Is the Islamic State (IS) movement the final challenge for Western and other civilizations?

Al Qaeda was the meta-threat to the West after September 11, 2001. After the assassination of Osama bin Laden, this challenge has often been considered as being overcome. The ISIS (later IS) threat is different insofar as they control territory – chunks of Syrian and Iraqi land. They are media-savvy, and were successful in establishing the narrative of being particularly cruel. So how can we meet and match this threat?

  1. Shen Dingli 2 days ago

    That is hard to tell. Al Qaeda has launched a terrorist attack on the US, hijacking airplanes and slaughtering thousands of people at one time, with far-reaching implications for the future and it has not yet ended, despite the demise of Osama bin Laden. As Al Qaeda is a non-state actor without territory, it is hard to be traced and contained.
    ISIS, with physical territory to claim, is more visible and prone to being confined within a locale. In this sense it is more vulnerable than Al Qaeda. Given its notorious brutality, it is shaping an unbelievable coalition of nations such as the US and Iraq, as well as Syria. It is also inviting America to reflect upon its foreign policy of the recent past, suppressing Saddam and Assad’s regimes without proper regional balance. Western and other civilizations, with an improved strategy, are more likely to forge concerted efforts so as to prevent ISIS from emerging as the final challenge to humankind.

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  2. Panayotis Tsakonas 2 days ago

    The recent advance of IS (Islamic State) in Iraq and the declaration of a Caliphate by al-Baghdadi have forced the West to reconsider its policy in the region. The establishment of a Sunni-dominated state in parts of Iraq and Syria is bound to create an alliance of the willing against it; the United States, Iran, the Iraqi government, and the Kurds would put their differences aside and work towards a common goal, namely the containment of Sunni extremism in the region. Yet, such a development will only intensify the isolation of the Gulf monarchies, which view the US-Iranian rapprochement with great suspicion. Engaging the Gulf Arab countries in the fight against IS should be the top priority for the West.

    Second, IS seems more intent on spreading its deadly rule in the region rather than advancing a global crusade through terrorist attacks on distant countries – at least in the short run. Hence, the terror threat from IS perceived in North America and Europe is probably exaggerated for now.
    Since, however, it is a former part of al Qaeda – indeed, often referred to as “al Qaeda on steroids” – it could easily pick up this mantle at some point. Meanwhile, it does indirectly pose a terrorist threat in the hundreds of young British, Germans, French, etc. recruited into its ranks.
    Radically inclined to begin with, these militants have been exposed to bestial behavior that, beyond the techniques they are learning, has inured them to unimaginable human suffering rendering terror an easy act for them. If the numbers are accurate – e.g., 500 British and 700 French – they, with their western passports and knowledge of their home countries, could pose a very serious threat unless carefully tracked. Again, something easier said than done.

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  3. Dmitri Mitin 2 days ago

    The rise of the Islamic State represents a serious threat to stability in the region. But, at least for now, it is neither a direct challenge to the West, nor a manifestation of a novel, particularly coherent and broadly appealing political vision (comparable to fascism and communism, the two principal 20th century alternatives to Western liberalism). It is, therefore, preferable not to frame the conversation about ISIS in terms of mega-civilizational rifts or grand-scale ideological rivalries.

    Assumptions about the nature of a threat inform appropriate response strategies. The Islamic State immediately threatens local governments, tribal and ethnic leaders, paramilitary organizations, established political groups and religious authorities. Propping up these actors – wherever possible – is likely to constitute the main approach to containing and, possibly, reversing, the spread of the IS.

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  4. Theodoros Tsakiris 2 days ago

    I do not personally believe in finalities in international politics.
    ISIS will not pose the final challenge because there will never be a final security challenge. Believing that is equally fallacious as Fukuyama’s ideas regarding the “end of history” which won unwarranted popularity in the dawn of the post-Cold War era.

    Furthermore it would be a great mistake to associate the death of Bin Laden with the destruction of Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda’s security challenge to Western values and interests was essentially ideological. Its primary goal was to not necessarily win against the “Jews and the Crusaders” militarily. After 9/11 the combined military, economic and intelligence assets of the US-led alliance in Europe and the Middle East all but crippled the operational capacity of Al-Qaeda especially after 2005-2006.

