Following the occupation of Marawi City by the Islamic State’s affiliate group called the Maute Group, it should be clear to all now that the world has entered the early stages of the next Great War. The occupation of Marawi along with previous and subsequent attacks in Europe proves the Islamic State’s capabilities to launch warfare even outside the Middle East.
I am reminded of one of our readings in our Foreign Policy class, the book entitled The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order by Samuel Huntington (I suggest you read it as well). In the book, Huntington argues that the world after the Cold War would be divided along civilizational lines and in the process listed nine major civilizations. The greatest conflict supposedly would be between the Islamic civilization and Western civilization following the repercussions of the Persian Gulf War. The Islamic State’s declaration of war on the world (including on secular Muslim countries) and its propagation of conversion by the sword would prove Huntington right.
Even as it loses ground physically in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State’s ideological recruitment base is still massive. A 2015 study by Pew Research shows the Islamic State’s favorability in the following countries:
• Lebanon – less than 1%
• Israel – 1%
• Jordan – 3%
• Palestine – 6%
• Indonesia – 4%
• Turkey – 8%
• Nigeria – 14%
• Burkina Faso – 8%
• Malaysia – 11%
• Senegal – 11%
• Pakistan – 9%
Of course, given these numbers, it is easy to say that ISIS does not represent the broader Muslim community. However, one should note that 4% in Indonesia is already 12 million people and 9% in Pakistan is already 16 million people. That is still a giant recruiting base. The reality is that the Islamic State’s message has reached across the world, and they have gained sympathy from many millions of people. It would be a huge mistake to underestimate them just because they have lost ground in the Middle East.
The Islamic State has changed the very dynamics of warfare. Conventional thinking holds that warfare is like what we saw in the past century, where a battalion of troops backed up by planes, helicopters, or tanks takes over a city, overruns the opposing country’s military. Normally, people would also think that warfare only happens between nations over land and other resources.
The thing about ISIS is that you don’t have to head over to Raqqa and take an oath before Baghdadi. All you have to do is pledge allegiance from where you are and carry out an attack on your own. Lone wolf attacks are one of the primary features of ISIS-style warfare. All they have to do is radicalize one person in a given area and the person would just have to pick up a rifle and shoot up a theater or bomb a mall and he would be considered as part of the Islamic State. For example, the Orlando nightclub shooter last year.
The same works for groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. They do not have to sign a treaty in Raqqa. All they have to do is perform something big in order to be recognized. For example, the Maute Group’s occupation of the city of Marawi in Mindanao. It would be terribly misguided if one does not consider Maute as ISIS just because they never signed any form of agreement in Raqqa.
It is time that we stop judging ISIS by the conventional standards of warfare like how we judge conflicts between nations. To do so would be a terrible miscalculation in the middle of this war. While ISIS does not have the political legitimacy or a regimented military of a nation-state, the way it conducts wars is a major concern.
The Islamic State is not like Nazi Germany. It will not forcefully invade another territory like how Nazi Germany forced its way into Poland on September 1, 1939. Instead, it will radicalize and trains enough members of the target place’s local population. This allows them to slip through a country’s basic defense mechanisms which they would have to deal with if they were using conventional tactics of warfare and invasion. From there, the invasion will begin at the very heart of the targeted place, without the leaders and the people of that area ever realizing it. Unless we change course to win this war, they will do this city after city and country after country.
This is why Europe is a region which is a cause for concern. The already frequent terrorist attacks are one thing, but out-of-control immigration from across the Mediterranean along with politically correct vetting policies have made the region susceptible to an invasion from within by ISIS or any of its affiliates. The larger the Muslim population in Europe gets, the more opportunities for the Islamic State to create a recruiting base in the region (assuming they don’t already have one). Until they learn to change course, Europe as we know it is set to disappear.
Continuing to look at this situation with old lenses will get us nowhere. The very conduct of warfare has already changed. While many have not noticed it, the Islamic State has already ignited the flames for a war on a global scale. The Third World War has already begun, and the enemy is slipping right under our noses.