by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog
A year or two ago, I would have never imagined that I would be writing an article with this title, at least not this soon; but things change.
If anything, my previous articles about ISIS which I wrote back between 2014 and 2017 were very alarming and predicted the worst, but again, things change, and back then there were many reasons to feel alarmed.
I have reiterated in that era of the past that the ISIS ideology had deep roots in fundamentalist Islam, and I still have this view. I have professed many times that this fundamentalist doctrine had been in place long before Christopher Columbus set a foot on American soil and that we cannot blame the CIA, Israel, the UK, or the West in general for the creation of this ideology, and I am not retracting. I have also said that those fundamentalist views do not represent real Islam, and there is no change in heart on this aspect either. So what has changed?
In this context, we are talking about the ideological rise and fall of ISIS. We are not talking about the political aspects and the horde of players who helped create, manipulate and employ ISIS for different reasons and agendas. With all of those players however, ISIS needed the support base, and that support base was the Muslim youth who are disenchanted by world events and the manner the world views Islam. Furthermore, they are disgruntled by the governments of the Muslims World and their links to the West: links they consider as treasonous and shameful. It was this mindset that was the recruitment base for ISIS; not the Pentagon.
So for the benefit of clarification, I must herein emphasize that there has always been a perverted version of Islam that founded itself on violence; in total contradiction to the Quranic teachings that clearly forbid coercion and oppression. This version was finally committed to a written doctrine, written by Ibn Taymiyyah; the founding doctrine of the Wahhabi Saudi sect.
When the West "discovered" this doctrine, it tried to employ it to its advantage, and this was how Al-Qaeda and ISIS were created, with Al-Qaeda's role to hurt the USSR in Afghanistan, and ISIS to topple the legitimate and secular Syrian Government.
The not so funny thing about ISIS was that when the proclamation of creating the Islamist state back in mid-2014, the Caliphate passion became something easy to grow and self-nurture in the hearts and minds of many Sunni Muslims across the globe; including moderate ones.
Harking back at what happened back then; one honestly cannot blame them much. After all, many of the then Iraqi ISIS commanders and fighters were former Saddam-era Iraqi Army personnel. Many of them have even actually walked away from the "dictator" in the hope that the "regime change" was going to be for the better, only to soon realize the state of mess and mayhem that the American invasion created.
Before ISIS "had the chance" to show its ugly face, may moderate Muslims thought that this new force emerging out of Mesopotamia, one that does not recognize the border lines that Western colonialists have drawn between Sham (Syria) and Iraq, one that wants to unite Muslims, is perhaps "the one" to go for and support.
Ironically, most of those Muslims today look back at those days and either forget or wish to forget that at one stage, at some level, deep down in their hearts they supported ISIS, albeit not fully knowing what it stood for.
It was this subtle and covert support for ISIS by some elements of the global Sunni rank-and-file that gave ISIS a fertile ground for luring in recruits and that was the major cause for concern.
If anyone looks for evidence that supports this statement, then he/she need not go further than looking at the recent history of terror attacks in the EU (especially France) and the UK.
After the horrendous Bastille Day attack in Nice in the summer of 2016, a new direction for terror was established, and the perpetrator proved that one does not need a weapon to kill. His weapon was a truck, and he didn't even need to buy it. He rented it.
After this infamous attack and what followed it, I among many others, predicted more of such events, and they continued for a while, and then suddenly they stopped. Why? This is the question.
For ISIS to be have been able to keep its momentum and growing support base, it needed to gain the hearts and minds of Muslims. But to do so, it needed to score victories and be able to revive Muslim nostalgia. Both are equally important.
In the beginning, it boasted its victories and the biggest of which was the takeover of Mosul; Iraq's second largest city. This was how the ears of many Muslims worldwide pricked up and poised themselves to hear more. Some jumped on the band wagon straight away, but the majority braced and waited for more evidence that ISIS in general, and Baghdadi in specific, are the right ones to trust and follow.
