Iraqi troops are advancing in Mosul, taking new districts from Daesh. The liberation of the city is entailing high civilian losses and a humanitarian crisis, the scale of which is yet to be evaluated. The psychological consequences of Mosul’s occupation by Daesh will become apparent, as its devilish ideology has been poisoning the whole population.
The city’s full liberation is a matter of days or weeks of fierce battles. Mosul is an important milestone in defeating Daesh on the ground, with Raqqa its last bastion. The recent meeting of US, Russian and Turkish military chiefs ahead of the Raqqa operation promises full-scale coordination of their forces.
But Daesh will not surrender easily, and even as it loses territory and strongholds, its ideology will not vanish under bombs and shelling. Raqqa is depicted as a decisive battle against terrorism and extremism, but is that really the case? No doubt the fall of Raqqa is a crucial step in defeating Daesh as a state-like structure, but what about its ideology?
With the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, the international community, led by the US, celebrated a decisive victory over “Islamic” terrorism. But terrorism is like a Lernaean Hydra, a many-headed serpent in Greek mythology: For every head chopped off, it regrows a couple of new ones. To the huge disappointment of the international community, eliminating a concrete symbol of the phenomenon does not eliminate the phenomenon itself.
It is much easier to eradicate a symbol than fight the phenomenon, especially when it comes to ideology. A symbol is used by geopolitical powers as a self-promotion instrument, first to increase the perception of their importance in fighting this symbol, then after its eradication, to seize a PR opportunity and consolidate their positions as righteous fighters against evil. Thus, this fight turns into a show, without an in-depth or far-reaching strategy.
The core of the phenomenon of Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups lays far beyond their leaders, flags and territorial gains. They represent vicious facets of the same current, mutilating religion to serve the purely political goals of certain people and groups. The spread of extremist ideology relies on four i’s: Ignorance, injustice, interventionism and impotence. Only tackling them will enable the complete eradication of radical ideology.
Terrorism is like a many-headed serpent in Greek mythology: For every head chopped off, it regrows a couple of new ones. To the huge disappointment of the international community, eliminating a concrete symbol of the phenomenon does not eliminate the phenomenon itself.
Ignorance is the main assistant of the spread of extremist ideology. Ironically, the same ignorance nourishes Islamophobia worldwide, which assists the spread of extremism. It is a vicious circle, helping recruiters in Muslim communities that live in non-Muslim countries.
Injustice — political, social and so on — is used by recruiters, as it creates fertile soil for the spread of extremist ideology. Injustice refers not only to Muslim countries, but to the whole world. It occurs not just in authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, but also in democracies. The Arab world has good prospects of minimizing social and political injustice via sustainable development of civil society, but prospects for the West are far less positive.
Western interventionism and policies toward the Muslim world are another serious factor fueling extremism. It is becoming a far more serious issue as the Arab world is chosen as a battlefield for geopolitical and sectarian clashes. As such, Western interventionism is a sustainable source of the very ideology it is officially fighting to eradicate.
The helplessness of some moderate clerics is another important factor. They appear unable to adequately withstand extremist propaganda. They are inactive and passive compared to extremists. They hardly use modern technology or the Internet to deliver messages of peace to their congregations and the world, leaving this space for extremists and their messages of war. They lack adequate contact with the youth, unlike terrorist recruiters, who are brilliant psychologists.
These pillars of extremism must be tackled after liberating Mosul and Raqqa. They are responsible for spreading extremist ideology, brainwashing people and gaining new followers. No PR or self-promotion can be made fighting these pillars. Eliminating them takes time and enormous effort, the results of which cannot be privatized by certain players.
The key to eradicating “Islamic” terrorism is also found in two words starting with the letter “i”: Islam and integrity. Islam means peace, which is the only format in which it should be spread and cultivated. The integrity of the Muslim world will thwart extremists. United Arab and Muslim worlds can finally take their fate into their own, proper hands, and claim equality and respect on the world stage, preventing all external attempts to intervene and impose.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). She can be reached on Twitter: @politblogme.