    But the other strategic objective of Osama bin Laden was to galvanize global jihadist forces that are not controlled by a central operational/financial authority, but are driven by the same extremist ideology. This, to a certain extent, pre-dated Al-Qaeda as is exhibited in the Mujahedin resistance against the Soviet invasion of 1980-1988.
    But what bin Laden did for the movement was to (a) systematize it ideologically, (b) provide it with a blueprint for operational autonomy and financial autarky, (c) not micro-manage it and (d) galvanize it through the “success” of 9/11.

    The 2001 attacks were the first global jihadist offensive against the West that actually worked. After 2003 the mismanagement of the post-Saddam occupation of Iraq by the U.S. and the chaotic conditions in post-Arab Spring Syria and Libya merely provided the geopolitical opportunity for ISIS to emerge.

    Despite their respective national and historic differences, ISIS, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, Boko Haram and the plethora of salafist-like jihadist groups clashing over the control of Benghazi and Tripolitania are different fruits from the same Al-Qaeda tree.

    Only a combination of a sustained air campaign by the US and other willing NATO members along with the arming of the Kurdish peshmerga in Northern Iraq could initially contain the expansion of ISIS in Iraq. Nevertheless the reluctant coalition would also either have to force the Shia to share power with the Sunnis and the Kurds or force the Shia to accept the further devolution of power to an expanded Kurdish Regional Government that would include Mosul in a new more decentralized federated state. If either option fails then a serious consideration should be given to the issue of Kurdish independence.

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  5. Alexei Voskressenski 2 days ago

    One of the goals of Osama bin Laden was a resurrection of Caliphate that will help to bring the end to the West. However Osama believed that this goal can be achieved through the whole 21t Century, and he lost long before the first quarter of the 21st Century. As soon as the USA transferred the power in Iraq from the Sunni to the Shia majority, that strengthened Iran and Hezbollah and changed the confessional balance in the region. Saudi Arabia and Israel both, for different reasons, disliked the new situation. Saudi Arabia thought that changing the political regime in Syria would help the restoration of balance. The USA considered that American mediation will restore its role in the region and will help the decrease of authoritarianism. That did not happen, however at least one goal was achieved: the USA, Russia and the international community managed to eliminate the chemical threat to the region together. We also saw an increase of stronger and more rigid versions of Islamic states and more radicalism. This, in turn, resulted in the return of the military in Egypt and later the creation of the New Caliphate. This is quickly becoming a threat to the region and to the world due to its sponsorship of the new wave of radicalism and terrorism as inevitable consequences. The only solution to this is a new entente, formal or informal, between the West and the moderate Muslim states on the understanding that a victory over a new wave of radicalism and terrorism can be achieved only through joint efforts. If the New Caliphate is a last challenge to the West or not depends on the form and decisiveness of this new Western-Muslim accord in moving Islam to a moderate constructive version that will concentrate on development, modernization and prosperity of the population and not on pursuing jihad against the West and others.

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  6. Robert Legvold 2 days ago

    The threat posed by IS should be seen on several levels. First, it is a regional threat as it swells its numbers, spreads across the chaotic territories of Syria, Iraq, and beyond, captures sophisticated arms from crumbling military forces – particularly in Iraq – and terrorizes whole ethnic communities. The threat in this case is the establishment of an expansionist caliphate that would menace the entire Levant. As events have shown, its military offensive can be thrown back, if the Kurdish peshmerga are properly armed, the Sunni tribes mobilized, the Iraqi military forces reconstituted, and U.S. airpower applied. All of this, however, requires a Shiite government in Baghdad that undoes the damage done by the Maliki government, and permits these elements to come together. That is a tall order. Even then, IS will still have a potent base in Syria, and bringing this down is probably not within the reach of the United States and its European allies – not without Russian and Syrian collaboration, a most unlikely prospect.

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2 Comments

  1. john borner 12 hours ago

    Satans soldiers (isis) needs to be taken out, period. Come on folks ,beheading and mass executions ,duh wake up america. They need to be educated that their supposed religion will not work and the entire world should help the usa to kill all of them. They do nothing for society. To hell they shall go for satan wants its vile children back. And this world needs to see this this will take place and never happen again. Answer this , how are we free if we let terrorists into this country to kill us ? This pathetic government once again is leading us be their ignorance. I;ts simple , get all of the middle easterners the hell out of the usa. No freedom for us = no freedom for any of them. They should take there religion and behead themselves . They are ignorance revisited from long ago.

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  2. john borner 11 hours ago

    isis is a disease on this planet and like cancer they must be canceled. And if they use chemicals or any biological agents to kill they should be nuked, point blank, period, end of conversation people, so wake up all of you kind hearted fools out there.

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