US and Europe think ISIL is over but it is not
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ahmet Yıldız asked a simple question to Giampiero Massolo, the president of the Italian think tank ISPI, who was chairing the panel “Shared Security, Common Strategies” on Dec 1 at the Mediterranean Dialogues (MED) meeting in Rome.
“By saying ‘beyond turmoil,’ you mean after DAESH, don’t you?” Yıldız said, referring to the title of the forum “Beyond Turmoil, A Positive Agenda.” Massolo answered affirmatively with a nod.
“But DAESH is not over just because of its defeat in Syria. The mentality is still there and the problems are still there,” said Yıldız in response.
Youssef Amari, the chief advisor of the King of Morocco, then expressed support for Yıldız. “We cannot say DAESH is over. Its tekfir ideology is not over,” Amari said.
The defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or DAESH, has been exaggerated in Europe. At times it almost seems to be suggested the jihadi group will never come back. Perhaps this is because of the U.S. propaganda campaign for the last couple of years, which has presented the issue if it is not actually a long-term struggle but rather a crusade simply targeting the retaking of Raqqa. Perhaps it is because Europeans simply want to wake up from this nightmare. Perhaps it is simply because of political shortsightedness, which is worse.
A book published by ISPI and George Washington University in Washington was delivered free during the conference in Rome: “Radicalization and Jihadist Attacks in the West.” Unbelievably, the book only takes into account jihadist attacks in the U.S. and Western Europe. There is no mention of the lives taken by al-Qaeda or ISIL - or any other terrorist organization - in other parts of the world. There is no mention of fatal terror attacks in Turkey, Egypt, Russia, or Indonesia, for example.
At the Rome meeting I met one of the three co-authors of the book, Francesco Marone. I asked him why the book does not mention terrorist attacks outside the U.S. and Western Europe.
“This was a geographical limitation for the research,” he replied. I then asked him why they limited themselves by geography when terrorists do not?” But I got no answer other than a vague response that this “could perhaps be the subject of another study.”
Unfortunately, the book exemplifies the problem of trying to handle a 21st century problem with a 19th century mentality.
Just a week ago ISIL killed 305 people in Egypt. There was a day of national mourning in Turkey, despite the heavy political problems between the two countries’ governments. There have been horrible terrorist attacks in Turkey by ISIL, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the last couple of years, particularly exacerbated by the Syrian civil war. Turkey has certainly made some serious mistakes with regard to jihadist groups active in Syria, like all other countries.
However, as a result of the Astana process initiated by Russia, Turkey and Iran, there has been a de-escalation in large parts of Syria. This de-escalation was praised on Dec. 1 by Federica Mogherini, the Foreign and Security Policy head of the European Union. Mogherini and NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gootemoeller said NATO and the EU will plan work to adopt a coordinated strategy to fight extremism next week.
This is all good. But if this approach again ends up being limited to geographical boundaries, instead of taking a holistic approach, all the world’s high-tech gadgets will only work up to a certain point.
Speaking in Rome, Lebanese President Michael Aoun recalled the U.S. partnership with the Taliban in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s. He criticized the mentality of “good terrorist vs. bad terrorist” and warned everyone against its repetition. Indeed, looking at the situation in Syria there is still room to maneuver for everyone to step back from strategic mistakes.