By Campaign Agent Luke Walpole
“Taking back Raqqa can be compared with the capture of Berlin in World War II,” claimed Tariq al-Ahmad, member of the political division of the Social-Nationalist Party of Syria. Mr Al-Ahmad’s ebullience is somewhat justified. Captured in breathtaking and terrifying detail by photographer Bülent Kılıç, it was an event which solidified the gradual shift in momentum in favor of the coalition forces.
As the de facto capital of so-called Islamic State, the seizure of Raqqa by the coalition in mid-October was necessary for practical and symbolic reasons. IS have now lost the focal point of their ‘Caliphate’, and are being pushed further still.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) now have a conceivable chance of eradicating IS’s geographical footholds in the country. This premonition was bolstered with the recent seizure of Deir al-Zour, as well as success in al-Qaim, Iraq. There are certainly reasons for optimism in the region, but a more troublesome question now hangs precariously: what now?
Though the military machine will continue to roll, ideological battles are less easily won. The insidious philosophy of IS is a virus searching for a viable host. Like Al-Qaeda’s period of resurgence before it, it is a parasitical ideology which evolves continually, manifesting itself in different areas and under different pseudonyms. Though IS may be pushed from the Middle East, it is imperative that something fills the gap. The imposition of democratic institutions in the region has proven anarchic since the Arab Spring, but IS’s rise came in lieu of strong central government. This has also been seen in Africa.
While Boko Haram plagues Nigeria, with activity in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon, a resurgent Al-Shabaab undermines any attempt at democratic growth in Somalia. Though these groups may squabble between themselves occasionally, and possess some ideological differences, they are still differing strains of the same disease. Empowered by power vacuums, they thrive on being able to appeal to those who are broken, angry and aggrieved.
This ability to reach out to, and radicalize, people across the world is IS’s remaining power. Though it has become a macabre punch-line to highlight IS’s proclivity for claiming any and every terror attack as their own work, their spread is persistent. In New York, Sayfullo Saipov, the 29-year-old Uzbek man who arrived in the U.S. in 2010, said he was acting at IS’s behest when he drove his truck into pedestrians on Tuesday 31 October. London, Paris, Berlin, New York and more have all felt the sobering sting of terror attacks performed in the name of a declining geographical power.
Therefore, the martial victories over IS do deserve recognition. Yet, this is by no means ‘Job Done’. If we refer to the quote which opens this article, Raqqa may well be IS’s Berlin, but capturing bricks and mortar – or lack thereof – is not everything. The fall of the Nazis was not the death of Fascism, nor is the fall of IS necessarily the end of an ideology which operates in the shadows worldwide.
Sources and further reading:
- Liberation of Raqqa Similar to ‘Capture of Berlin in WWII’, Sputnik International (22 June 2016)
- Bülent Kılıç, The fall of Raqqa - in pictures, The Guardian (21 October 2017)
- IS loses Deir al-Zour in Syria and al-Qaim in Iraq on same day, BBC (3 November 2017)
- The rise and fall of Islamic State in Raqqa, Sky News
- Stig Jarle Hansen and Christopher Anzalone, After the Mogadishu Attacks, Foreign Affairs (3 November 2017)
- Krishnadev Calamur, How Can America Hit ISIS 'Harder' When the Caliphate Is Gone?, The Atlantic (3 November 2017)
Image: Kurdishstruggle @Flickr