Palmyra is ISIL-free now. The gang of murderers which takes destroying antiquities as a hobby, is defeated by another gang of murders which takes killing Syrians as a hobby. It is a bitter choice. But at least the Assad killers would preserve the marvels of the past, which, ironically, stand as a silent condemnation of both the “liberators” and the occupiers. Palmyra is a reminder of how the place, which was great once upon a time, has become a battle ground between two gangs of murderers. The destroyed temples and headless statues convey a harsh curse from the past on those, Syrians and non-Syrians, who destroyed this once great country and reduced it to rubble.
And soon, ISIL will lose Raqqa and Mosul. Does that mean that ISIL will be no more?
In the day after ISIL, that is the day when the organization is completely defeated militarily, a simple question may emerge in the minds: Have we all been hyping this “thing”, giving it more than what it is worth, hence contributing to an elusive sense of relief which we will certainly see spreading everywhere when this group of killers is militarily defeated?
Another question may spontaneously follow: Is ISIL really gone?
ISIL was merely a tip of an iceberg. Breaking the tip is like shaving in the morning. What is ISIL? Really? And what does “gone” mean precisely?
There is Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Ansaru Al Sharia, Al Nusra, Taliban and a host of smaller groups spreading here and there like a poisonous weed. Palmyra, Raqqa, and Mosul are not the end of the line. So long as the ideas of ISIL exist unchallenged and the soil remains fertile to this black poisonous seed, the line will go on.
Indeed, ISIL is losing. Well, at least militarily. Following its defeat in Palmyra, the group may lose Al Qariatayen which will definitely mean the loss of its position in Eastern Qalamoun. In Yemen, Two leaders of ISIL, Abu Ayoub Al Ansari and Abu Hemeh, were killed. In Sinai, Egypt security forces killed 60 Ansar Bait Al Maqdes (an off-shoot of ISIL) in one week. In Libya, hopes of political solution are emerging, against all odds, which may open the way to larger military action against the terrorist group. During the last four months, the organization lost Ramadi, Shadadi, Tikrit, and soon we may see the fall of Fallujah, Dair al Zour, then Raqqa and Mosul.
Great celebrations will follow. Claims of accomplishments and expansion of legacies would certainly be echoed here and there. But this will remain only on the surface. To go to the depth of this phenomena, a detailed road map should be adopted by all members of the international community to make the soil sterile and unwelcoming to similar poisonous plants. Here are some proposed points:
– A de-escalation of the political and strategic polarization in the Middle East and a global sanctions against sectarian hate speech perpetrators. Any religious or sectarian incitements lead to terrorist crimes against minorities or others and furnishes the base of extremism. There is no major differences between those who carry the guns and the explosive belts, and those who provide the killers with religious and sectarian motives to commit their crimes.
– Political solutions to the crisis of Syria, Libya Yemen and Iraq are needed urgently. While we see various degrees of progress on those tracks, the processes have been too slow and a lot of time was allowed for them which led to hardening the opposed positions.
– Implementing equal measures against all terrorist groups. Al Nusra is as the PKK and as ISIL as Hezbollah as extremist Shia groups in Iraq. There is no point on using double standards based on expediency or momentary interests. This shakes confidence in the impartiality of the international community.
– Regional governments have to use their media in a systematic effort to discredit extremist groups and their ideologies.
– The establishment of centers for true Islamic thought. The true Islamic thought is that which is based on reason and a critical review of common Islamic interpretations. These centers should be assisted by the global community and their researches made public in social media. They should be run by Muslims and adhere to the essence of Islam all the while criticizing the currently common and dogmatic interpretations of this religion.
(The previous plan of throwing a stone in the stagnant lake of Middle East societies through NGO’s was wrong in that it was too ambitious and half backed. For if you shake a structure in a moment when the dominant latent force is non-democratic, non-inclusive and violent, you would simply be helping this force to surface and highjack the whole transition process. Conversely, what is needed is to weaken this kind of forces which would mean, indirectly, strengthening their opposites. Therefore, the process of transformation should begin with assisting a fermentation process that promotes the rational interpretation of spirituality and defeats the dogmatic interpretation of Islam).
-A plan to rebuild regional economies is long due. This has to be done from a grassroots perspective. It does not make sense to obtain impressive macro-economic parameters if these parameters are not reflected on the daily lives of ordinary people. Global financial institutions should stop looking at development from the macro-economic perspective alone. Development should be understood as a social process.
This is important for the security of the region. Foreign aid, left to corrupt government agencies, does not reach the people. Macro-economic statistics should not be a thermometer for social stability. Financial aid should target the ordinary citizen and aims at broadening popular participation in the economy of a given country. Otherwise, loans will not be safe, even if the macroeconomic numbers are great. In the Middle East, the rising tide does not lift all boats. It lifts only a few, while leaving the rest hopeless and desperate. The anger erupts as we have seen over and over again giving prominence to the ideological tools that already exist to frame visions about tomorrow. What comes out usually is visions of yesterday casted as a road for tomorrow.