The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), or simply as the Islamic State (IS) or Da'ish (Daesh), has stepped up its operations. They now attack outside Iraq and Syria, including taking down a Russian passenger jet, bombings in Beirut, the mass murder-shooting spree in Paris, and other actions. Daesh is no longer a group only operating in Syria and Iraq, with an impressive social media presence, along with considerable hubris. It is a group operating far beyond Syria and Iraq. They are actively spreading their control to regions throughout the world, by absorbing exiting extremist groups, displacing them, or defeating them, all leading Daesh toward becoming the principal extremist organisation in the human world.
Where did Daesh come from?
Daesh is not a new group that came out of nowhere. First organised in 1999, it developed into an affiliate of al-Qaeda, fighting American and coalition forces during the Iraq War. However, it only became a commonly known group, also as a group distinct from al-Qaeda, after the Iraqi president decided to become exclusionary toward the Iraqi Sunni population, along with the collapse of government control in eastern Syria. Daesh took full advantage of these situations, having gone on to take control of many towns, military materials, and natural resources. This land grab, along with the wealth from it, have led the leaders of the organisation to declare itself a caliphate.
The success of Daesh in fighting and defeating Iraqi and Syrian forces during their expansion helped make them very attractive to other extremists throughout the world. The massive wealth they have gained from their control of oil fields and other resources allows them to maintain a very professional propaganda programme, Their successes, along with their social media programme. attracts new members, as well as motivating those in other groups to defect. Their wealth and geographic control also allows them to maintain quasi-governmental services, hire and pay staff, and essentially operate as an unrecognised state. Having captured modern military equipment, especially from fleeing Iraqi forces, also provides a level of armament unusual when considering traditional extremist groups.
How it spreads
To defeat Daesh, one must first understand how it spreads. To this point, spreading is not simply good propaganda and victories on the battlefield. Nor is it grandiose acts of terror. Bombings and murder have been around forever. There have always been disparate groups using such tactics for one aim or another. As noted, Daesh began in 1999, though not popularly known, for al-Qaeda was the organisation dominating Western headlines. Other groups, like Boko Haram and the Taliban, generally operated separately from al-Qaeda. Though true the Taliban offered a base for al-Qaeda, they have always been distinct entities. Daesh is unique in that they are actively seeking to displace or absorb all of these groups. As a declared caliphate, they see themselves as the only legitimate state of the Islamic faith, and thus the particulars of local priorities motivating those in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and elsewhere, are not their principal concern. Daesh seeks to absorb Boko Haram, the Taliban, and others, along with lands they control, into one single, global caliphate.
To defeat Daesh, humanity must defeat that which creates extremist groups like al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and Daesh. To defeat Daesh militarily is the easy part. Certainly, it will seem a huge challenge, but when compared to defeating what makes these groups, it is easy. To defeat revolutionary reactionaries, there needs to be a long-term plan. Such a plan demands devotion and dedication. This, itself, will be hard.
Most of those in the West have attention spans comparable to gnats. Most are ignorant of bombings, kidnappings, and other common acts of oppression and terror happening daily, throughout the world, except for the few times something particularly notable catches the winds of a news cycle. Perhaps they will "like" something on Facebook, and then being done with it. Regardless, whatever it is, it falls off and people forget. Even the tremendous events in Paris will eventually slip out of the news cycle. Life goes on. And so do these groups. To defeat these groups, humanity must not lose focus on the long term project.
The Military is not the Solution
Defeating Daesh is battle is easy, once all the professional militaries choose to bring the fight to them. However, military defeat is not defeating what makes these extremists group. In many ways, it helps to exasperate it. NATO, the Russians, and Iranian forces, joined by Peshmerga, Syrian forces and rebels, can easily defeat Daesh. Estimates are there are only about twenty-thousand of them. There are that many only because of their earlier successes and wealth. However, knocking Daesh out of controlling territory is not the end of them. Much like eradicating bed bugs, it is a fight that will go on and on. They will sneak up and bite you when you are not looking. As soon as you start thinking they are all gone, you have been bit again! The military can kill many of them. A return of governing control will keep them from openly walking the streets. However, to defeat them, you have to change the bed.
