Peter Bergen says there are many ways to make progress in the fight against ISIS and a number of those aren't military in nature
The anti-ISIS effort seems to be at a stalemate, he says
On Tuesday, President Obama meets in New York with world leaders to discuss how the campaign against ISIS is going and how it might be improved.
Earlier this month, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said that the war is “tactically stalemated” and there are no “dramatic gains on either side.”
Here are some ideas about how to move forward:
1. Enlist defectors from ISIS to tell their stories publicly. Nothing is more powerful than hearing from former members of the group that ISIS is not creating an Islamist utopia in the areas it controls, but a hell on earth. The flow of “foreign fighters” to ISIS from around the Muslim world is estimated to be about 1,000 a month. Reducing that flow is a key to reducing ISIS’ manpower.
2. Amplify voices such as that of the ISIS opposition group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which routinely posts photos online of bread lines in Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS in northern Syria, and writes about electricity shortages in the city. This will help to undercut ISIS propaganda that it is a truly functioning state.
3. Amplify the work of former jihadists like the Canadian Mubin Shaikh, who intervenes directly with young people online who he sees are being recruited virtually by ISIS.
4. Support the work of clerics such as Imam Mohamed Magid of northern Virginia, who has personally convinced a number of American Muslims seduced by ISIS that what the group is doing is against Islam.
6. Keep up the military campaign against ISIS. The less the ISIS “caliphate” exists as a physical entity, the less the group can claim it is the “Islamic State” that it purports to be.
7. Applaud the work that the Turks have already done to tamp down the foreign fighter flow through their country to ISIS in neighboring Syria, and get them to do more.
8. Provide “off ramps” to young ISIS recruits with no history of violence, so that instead of serving long prison terms for attempting to join ISIS – as they presently do in the United States – they would instead serve long periods of supervised probation.
This will help families that presently face a hard choice: If they suspect a young family member is radicalizing and they go to the FBI, that person can end up in prison for up to 15 years on charges of attempting to support ISIS; but if they don’t go to the authorities and their child ends up traveling to Syria, he or she may well end up being killed there. Providing off ramps would offer families a way out of this almost impossible choice.
Three of Shafi and Zarine Khan’s teenaged children were arrested by the FBI last year at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as they attempted to join ISIS. The Khans say they would have intervened effectively with their children if they had known they were radicalizing, but now their oldest son, Hamzah, faces 15 years in prison, despite the fact he has no history of violence nor does the government allege he was a planning a violent act.
9. Educate Muslim parents about the seductive messages that ISIS is propagating online.
10. Relentlessly hammer home the message that ISIS positions itself as the defender of Muslims, but its victims are overwhelmingly fellow Muslims.