Raqqa is surrounded. The self-proclaimed capital of ISIS is being assaulted by a multi-ethnic coalition, largely comprised of Kurdish and Arab fighters. The fighting is brutal, house-to-house urban warfare, of the sort seen in Mosul before ISIS was pushed out of that city. It’s a chaotic mix of suicide bombs, snipers, and civilians being used as human shields.

Progress is slow but steady. Inch by bloody inch, the so-called caliphate is being ground down and ISIS is losing the territorial gains it so stunningly achieved in 2014. The question is starting to turn to what happens next. When ISIS has been defeated militarily, will the group melt away and cease to exist? Or will they go on fighting using different methods?

We had a comment from Oliver, who is pretty sure that ISIS is on course to lose all its territory in the Middle East. If so, what happens next? Will ISIS fighters flee to other countries, destabilising the region even further? Will they try to sneak into Europe to inflict atrocities there? What happens next?

We put this comment to Dr Simon Mabon, a lecturer in International Relations at Lancaster University. What would he say?

[…] It seems inevitable that ISIS will lose control of this territory. Now, what I think will happen is that it will still lay claim to grievances and maybe an implicit informal degree of control over some parts of cities. Now, that won’t obviously be a real regulatory control, like we’ve seen with the establishment of the so-called caliphate. But what it might be is something where they have some degree of informal control and regulation; maybe a small area of a city wherein that sort of value set is particularly receptive. Where those sort of values are found amongst groups of people. Now, I’m not saying that this is necessarily going to happen, but that’s the sort of thing that we could see. Because, as well as defeating the group militarily, we also have to engage with the ideology and the questions about belief, and why people started to support the group.

Now, the beliefs, justifications, and reasons for joining ISIS are not going to go away with the military defeat of the group. So, I think that’s the much bigger challenge that anyone that’s looking to defeat the group has got to engage with. And, accepting that, is going some way I think towards asking the right sort of questions about what the group will morph into. I think that what we’ll see is a continuation of the sort of thing that we have been seeing in the past 6 months, where we will see ideology being used as a means of mobilising people, as a means of inciting people to try and commit violent attrocities across the world. And I think that’s the sort of thing – we’ll see the group morphing into more of an insurgent, terrorist-type organisation. Not necessarily holding or regulating territory, but wanting to commit attrocities across the world and then inspiring other people to do that sort of thing.

So, I think that’s probably the most obvious change that we’ll see. But then we could also see these little pockets and enclaves of support, be it in the Middle East or somewhere like Belgium like we’ve seen in the past couple of years, where there are perhaps areas which are more receptive to this kind of ideology as a consequence of their social integration. So, I think that’s probably what we’ll see, and identifying and acknowledging that is going some way towards actually dealing with the problem.

So, how do we defeat ISIS after it has lost its territory? Will conventional military force be effective? Or will we need to turn to a “hearts and minds” approach? We had a comment from Maia, who wondered how we can we counter the ideology of a group like ISIS. What would Dr Mabon say?

[…] I think what we start to see is there is a real existential crisis happening, either within the self or within the community. I think it’s a case of people struggling to find a sense of belonging and their place within society. This can take a number of different forms. It could be that people see on the news that their sectarian or religious kin are being killed, massacred, or blown up across the Middle East and they feel compelled. They feel guilty that they’re sitting in a particularly comfortable place while their sectarian kin are being murdered, with brutal atrocities that we’re seeing through a range of different media outlets. They feel compelled to go…

But perhaps the most serious reason – and this has caused a lot of debate when I’ve presented these ideas in the past – is that people are struggling to find their place within society. People are struggling to find a sense of belonging. This is far more worrying, but I think it’s perhaps one of the more compelling reasons, in the sense that if you look at what’s happening within Western societies, you’ll see that there’s rising Islamaphobia, rising anti-Muslim rhetoric, be it from politicians, be it in the press, be it within society. You see that in the wake of any terrorist attacks committed by violent and extremist Muslims, you’ll see that anti-Muslim rhetoric and attacks have spiked. There is data to show that this is taking place. And if that’s happening on a regular basis, then it’s easy to see how people would start to feel a sense of dislocation from the community that they’re in. Struggling to see: well, hang on. Maybe this isn’t my home? Maybe I don’t feel a sense of belonging here. Maybe I shouldn’t have this sense of loyalty if I’m going to be persecuted by political elites, by the police, by security agencies.