What followed the capture of Mosul by ISIS however was nothing short of disgrace for ISIS; one that exposed its true inner ugliness. And instead of being able to capitalize on its initial momentum and promising to achieve more of it by adopting at least some of the virtues of Islam, ISIS turned its inability to achieve further military victories into a blood bath, looting and a sex slave market.
Before too long, even some of the most ardent Muslim supporters of ISIS turned away from it, and then against it, to the degree that they now even forget or deny that they once supported its baby steps.
What is interesting to note is that the move from secularism to Islam has not changed in the Muslim world. An increasing number of Muslim girls are wearing the Hijab with or without ISIS, but ISIS itself has lost its sway with the general Sunni Muslim populace.
What is interesting to see is that the definition of what is a "real Muslim" is changing, and changing quickly. And whilst the move towards Hijab and all what comes with it is still going full steam ahead, there seems to be a growing trend in the Muslim World towards moderation.
The ISIS fundamentals of black and white doctrine seem to be becoming increasingly tolerant of certain shades of grey. Even some personal Facebook friends and friends of friends who have brandished their photos performing Pilgrimage at Mecca don't seem to be at dis-ease posting other photos brandishing a Heineken. To someone outside the Muslim Faith this may not sound like a big deal, but in reality, it is.
This all sounds good, but what has happened here really?
ISIS has definitely lost the plot. Fortunately for the world, irrespective of who are/were the people "behind" ISIS, its recruitment base had to come from Muslims; especially the youth. Having lost the ability to draw more recruits and enthusiasts who pledge their actions and lives to Baghdadi without even having to be formal ISIS members, ISIS as an organization and a name is now a spent force, and dare I say a figment of the past.
This however does not mean that the Muslim community has "immunized" itself against potential new ISIS-like organizations and agendas.
The initial rise of ISIS could have well been the result of a nostalgic remnant of a certain belief system that many Muslims did not even want to investigate and study properly to see if it really and truly conforms with the Teachings of Islam and all other religions. The fall of ISIS however heralds a new unprecedented era in the Muslim mind, and this calls for great optimism.
Perhaps for the first time in the history of Islam ever since its inception, Muslims are now beginning to examine some teachings they inherited. Even Saudi Arabia and its infamous Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman (MBS) seem to be sick and tired of the old rules and dogmas that allow this and prohibit that; based on no foundation at all. I have never been a fan of MBS, but having lived in Saudi Arabia for a while, I had always thought that this country would never allow women to drive, never ever. The fact that he changed this is a great step in the right direction. This does not take away from MBS's genocidal activities in Yemen of course, but on the dogmatic side of things, this is a huge step towards reform. In Saudi Arabia there is also a call to have a second take on the Hadith (the spoken word of Prophet Mohamed) in an attempt to identify certain teachings that promote violence and that are incompatible with Islam. The rationale behind this is that they were never the words of the Prophet to begin with and that they might have been injected into the huge discourse by others with political agendas. Such an initiative was totally unfathomable only up till a few years ago.
Does this mean that we are seeing the end of Muslim fundamentalist-based violence? Hopefully we are, but the real answer to this question is for the whole Muslim community to answer.
The truth is that ISIS may be done and dusted, but the ideology behind lives on.
It is hoped for that the actions of ISIS will be remembered for eternity. It is hoped that Muslims realize that if they truly want to pursue the fundamentalist dreams of conquest and world dominion, then they cannot distance themselves from the legacy of ISIS. It is hoped that they look forward to a new world that is open to all religions and doctrines.
I am a firm believer that God created man in His own image, and part of this image is goodness and love of goodness; and Muslims are part of this creation. After all, Muslims, all Muslims believe in the Hadith that says: "The best people are those who most benefit to other people". Russia and Syria might have won the military war on ISIS, but it is Muslims who have won the spiritual fight. Muslims: 1, ISIS: 0.