Ending an Ideology

Ending an ideology is a near impossible task. However, through a combination of reduced resources and time, its influence will begin to wane.

Ending an ideology is a near impossible task. However, through a combination of reduced resources and time, its influence will begin to wane. This past Sunday, October 27, President Trump announced that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the commander of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), died during a U.S. military operation in Syria by means of self-destruction. Baghdadi’s death marked an important advance in a global five-year mission to eliminate the leader after he proclaimed himself the caliph and established a reign of terror within the Middle East. Although some may accuse his death as an inadvertent way of perpetuating more violence, noting that Baghdadi was quickly replaced with a new figurehead, the leader’s assassination actually helped lessen ISIS’ political and military domination in Syria by severing the organization’s network of followers and connections with other jihadist groups.

No ideology and fervor can survive without a platform. In reality, al-Baghdadi’s status in ISIS meant more to jihads than just a leadership position. Within a matter of years, he was able to establish an extensive empire that shrouded large portions of Syria and Iraq, and he became a public figure that millions of followers observed and worshiped. He was essentially the core of the ISIS imperium, and his position as caliph gave ISIS the platform to instate a substantial amount of power in the Middle East. From a jihad viewpoint, a person with the title of caliph conveys that he or she is considered a political or religious successor of the prophet Mohammed; so, one can comprehend the degree of reverence and almost “divinity” the caliph retains. Al-Baghdadi’s self-proclamation that granted him the “right” to assume this role ultimately meant that he became the divinely-chosen central figure to many extremists. This sheer amass of power allowed him to control all aspects of ISIS activity and establish a network of loyal followers.

Undoubtedly, you can never eliminate a set of beliefs and faith. Some may say that al-Baghdadi’s position has been easily replaced by another leader who shares the same passion and drive; some may argue that this act of violence will only spur more contempt and incentivize followers to instate more fear among citizens. However, assassinating al-Baghdadi places ISIS at ground zero, and by isolating its web of connections, the United States actually separated the group from its roots, leaving ISIS with a rather weak platform to institute domination upon others. According to Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the United Nations Monitoring Team, al-Baghdadi’s death “is going to be massively damaging to [ISIS’] capability” because the organization’s strategy and ideology was to uphold this one leader as the public face of the terrorist group. Moreover, ISIS only has a small number of successors who are considered “next in line” for a leadership position; thus, its new leader will most probably retain little to no recognition on the global stage. ISIS’ current vulnerability and struggle for power will ultimately give countries the upper hand, providing political leaders with the opportunity to take advantage of the organization’s frail condition and reduce the military might of its forces.

Yet from another perspective, the United States’ involvement in al-Baghdadi’s death also serves as an act of redemption from President Trump’s decision to pull American forces out of Syria, which left the Kurds single-handedly fighting ISIS troops. America’s departure from its five-year alliance with Kurdish forces disrupted the group’s plans to fight al-Baghdadi, and many were left feeling betrayed. On behalf of the Kurdish militia, Commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces Mazloum Abdi commented that he thought “America would keeps its promises,” but its officials “tricked” the Kurds instead. Nonetheless, al-Baghdadi’s killing might alleviate the contemptuous spirit and tension between the White House and the Kurds, re-strengthening the alliance between the two groups—which will be beneficial while fighting the terrorist organization.

The “assassination” of al-Baghdadi only signifies a starting point from which America and its allies can then proceed to eliminate ISIS and its presence in the Middle East. In its current state of disorganization and vulnerability, countries can utilize this opportunity to debilitate its forces in Syria and mitigate the violence in the nation. Al-Baghdadi’s death marks an important milestone and highlights the potential end to a previously incessant war.