Of course, I’m not saying this is everyone. But this is what we’re starting to see when we look at some of the data. This sense of an existential crisis, combined with the desire to go and help and fight for their sectarian kin. And that’s starting to pull people to go and join in these causes. That, I think, is where we can do something. Where we can stand up and start to speak out against these instances of Islamaphobia, where we can speak out against what Johan Galtung called ‘Structural Violence’ – the types of language and policies that are pretty much discriminatory against people. If we do that, then we can start to create a much stronger sense of belonging and togetherness. Because, I think, fundamentally if you feel like you’re part of a particular project, if you feel that you’re a member of something, then it’s going to be increasingly difficult for you to leave that. So, if you’ve got that membership and belonging, then I think that’s a really good way of defeating it. I think that’s where we all have a role to play, in speaking out against these things and standing up and saying ‘No, this is wrong’ when we see instances of it on the street or in our daily lives, or when we see politicians and political elites doing this type of debate. I think it’s obviously a fundamental question within political debate broadly…

If you’re interested in the issues raised by this debate, you can also take part in Debating Security Plus, a global online brainstorm organised by our partner think-tank, Friends of Europe. Debating Security Plus will bring together senior international participants from the military, government and multilateral institutions along with voices from NGOs and civil society, business and industry, the media, think tanks and academia. Register here to take part!

What happens after ISIS falls? Will the ideology continue, even after the group has lost its territory? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – California National Guard


76 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Katerina Mpakirtzi

    Kurdistan. The heroes and heroenes that fights them. Or autonomy to their minorities and stop crying ONLY for Mianmar. Ypocricy

  2. Karlo Definis

    You get a new ISIS couple years later with a brand new name and maybe a more colourful flag this time.

    • Jason Picci

      and Hummers (directly) instead of Toyotas.

  3. Taline Babikian Angelidou

    Something new will be invented to create chaos..to make more money out of arms deals..all for the petrol and gas that are depleted…waste of lives insread of investing in pure natural resources..

  4. Paul X

    The ideology will continue until the Muslim world takes action to eradicate it……unfortunately even among supposed “moderate” Muslims there is a large percentage who support violence against unbelievers

  5. Faddi Zsolt

    The U.S.A., the UK, Germany and France will rebuilding Syria and Iraq, for wich these countries has to take loans from the above mentioned countries, and this loan they has to pay until the end of times.

  6. Julia Hadjikyriacou

    Well the hired mercenaries will just find another job somewhere else. The ones with the Whahabi religion could go and live in Saudi Arabia where beheading is the norm.

    • Max Berre

      You should have thought about that when you were being too lazy to send troops to the conflict region to establish order in the first place.

      Anybody old enough to remember Bosnia remembers the decision NATO made then.

  7. Alexandros NiKlan

    Is it really a matter of which entity/team is the one being the problematic factor each time?.. Or are problems deeper than what most people see at M.East?

  8. Todor Dzhambazov

    Do not worry! CIA will create a new organisation. Before ISIS was Al Qaeda, after ISIS we’ll see…

  9. Tony Muñiz

    They will come to Europe and receive benefits and we will be called islamophobes for not wanting them.

    • Max Berre

      You should have thought about that when you were being too lazy to send troops to the conflict region to establish order in the first place.

      Anybody old enough to remember Bosnia remembers the decision we made then.

    • Tony Muñiz

      I wasn’t being lazy. I dont have the power to send anyone anywhere. LOL

    • Max Berre

      This sounds like a good argument for why we should immediately engage in statebuilding in that region. Much like we did in the Balkans 20 years ago.

  10. João Machado

    The west will quickly find another threat to keep the masses afraid and under control. Oh wait… North Korea… right. Sorry, my bad guys.

  11. Behrose Qadiry

    Hundreds and thousands of European ISIS fighters will turn back home and they may be a bigger threat to the EU security. It’s better EU develop a strategy to deal with them asap

    • Rinder Doina

      That’s for sure! Saddly,but true!

