WASHINGTON — ISIS is establishing for itself a formidable ideological legacy, and will not be disappearing any time soon, according to a co-author of the book “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.”
“I don’t think ISIS is being defeated as you hear in the headlines,” Hassan Hassan said Thursday at an event hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center. “It’s possible to defeat ISIS, but I see it in the region for at least another 15 years.”
While they have been contained in some parts, Hassan explained that it is a profoundly autonomous group where, organizationally, everyone is dispensable, and if you demolish ISIS in one area, it doesn’t really affect the others.
Another thing he pointed out was the extreme dedication and loyalty of those involved.
He said that, generally speaking, it’s almost too late when someone starts to buy into their ideology because they then become virtually immune to counter-messaging tactics.
“I’m convinced that when people join ISIS, and leave and say they have abandoned the group, they are most likely either lying, or they have never been with ISIS,” he said.
The ideological component, Hassan suggested, is the most dangerous and lasting element of the group.
He explained that ISIS’ existence as an army or insurgency will likely last for somewhere between five to ten years, but even after that, it could continue to operate and “override Al Qaeda and become a global kind of an inspiration for jihadis.”
Such jihadis, he said, “are not random. They are based on Islamic references.”
“The debate that we are hearing about today that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam I think is a Western debate, not a Middle-Eastern debate. I think in the Middle East there is a recognition that we have a problem as Muslims,” said Hassan.
He said that every act of violence committed by ISIS has a religious justification. They just don’t rely on the Koran as much as they do on other events and stories in Islamic history — which they see as a source of authority, especially when it comes to the caliphate, and early figures in Islamic history who were closer to the Islamic revelation.
“ISIS, again, is immune to the messages because it considers all clerical establishment as illegitimate, and also because they can cite examples,” Hassan explained. “When ISIS burns someone alive, they do it because someone in the history of Islam did it.”
“If you talk to ISIS members and say ‘why did you do that?’ they would say immediately they were referring to their religion and they could talk to you for hours about how it was justified.”
He concluded that he sees the current situation as favoring ISIS so far, and that its heartlands in places like Tikrit have not really been threatened yet by any internal or external challenges, although CNN reported on Monday that Iraqi forces are expected to retake Tikrit within a matter of days.
Regardless, Hassan noted that no matter the country, it is very hard to either predict or prevent those who seek to join the terrorist organization.
“As I was writing the book and researching it, I feared for my own son.”
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