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IS ideology ”lives on” despite its military demise

A leading political scientist has warned that while Islamic State may seen to have been defeated militarily, the ideology it is promoting will not be eradicated so easily

By: EBR - Posted: Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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 ”People were asking where this phenomenon had come from but, in truth, there is nothing new about the Caliphate or their ideology.” Norell, who is also a Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy, explained his theory why Europe and the international community had appeared to be slow to react to the threat posed by IS and the Caliphate. He said, ”The difference is that they had a strategy and we didn’t. This partly explains the lack of a pushback against them from the start. By the time we woke up to the threat it was almost too late.” The book, he said, seeks to show that this not a new phenomenon and that there have been several earlier attempts to renew the idea of the Caliphate.
”People were asking where this phenomenon had come from but, in truth, there is nothing new about the Caliphate or their ideology.” Norell, who is also a Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy, explained his theory why Europe and the international community had appeared to be slow to react to the threat posed by IS and the Caliphate. He said, ”The difference is that they had a strategy and we didn’t. This partly explains the lack of a pushback against them from the start. By the time we woke up to the threat it was almost too late.” The book, he said, seeks to show that this not a new phenomenon and that there have been several earlier attempts to renew the idea of the Caliphate.

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Speaking in Brussels, Magnus Norell said, "The ideology remains, of course, and that will not change. It is important to acknowledge that the ideology is not defeated." The Swedish academic also warned that the best way to tackle the phenomenon in the long term was to cut off the sources of funding for groups like IS and Boko Haram in Nigeria. 

"People ask me how we can effectively deal with them. My reply is that stop funding these organisations would be a good start." Norell was addressing an invited audience at the launch of his new book which seeks to trace the religious and ideological roots of IS and the Caliphate. The event, at Brussels Press Club on Tuesday, was organised by the European Foundation for Democracy, a leading policy institute and the think tank TRENDS Research and Advisory.

Norell is a senior fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy; Associate Director of Studies in Terrorism, Organised Crime and Middle East Politics at Infosphere in Stockholm and Adjunct Scholar at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington D.C. Opening the lively discussion, he said he wanted to stress that there was "nothing new" in the idea of the Caliphate, saying, "This goes back some 1,400 years so the Caliphate is something that is steeped in history and the ideas behind it are based on a very old ideology..."
 
Even so, he said many were "taken by surprise" by the emergence of IS around 2015... "People were asking where this phenomenon had come from but, in truth, there is nothing new about the Caliphate or their ideology." Norell, who is also a Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy, explained his theory why Europe and the international community had appeared to be slow to react to the threat posed by IS and the Caliphate. He said, "The difference is that they had a strategy and we didn't. This partly explains the lack of a pushback against them from the start. By the time we woke up to the threat it was almost too late." The book, he said, seeks to show that this is not a new phenomenon and that there have been several earlier attempts to renew the idea of the Caliphate.
 
Likening IS and similar radical and extremist groups as "monsters", Norell said the West would do well to understand that while IS, or Daesh as it is also known, may be defeated militarily in the Middle East, its ideology was still alive and thriving, being disseminated undaunted across Europe and the West.. He cautioned that the group and others like it would continue to make use of technology to spread their message to an even wider audience. "We are already seeing what you might call a 'virtual Caliphate' because of the way IS and others have made use of technology. This has made it so much easier to get  their message out. Likewise, though, those who seek to counter their violent message can also make use of technological tools."
 
He also commended Belgium which, in an investigation of the March 2016 attacks on Brussels, had identified the role played in radicalisation and extremism by the Muslim Brotherhood organisation. Norel also told of the "great resistance" he had been forced to overcome from those in Sweden and elsewhere who, he said, had been reluctant to publish his book, "The Return of the Caliphate - causes and consequences." The book, the sixth he has written, was published in Swedish at the end of 2016 and this is the occasion of the launch of the English language version. He said, "This, of course, is a very sensitive subject and I had great difficult getting it published. In the end I had to publish it myself. I kept pushing because this is a story that needs telling."
 
Norell  also joined in a conversation with Richard Burchill, director of research at TRENDS Research & Advisory,  on broader issues, addressing extremism and how societies and governments need to prevent terrorism by "engaging in robust radicalisation prevention programmes from gaining a foothold in our societies." The discussion also focused on how non-violent extremist groups radicalise and recruit vulnerable young people to join extremist groups. Burchill, who is based in Abu Dhabi, agreed that the ideology had survived IS' military setbacks and also commended Belgium which, in an investigation of the March 2016 attacks on Brussels, highlighted the proactive role played in radicalisation and extremism by the Muslim Brotherhood  (a chapter in the book is devoted to the organisation). Burchill said he and others had struggled to understand why the Caliphate, an idea which he pointed out had been ridiculed in many quarters, had not been more widely challenged in the Muslim world..
 
Norell sought to explain this, saying, "From the outset, groups like IS disseminated an apparently positive message,saying they wanted to build a state. They said they were doing what others spoke about 1,400 years ago. Based on this, you can perhaps understand why some gave up their families and jobs to join them. It tells you something about how strong that message must have seemed to some."

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