  12. Alex Tselentis

    West will create ISIS 2.0 under some new silly name, Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Ciada, then it became ISIS next ?? Just a stick the Imprialist use to spread fear and chaos, STABILITY is not good for them

  13. Zsolt Barczy

    The same will happen to it what happened to the previous CIA operations, codenamed “Al Queda”, “Nusra Front”, “Taliban”, etc. If the information comes from the Western Media, you can be 100% sure it is fake. If you believe these “official” stories or news, I have a genuine Rolex for you, very cheap. :) Peace

    • Darrell Mennie

      ISIS is just the current incarnation to US and French and British funded insurgency groups- what will happen is we get another group raging against the west, as it fuels the Warmachine and makes the west profit.

  14. Paul Gauci

    What should happen? All those EU citizens who went there to fight for isis should have their citizenships withdrawn and they should be banned from ever setting foot again on the continent.

  15. catherine benning

    What happens after ISIS falls?

    More of the truth about who is funding this pseudo war and how they are getting away with it should come to public light.

    Hopefully, the aims of those who are indeed footing the bill for this murder of the innocent, will be punishable by imprisonment for war crimes. Life is the only suitable sentence. And, all their sources of funding taken and used by the European tax payers as compensation for the flood of immigrants, et al. This money should then be used to return all peoples from outside European borders and set them up in their home villages so they can be happily back in an environment they want for their future lifestyle.

    That way, will will be free of the war they are inflicting daily on the women and female children of Europe.

  16. Mauricio Giordanelli

    They morph into something else. Solve the problems of inequality, disenfranchisement and lack of opportunity in their countries, don’t just bomb the hell out of them.

    • Paul X

      “Solve the problems of inequality, disenfranchisement and lack of opportunity in their countries”…so you don’t think their extremist Islamic beliefs has anything to do with it?

  17. ironworker

    What happens after ISIS falls?

    A good opportunity to improve immigration policy in Europe.

  18. Matej Zaggy Zagorc

    Someone new will take their place, supported by either US and allies or Russia and the other supporting the opposition for yet another proxy war.

  19. Deniz Celik

    A bunch of hobby-conspiracy theorists will assume something ridiculous and pass their assumptions off as facts. Oh look its already happening.

    • Pedro Jorge Lemos

      No doubt, Merkel for sure wrote them to invite and pay 5000 euros month to come to the new caliphate called europa

    • Bódis Kata

      I think they have enough money for themselves to pay the smugglers’ fees.

  20. Pedro Jorge Lemos

    Dont forget to slaughter all them, no matter who… these criminals shall not leave the zone alive… their bosses will learn as it will happen to them too soon or later

  21. Vytautas Vėžys

    Another organization will rise… Ever thought what coincidence that ISIS appears when Al-Qaeda goes silent?
    Same people, same ideology, same tools and same supporters, only name changes.
    Better question is who is benefiting from unstable region…

    • Rémi Martin

      I believed EU is(was) peace?

  22. Costi Ciudin

    the same that keeps happening in that area: another group of fruitcakes will emerge

  23. Chukwunonso Odidika

    Another one will be created…perhaps with a different name….all to the benefit of military industrial complex

  24. Ludwig Theile

    please pray terrorized and kill in Muslim countries, if necessary, but not in other countries. This kind of religious madness does not need anyone!

  25. Jean Charles Branco

    EU need to fall. NATO need to fall. we in europe we do not want NATO or EU, this are impose by dictators. the president of EU is not elected by vote he is dictator.

  26. Andrew Potts

    Various NGOs will decide they are victims and need to seek asylum in Europe. If security says no a raft of lawyers will them mobilise to defend their human rights. Of course they will win their case and the door to European destruction will be pushed closer to the edge. In a post, script security for liberal society will be tightened with gated communities being started so they will be isolated from the worse effects of terrorist bloodshed on the streets.

  27. Arsalan Mizory

    Don’t worry international community you’ve got now the so called Papular Mobilization Units supported by Iranian Revolutionry Guards the biggest terrorist group in Iraq and Syria they will dominate and control Iraq and then the whole area and possibly one day they’ll terrorize Europe and the World….

  28. Saul Crucero

    ISIS is a Medusa Organization and it will continue to thrive. Europe has been saturated with ISIS sympathizers and just an easy supporters and participants in this terrorist group. These are sleeping cells. It is part of the Islamization campaign of Muslims.

  29. Alex Tselentis

    Uhhhh Syria goes back to being a peaceful state under its LEGITIMATE elected President, and as a resultm Europe stops getting these waves of “refugees” and the entire region may return to being ore stable that it is now, but that does not suit Isrl.

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