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War on Daesh: Poke the nest and the hornets disperse

Daesh’s territorial gains are shrinking fast. The eastern side of Mosul has been liberated. It is only a matter of time before the western areas of Iraq’s second-largest city are cleansed of vicious barbarians whose only relation to humanity’s norms is their outer appearance.

Civilians are fleeing in droves. Their initial relief at leaving a giant prison is palpable but their misery is far from over. Hastily erected reception camps are full to overflowing. All that awaits women and children, often separated from husbands and sons undergoing investigation, is hunger, cold and mud.

Tragically, those who remain risk falling victim to coalition bombs and tank shells. The UN has registered its concern about the high number of civilian casualties. The Pentagon is investigating allegations that as many as 300 were killed in Iraq and Syria, including women and children, resulting from US-led airstrikes. Unfortunately, such mistakes serve as grist to Daesh’s anti-Western mill.

A major US-backed thrust to free the Syrian city of Raqqa, Daesh’s self-declared capital, is imminent. Reports indicate that Kurdish militias partnered with Arab tribes have been transported to the city’s periphery by helicopter in order to block Daesh’s escape routes. 

On Friday, France’s minister of defense announced that “Raqqa is surrounded and the battle will begin in the coming days.”

Daesh’s bloodthirsty following

US President Donald Trump vowed to crush the so-called “Islamic State.” He has signed an executive memorandum directing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of the CIA, the treasury secretary among other senior team members to formulate strategies pinpointing new coalition partners, mechanisms to cut off Daesh’s financial support and ways of delegitimizing the group’s radical ideology.

But once the dust has settled and Iraqis and Syrians can set about rebuilding their lives, the concern is that Daesh’s battle-hardened minions, those who survive or are not captured, will attempt to return to their homelands bent on spilling innocent blood to provide the group’s bloodthirsty following with the illusion of victory.

The concern is that the terror group’s battle-hardened minions, those who survive or are not captured, will attempt to return to their homelands bent on spilling innocent blood.

Linda S. Heard

Indeed, Daesh’s head honchos have long been preparing for the day after, encouraging “lone wolves” to kill as many as they can using guns, knives, lorries, cars, poison; basically anything that can be turned into a weapon. Returnees from Mosul and Raqqa will act as recruiters, directors of operations and weapons procurers. European capitals are particularly vulnerable, as Paris, Brussels, Berlin and London have learned to their cost.

Terror in Europe

Western governments would be wise to balance their liberal democratic values with the need for more intrusive border controls, increased security measures, tougher laws and expanded profiling.

It is worth noting that many European nationals turned terrorists have criminal backgrounds; others, including the British-born killer Khaled Masood, were at one time under investigation by intelligence agencies. 

At the same time, efforts should be made to counter the spread of Daesh’s sick ideology. That is easier said than done and could take decades. Its propaganda disseminated on social media and via its own magazine is sophisticated and slick.

Bans targeting Muslim-majority countries will not cut it. On the contrary, they can be used to solidify Daesh’s arguments. An essential component of counter-terrorism is the winning of hearts and minds. 

Authorities should work closely with local Muslim communities. Prominent Muslims who have been successful in various sectors could act as role models inspiring youth who feel they have been marginalized, deprived of opportunity or discriminated against. 

Religious leaders should encourage family members to express any concerns they may have about the direction a brother, husband or son might be taking. If families speak up as soon as they notice a change in the personality of a love one, many young men could be rehabilitated before they destroy lives.

There are no quick fixes to this insidious phenomenon, a culture of death and will to power hiding under Islam’s cloak and warping the faith’s true messages of peace and tolerance. This is a global problem requiring global solutions and should be taken as seriously as climate change. Otherwise, Samuel Huntington’s hypothesis on a coming “clash of civilizations” could well manifest itself, impacting us all.

• Linda S. Heard is an author and columnist specializing in Middle East affairs.