We may look toward Afghanistan as an example of why the military is not enough. They can win a conventional fight, and make great progress improving things. However, the hardliners run an hide. The longer a foreign military is present, the more sympathisers will join with the hardliners. This has helped ensure the Taliban is essentially undefeatable, and why the West changed policy to begin actively working with Taliban leaders, rather than seeking their destruction. However, even the seemingly undefeatable Taliban is facing defeats at the hands of Daesh. The Western militaries strive for legality and avoid indiscriminate murder. Daesh does not. They are so brutal; they could defeat the Taliban and replace it as the principal extremist group in Afghanistan.
Last year, Pakistan launched coordinated offensives into Taliban controlled regions in Pakistan. In many cases, they successfully reclaimed control of territories. What has happened, however, may be worse. Taliban defeats at the hands of the Pakistani military has led many to disperse into major cities, like Karachi. Defeats of the Taliban, coupled with successes by Daesh, also leads many former Taliban to defect to Daesh. Now Daesh has operating cells within major cities with Pakistan, rather than controlling remote regions. This makes them harder to find, while also bringing acts of terror at the doorstep of civilized society.
Though professional, and especially, Western, militaries can defeat Daesh in conventional warfare, that will not end them, nor any other groups that may spring up in their wake. A military can take and hold territory, but beyond that, there are limits. Especially that of public will to maintain large forces as, effectively, police forces in foreign lands.
Religion cannot be Part of it
These extremist groups, including Daesh, proactively seek to pit their acts as those of religion. Worse, they have a very particular interpretation of their faith, which they see as being the "right one" and everyone else, including those who share their religion, are "wrong". This mindset, for them, justifies violence and indiscriminate killing. Granting their desire to be representatives of a faith is an insult to Islam writ large, while serving as a propaganda victory for them. It seems a hard thing for many to do, but it should not be. Though it is true, Daesh and most of the extremist groups the West is most familiar with are made up of those professing an Islamic faith, while claiming their actions as just, through that faith, not all extremists are Muslims. Certainly, few Muslims support these groups. Most find it insulting Daesh would have such audacity to claim itself a caliphate. Most do not support extremism and indiscriminate violence, as their very faith forbids it:
Every human that agrees with their propaganda is, whether knowingly or not, serving as a political commissar on behalf of Daesh
All rational and sane humans, whether Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, or anything else, must successfully resist the propaganda of Daesh and other extremist groups. Just as it works to attract supporters, it also works to ensure humans see them as a representative of Islam, fighting a war against "infidels" - those who do not share their very specific, dogmatic, and convenient interpretation of Islam. They see themselves as that, for it is the only way they can justify the horrors they commit. Every human that agrees with their propaganda is, whether knowingly or not, serving as a political commissar on behalf of Daesh and any other group that uses faith to justify their crimes.
Humans avoid this generalisation all the time. Most Muslims do not recognise groups like Daesh as authorities of their faith. Most Christians do not recognise terrorists like the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, or the Norwegian mass-murderer, Anders Breivik, or the African terrorist group, the Lord's Resistance Army, as representatives of their faith. Contemporary Christians justly dismiss as misguided the actions of their ancestors, who used their faith to justify savagery, rape, and enslavement of native peoples and Africans. Because humans prove, time and again, they can divorce the two regarding their own faith, so too can they do this regarding Islam and Daesh. Therefore, the easiest way to defeat Daesh is for humanity to reject their claims of representing any faith whatsoever. They are psychopaths, murderers, and rapists, seeking justification. Nothing more.
