The fronts in this war are many and the self-proclaimed Islamic State is losing on all of them. Europe is still shaking from the explosions in its geographic, political and symbolic heart so it may be easy to miss the fact that Syrian troops are at the gates of Palmyra and the Iraqi army is preparing to take back Mosul. The “soldiers of the Caliphate,” as they like to call themselves, are not giving up – as the attacks in Europe show – but their actions betray a basic weakness: The Islamic State is unable to hold on to captured territory and the only thing it can do is exploit the “weakness” of European countries that do not employ the terror that the “caliphate” embraces.
The attacks in Madrid, Paris, Istanbul, Ankara and Brussels (like the earlier ones in New York, Washington and London) disturb public opinion, provoke tension between political and social groups and result in ever stricter security measures. And yet in those countries life goes on. Our need to use the subway, airplanes, trains, ships and buses is non-negotiable. Our need to meet in restaurants and bars, to attend concerts and sports events, to dawdle in shopping areas, to speak and laugh, to pursue a better life for our children cannot be defeated.
There is no way that Europe’s civilization can be shaken by jihadis, even if security experts are right in their estimate that 5,000 young European Muslims joined the Islamic State and that some 400 have returned. However many attacks are carried out in Europe, whatever extremes Europe may go to to fortify itself, two things are clear: The jihadis will not be able to hold on to their gains in Arab countries as long as the people under their control suffer; the European countries will not turn into what their enemies want. Of course, the violence will encourage European far-right groups which, from their different perspective, agree with the Islamic State that we are in a war of civilizations, but it seems unlikely that we will see anything more than stricter policing and curbs on some freedoms. This is far from the situation desired by the “soldiers of the Caliphate.” So what is their point? What is their strategy?
As long as there is a central point of command, the Islamic State will pursue new ways to threaten and terrorize, it will seek weapons of mass destruction, it will hold nations hostage and destroy their cultural heritage. As long as it appears strong, determined, self-confident, the Islamic State will attract people who need to submit to an absolute, turning their back on life.
Civilization’s victory will come through the military defeat of the Islamic State’s leadership, through providing the greatest possible security to citizens in affected countries, through the protection of human values for all. The treasuring of life, the pursuit of happiness are our victory over the zombie legions.