of attention was not on how many innocent civilians had been killed or on how many Christian heads had been chopped off, the units of the military organized local opponents and proceed to isolate the ISIS quickly. The soldiers knew what had to be done once they had the political backing to allow them to deal with the trucks and guns of ISIS. Some 70,000 ISIS fighters have been killed, including many of its leaders.
The struggle continues
Does this victory mean that ISIS is no longer a threat? Initially, what it does mean that the public opinion within Islamic states quickly saw that the ISIS method was not working. In the history of Islam, a military defeat is also suspected of being a theological problem. Allah’s cause is losing. What usually happens is that Islamic enthusiasm draws itself back into a relatively unchangeable way of life in home Islamic territories. Islam can wait till the next reading of the Qur’an, which itself does not change.
Many also understand that the ISIS analysis of the West (not China or India) was correct. There was an opportunity to expand Islam well into Europe and even America by settling as many Muslims in European and American territories as possible. Once there, they could avail themselves of the local laws and customs to reconfigure the Muslim way of life within these new territories. Terrorists acts will still occur, but they may prove counter-productive for a time.
The defeat of ISIS will not end the efforts of radical Islam to convert the world to Allah. It will prompt a re-evaluation of how to read the Qur’an on the jihad. Within Islamic states, nothing much will change so long as the preferred way of life remains the Islamic law backed by civil power. Some few will have second thoughts about the validity of the general analysis of the world found in the Quran. Most will simply withdraw and wait.
Rev. James V. Schall SJ taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of numerous books.