Long Term Solution
To defeat Daesh, and the extremist groups like them, the human world must commit to a secular, long-term plan of enlightenment. That comes from education. Those in the fight right now, killing in the name of Daesh, Boko Haram, and similar, are already gone. The fight against them will go on. However, these groups do not recruit as well as their propaganda suggests. Many of their recruits are well paid or "given" wives, which essentially makes them mercenaries rather than true believers. They seek to caste a wide net of recruitment because the local pickings are already too slim. One way this reveals itself is the youth of many of their suicide bombers. Recruits in Afghanistan are barely in their teens. A girl who detonated a vest is Nigeria was only eleven years old. The men, and they are men, who recruit these youths have little interest in killing themselves, unless as a last resort. They enjoy the power, wealth, and rape. They prefer recruiting new volunteers, especially the young, to do the dirty work. The ringleader of the Paris attacks recruited his own thirteen-year-old brother. These are acts of the desperate - the acts of those who find few true supporters.
Education is how humanity defeats Daesh and any other extremist group. The world must develop comprehensive, and again, secular, programmes and reach deep into all remote regions to provide this education. Those doing the educating, those at the schools and offices, all of them, must be from the communities they are educating. These cannot be American and European do-gooders. They absolutely cannot be missionaries. If in the jungles of Nigeria, these educators must be of the tribes of these very same jungles.
The wealth of the West can help fund this effort, and perhaps the United Nations can organise it. Each school programme must, however, originate within the communities being served. It would begin by recruiting potential educators, and, well, educating them. Once they have achieved competency as educators of math, science, philosophy, literature, the arts, and so on, these educators can then open these schools and staff them, using resources provided by the global effort. It is an effort for which humanity is absolutely committed. Patience is required, as there will be no instant fix. The next generation of those growing up in hitherto forgotten, ignored, or remote areas will be the ones ending the level of extremism we see today. As each new class graduates, there will be fewer, and fewer, and fewer potential recruits, until there simply are not any left.
Educating the future educators, opening so many schools none can miss an opportunity to attend, ensuring all the schools have desks, food, and other comforts to compete with extremist recruiting efforts, while staffing these schools, and actually beginning the plan, will be a long haul and expensive. Educating is a generational affair, so the generation entering kindergarten at the beginning will be those who end extremism when they graduate their primary or secondary schools. That is more than a decade of continued extremists and attacks. These schools will certainly be targets. Each school should receive a complement of local or UN forces to protect them. The organising motivation of the now Daesh-affiliated Nigerian group Boko Haram is being against Western education. There will be death and tragedy, but an unwavering commitment to staffing these schools, defending & supplying them, and keeping them open, will see it through.
The extremists groups already have a hard time recruiting adults. By ensuring a quality, secular education, humanity is changing the bed by removing children from extremist recruitment efforts. Education is a sensitive issue, especially ensuring it is secular. Every modest effort to tweak education in the United States meets huge fights. Every hint of removing Christian undertones from public education meets even bigger fights. Given how hard it is within a nation as developed as the United States, it will be harder elsewhere. However, in poorer, remote communities, the opportunity for not just education, but also good meals with fun activities and sport, will make them very attractive to local parents. Religious education can occur at home, or at the mosque or church. By ensuring all staff and security are locals, and that each programme initiates locally, none can view this effort as anything but a local affair. For every school destroyed by terrorised terrorist, humanity should seek to build two more, rather than withdraw. To be successful, each school must be a persistent oasis.
For as long as the regimes like that of Saudi Arabia exists, there will be extremists. The regime, and those like them, fund groups with extreme interpretations of their faith. For as long as there are no competing, free, public, and secular schools, children throughout the world are left only with poor education or worse, extremist recruitment. Extremists groups open facilities, provide food, an escape from poverty, and a sense of community. Such breading grounds cannot be defeated without direct competition.
Terrorism is a tactic, and will always be around. In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan has been operating since 1865. The mafia, though a shell of its former self, is still around. However, as society gets better education, fewer are willing to commit random acts of senseless violence, in the name of the KKK or other organisations. Better education leads to better opportunities, as well as more rational views regarding faith. As a population becomes more secular, there are fewer humans who are simultaneously devout and ignorant enough to organise into groups. There are fewer still who would commit violence in the name of religion. Terrorism is reduced to the acts of lone actors, and seldom that of coordinated groups. The end of Daesh and groups like them is secular, free, and public education.
Correction: This article originally referred to Anders Breivik as Finnish, he is Norwegian.