The attack on ‘Save the Children’ on 24th January in Afghanistan is yet another shocking act of violence added to the increasingly long list of ISIS assaults. In total, 26 civilians were injured in addition to 2 security guards after an exhausting 8 hour shoot out. This ambush on a charity shows the mercilessness of a regime that stops at nothing to gain both power and international attention. However, with the recapture of Raqqa and Mosul from ISIS, shall we assume that the organisation has lost its influence and terrorist attacks like this will decline in number and casualties?
Currently, it seems ISIS is losing their grip on their territories, and with them their power. This land is not only a geostrategic hotspot, but also the major source of revenue through taxation and oil. So does it mean that ISIS is not so much of a threat now? What actually worries me the most is not the immediate danger of ISIS, but rather the threat of something that they have left behind and the circumstances out of which they have grown. But first, a little history on the so-called Islamic State and their rise to power.
After the proclamation of the caliphate at the end of June 2014, the so-called Islamic State showed a clear intention to expand both its territories and ideologies. In 2016, the organisation reported to be operational in 18 countries across the world. Inevitably, wherever ISIS goes, danger, death and destruction follow. It claimed to be behind the violent attacks in a number of countries including Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia, France, Belgium, Germany, US and Bangladesh, and also here in the UK in 2017. Therefore, globally, ISIS have had an enormous impact and, at its peak, 10 million people were living under IS control.
Thankfully, ISIS is losing ground. The US lead coalition against the so-called Islamic state says that 98% of the territory once claimed by the Jihadist group across Iraq and Syria has been recaptured. In December, the Iraqi government declared that its war against ISIS was over. In the same month, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria after ISIS has been left controlling only pockets of land.
Notable victories include the capture of Raqqa, the previous capital of ISIS, by US-backed alliance of Syrian, Kurdish and Arab fighters in October. In addition to this, the recapture of Mosul which had been in the hands of ISIS since 2014 was a significant gain. Not only is it Iraq’s second largest city, but the location where the caliphate was declared, weakening the caliphate through humiliation and loss of resources. Therefore, the territorial fight against ISIS has so far been successful due to the bravery and dedication of those fighting against extremism.
This loss of territory has wider implications for ISIS, weakening the hold they have on cities and the individuals within them. Having lost control over oil fields in Syria and Iraq, ISIS can no longer sell oil which was their major source of revenue. What’s more, after the fall of major cities like Mosul and Raqqa, the money obtained from taxes has also fallen due to the loss of control over their population. Importantly, this is their other strategy to exploit money and resources in order to source weapons and continue their expansion.
However, although the fight against ISIS seems to give reason to optimism, we mustn’t be complacent as, historically, ISIS have been parasitic and tactical in their seizure of control. The group joined the rebellion against president Bashar al-Assad in Syria in 2011, supplying them with a safe heaven to weapons. Significantly, they also took advantage of the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq as well as the widespread Sunni anger in sectarian politics of the country’s Shia led government.
The fact that ISIS feeds off hatred and social segregation concerns me as this is what they have exploited and actually deepened in the Western world. It worries me more than the territorial aspect of their domination as this seems to be diminishing and more or less under control. It is no secret that there is an atmosphere of resentment and islamophobia within Britain, spreading divisions and breaking up of our modern society. Cliché as it sounds, giving in to the hatred is exactly what ISIS wants. A divided society is a weak society. If the Western world is too busy fighting Islamophobia, less time can be put into weakening ISIS. Therefore, this hatred and resentment is actually counter-productive.
Regretfully, the statistics speak for themselves, showing a shockingly high level of hostility. Eight hate crimes are reported in Northern Ireland every day. In reality, this number could be even higher as many Muslims fear to speak up about their mistreatment. In addition to this, hate crimes in London have also risen dramatically to 6,121 in 2016, an increase of 5% on the previous year. An alarming 58% of these were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry and 21% were led by religion.
Consequently, although the looming threat and unpredictability of ISIS lurks around every corner, the number of territories controlled by the organisation is decreasing. This does not, however, mean that the battle is over. We need to fight for every last bit of land controlled by the malicious group in order to bring safety to those who have had their lives torn apart. We also need to unite rather than divide our society in order to give us strength and solidarity, should ISIS or any other terrorist organisation start to claw back its power built on the same grounds. We are facing a ‘Societal problem that could not be dealt with by the criminal justice system alone’ (Mr McGuigan). It requires more than just government policies to stop hate crime. The flexibility of people’s minds to accept others from different cultures would also be essential for peaceful coexistence in any given society. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism, only an isolated minority harness extreme beliefs. We are all human beings. Let’s show some humanity and stop fighting hatred with hatred.