Ever since the barbaric slaughter of the American journalist, James Foley, which took place in August 2014, the so called ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) has appeared at the forefront of the news across the globe, with their hideous Islamic fundamentalist ideology. But what has happened since then? Have they largely been defeated in the Middle East, or is their ideology still very much alive?
Before anything else, it is important to highlight how ISIS’ ideology has plagued the West since their proclamation as a ‘caliphate.’ Perhaps the recent example of Shamima Begum, a British citizen, who voluntarily left the UK to join the Islamic State in 2015, serves as a perfect example of how persuasive they have been, not just in the Middle East, but in the Western states as well. One must find it peculiar how individuals from countries which have experienced terrorist attacks are so easily infected with ISIS’ fundamentalist discourse. This, while having been perpetuated and endorsed by the group, will exist long after ISIS is defeated in Syria. One of the reasons for it is the nature of modern technology and social media which allows extremists to spread their cancerous vitriol across borders. In 2017, for example, Britain suffered the highest number of casualties out of all European countries, with 36 victims losing their lives in IS inspired attacks. This is a clear indication that the tyrannical ideology of the Islamic State has infiltrated in the West, perhaps even suggesting that even if ISIS loses physical territory in Syria, it is hard to combat a set of ideas and teachings which can radicalise anyone in any given continent or geopolitical area. So, what can be done? Well, the obvious approach would be to prevent those who have travelled to Syria from returning back to Britain, as the Home Secretary has also suggested in his recent questioning over the issue. But more complex approaches could also be deliberated, such as adopting a stricter attitude in regards to Saudi funded mosques which are known for, at times, promoting radical agendas condemned by many in the Islamic community.
Recently, the US President Donald Trump has expressed his desire to withdraw US troops from Syria, stating that “we [the US] have defeated ISIS.” But is this really the case? Has the Islamic State been fully defeated, or is Trump’s rhetoric slightly premature? If we analyse the effectiveness of the Iraqi government forces and their allies’ in pushing ISIS back, we can easily draw at least one conclusion: by reclaiming the city of Mosul in 2017, it is clear that ISIS is not the threat it once was. This is not to say that they have been fully eradicated. It is estimated that between 1,200-1,500 militants are still in the region, in an approximate area of 20 square miles, suggesting a significant weakening from the 30,000 square miles ISIS had once occupied. President Trump’s attitude towards the dispersed and weakening terrorist organisation has often been challenged. Joseph Votel, General of the US Army, has stated that it is paramount that the US persists with a “vigilant offensive” in order to defeat not only their fighters, but also “the ideology which fuels their efforts.”
Considering the frankly naïve attitude of the US President, it is possible we could see a resurgence of ISIS within the region. Now that their biggest obstacle is out of the way, there is a possibility that their forces could bolster some kind of encouragement to continue fighting for their self-proclaimed caliphate. Perhaps more worryingly, such an impetuous move by the ‘leader’ of the free world could serve to support claims from ISIS that they are the real victors of the conflict, forcing the US out of Syria - an assertion that will certainly worry Trump and the Western forces which have been united in fighting such an unspeakable evil for the past 5 years. Sadly, they have now found themselves left in the dark by the Trump administration.
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