Image Credit: AP

In a news report tellingly titled “ISIS ‘caliphate’, once vast, is down to 2 villages”, filed from Beirut last Monday by Liz Sly, the Washington Post’s Middle East correspondent, the lead sentence reads: “A pair of dusty villages in the Syrian desert is all that remains of the vast expanse of territory the Islamic State [Daesh] once called its caliphate, and the complete territorial defeat of the militant group appears to be imminent.

"A few hundred of the most diehard Islamic State fighters are making their last stand in the [two] villages ... on the banks of Euphrates River. It is now only a matter of weeks or even days before the villages are overrun and the Islamic State’s vaunted state-building enterprise is brought to an end”.

For Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], it is now finis.

Time then to ask this: Will the idea of Daesh live on, enabling it to emerge again, say as an underground movement?

Theoretically, ideas of course are a powerful engine of social change and, where their time has come, no force can impede or block their ascendance as a dominant paradigm. But Daesh was never an idea, let alone a political movement informed of a coherent ideology.

Despite the fact that it promoted itself as a winner who allegedly created an Islamic state in the Levant with true Islamic governance; despite the tremendous speed with which it made its appearance; despite the overwhelming size of territory it controlled; and despite the great number of recruits it attracted (reportedly as many as 40,000 foreign fighters, mostly alienated souls in search of a dream to dream), Daesh remained not just a ragtag terrorist outfit, but the worst terrorist outfit in modern history.

- Fawaz Turki, journalist, lecturer and author

Despite the fact that it promoted itself as a winner who allegedly created an Islamic state in the Levant with true Islamic governance; despite the tremendous speed with which it made its appearance; despite the overwhelming size of territory it controlled; and despite the great number of recruits it attracted (reportedly as many as 40,000 foreign fighters, mostly alienated souls in search of a dream to dream), Daesh remained not just a ragtag terrorist outfit, but the worst terrorist outfit in modern history.

Two questions

Two questions remain before we finally banish this group from consideration in our public debate, relegating it to the dustbin of history: Why was this movement able to triumph — albeit for a mere four years or so — attracting into its orbit all these seemingly educated, often affluent Muslims?

Secondly, was the phenomenon of Daesh unique to our part of the world?

The answers are simple.

Daesh emerged not because there was a breakdown in the political system in the Levant (its institutions, its governments), but because of a breakdown in the social ethos that traditionally coheres communities (trust among sects, tribes, classes and ethnic groups).

I, for one, embrace the notion, advanced by Robert Dahl, the renowned American political theorist, who, in his seminal work, A Preface to Democratic Theory, wrote: “To assume that this country [the US] has remained democratic because of its Constitution seems to me an obvious reversal of the relations."

"It is much more plausible to suppose that the Constitution remained democratic because society is essentially democratic”.

That is, society remained stable until the constitutional system of government failed after it encountered, in slavery, an issue that undermined the prerequisites that tied together the pluralistic forces of the American polity.

Civil war followed.

And let’s not have the West pull rank on the East in this context.

From Plato’s Republic to the American Republic, the Euro-American world has produced its own share of fanatics and fanatical movements.

Consider in this regard the German radical theologian Thomas Muntzer (arguably Europe’s own Osama Bin Laden) who opposed Martin Luther (for his compromises with feudal authority) as well as the Catholic church, and went on to lead a scorched earth, pan-European peasant uprising. (He was captured, tortured and executed that year.)

Then, after the emergence of the Reformation, came the European wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants, that culminated in the Thirty Years War, that began in 1618, which devastated Europe and left 8 million casualties, resulting from military battles as well as from famine and disease.

Abolitionist movement

Then, let’s not forget the American abolitionist John Brown, who advocated armed insurrection as the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States.

Dissatisfied with the pacifist stance of the leaders of the abolitionist movement, he and his followers led a raid on the Armory of Harper’s ferry in Virginia, in October 1859, intending to start a slave liberation movement that would spread throughout the South. (He was captured, tried for treason and then hanged.)

And the less said about Adolf Hitler the better.

The Euro-American world has long since settled down.

Just as that Euro-American world finally found its footing, it should not strain the imagination to say that so will the Arab world — though seen from the prism of our grim present, this assertion seems extravagant, if not altogether delusional.

- Fawaz Turki, journalist, lecturer and author

In history, nothing tests national character more than reversal of fortune. And history is nothing if it is not dialectical.

Just as that Euro-American world finally found its footing, it should not strain the imagination to say that so will the Arab world — though seen from the prism of our grim present, this assertion seems extravagant, if not altogether delusional.

Meanwhile, a fine spot awaits Daesh on top of that ash heap of history, where the group is destined to become forgotten dust.

Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.