October 19, 2017 Abdul Haqq

Zero Sum Game: The defeat of ISIS?

The recapture of the so-called Islamic State’s former stronghold and capital, Raqqa, heralds a military victory for the US-backed Syrian forces. However, make no mistake; the terrorist group has already illustrated its transformative ability to cause terror within our societies and this is likely to continue.[1] The group’s physical demise and displacement should not be misinterpreted to mean their destruction; on the contrary, this particular defeat amounts, in their eyes, to merely a Pyrrhic victory for the enemy.[2]

Islamic State – Islamic – State = Zero?

Many have long contended the so-called state’s claims to being Islamic;[3] however, now it is stateless, even by its own redrawing of borders following the removal of the Sykes-Picot boundaries of 1916.[4] While US-backed Syrian forces are understandably jubilant at recapturing Raqqa, such celebrations are premature and invariably muted due to the assiduous resolve of the enemy:

‘As with other millenarian movements, IS has time on its side. The terror group is content to ride the ebb and flow of global currents, just as it did after 2007 when its predecessor was beaten back in Iraq. Then, as now, it contented itself with retreating and waiting for the opportunity to re-emerge.

 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is well aware of this and is preparing the groundwork for the return of Islamic State. In his audio message in September, besides calling for more attacks in the West, he turned his attention to those closer to home.’[5]

Subjective Idealism

The 18th Century Irish philosopher and scientist, George Berkeley, developed the concept of ‘Subjective Idealism’, this being:

‘…a philosophy based on the premise that nothing exists except minds and spirits and their perceptions or ideas. A person experiences material things but their existence is not independent of the perceiving mind; material things are thus mere perceptions. The reality of the outside world [therefore] is contingent on a knower…[6]

The physical demise of so-called IS territory is – to reiterate – a significant setback for them; however, similar to other entities in the recent past, IS maintain a utopian belief not too dissimilar to the subjective idealism described above. It is not, therefore, a matter of if but when they will return to re-establish the so-called Islamic State, which is presently consigned to their hearts and minds.

Perhaps a more analytical description regarding the extent of the threat posed by removing IS extremists from distinct geographical borders can be illustrated by referring to another scientist – Albert Einstein’s famous formula, E = mc2, which equates to ‘anything possessing mass having an equivalent amount of energy and visa versa.[7] The physical demise and dispersal of IS members from Raqqa (mass) has not eliminated the group’s extremist ideology or resolve to re-establish their ‘caliphate’ (energy), while continuing to seek and inflict harm on their perceived enemies’ societies through terrorism. Physical dispersal (mass) has, therefore, been forcibly restricted to a more inert stage (energy) while they regroup and plan. In simple layman’s terms, just because the terror group has been forcibly removed, does not mean its ideas, beliefs and motives have also disappeared.

Conclusion – ‘Intense’ terror threat

MI5 head, Andrew Parker, recently expressed concern that the UK is facing its biggest terror threat in three decades. It is unsurprising that his observations coincide with IS’ defeat in their last stronghold of Raqqa.[8] The defeat will have angered and emboldened supporters, previously unable to travel and reside under IS dystopian rule. Parker’s experience has enabled him to err on the side of caution and avoid the type of soundbites we have become accustomed to hearing from political circles. The current climate and raft of recent victories against IS should not be considered a zero-sum game, defined in this context as being:

‘…a situation in which one person or group can win something only by causing another person or group to lose it.[9]

Former prime minister, Tony Blair, referred to the ensuing climate following the 7/7 attacks in 2005 as a type of game when he stated unwittingly; ‘The rules of the game are changing.[10] What he and others failed to realise is that this enemy does not play nor recognise defeat. In light of this, we should not ignore the sobering observation of Julian King, EU Commissioner, who recently stated;

Terrorists don’t stand still. They change and adapt their methods. We need to be ready to adapt our response.’[11]

 

 

 

[1] Gillett, F: ‘Head of MI5 Andrew Parker: Britain is facing ‘worst terror threat I’ve seen in 34 years,’ MSN News, 18th October 2017: https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/head-of-mi5-andrew-parker-britain-is-facing-worst-terror-threat-ive-ever-seen-in-34-years/ar-AAtEuoB?li=BBoPWjQ&ocid=mailsignout

[2] Definition of Pyrrhic victory: ‘ A victory that is not worth winning because so much is lost to achieve it,’ Merriam-Webster Dictionary: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Pyrrhic%20victory

[3] The Week: Obama: ‘The Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state,’ 10th September 2014: http://theweek.com/speedreads/446542/obama-islamic-state-neither-islamic-nor-state

[4] History: 1916, Britain and France conclude Sykes-Picot agreement,’ http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/britain-and-france-conclude-sykes-picot-agreement

[5] Maher, S: Islamic State is not beaten and will return,’ Newstatesman, 17th October 2017: https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/observations/2017/10/islamic-state-not-beaten-and-will-return

[6] Encyclopaedia Britannica: Subjective idealism, [last updated 28th July 2017]: https://www.britannica.com/topic/subjective-idealism

[7] Mass-energy equivalence: E=MC2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass–energy_equivalence

[8] Ferguson, K: Head of MI5 says Britain is facing biggest terror threat in three decades from extremists who mount deadly attacks with just a few days planning,’: Mail Online, 17th October 2017: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4989786/MI5-chief-terror-threat-highest-34-years.html

[9] Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Definition of zero-sum game: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zero-sum%20game

[10] Jeffrey, S: ‘The rules of the game are changing,’ The Guardian, 5th August 2005: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/aug/05/july7.uksecurity5

[11] Associated Press: ‘EU unveils measures to tackle low-tech attacks,’ Daily News, 18th October 2018: http://www.nydailynews.com/newswires/news/business/eu-unveils-measures-tackle-low-tech-attacks-article-1.3571191

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