Don't buy the ISIS narrative
People are overreacting to ISIS. How could we not? The murderous, militant organization runs a flamboyant PR campaign and the bloodiest images are usually the easiest to remember. In this sense, ISIS has succeeded. By skillfully and intentionally using media to their advantage, they have shaped the way many of us think about the current conflict in Iraq and Syria.
So, when we think of the word “ISIS,” what comes to mind? For one, we’re likely to think about militant occupations, most notably in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Beyond that, brutal killings. It seems like every time we turn on the news, another horrifying video shows up, as the group of maniacal extremists manage to top their last stylized showcase of violence.
The morbid marketing works. When I think of ISIS, it’s hard not to think of a young boy beheading a Russian spy, or the Jordanian pilot being burned alive, or 21 Coptic Christians being beheaded. Obviously, ISIS cares about their public image—so much so that they are willing to change military tactics just to look better on camera. Too often, the West has bought that image without even a second thought.
When I say “people are overreacting to ISIS,” I don’t mean that ISIS's actions should not incite outrage. We should be furious. But our reaction needs to be elicited in response to a more balanced reading of the situation—which has been overshadowed by the image that ISIS has created and we’ve consumed so carelessly.
While ISIS has continued to commit memorable atrocities, it has also suffered numerous less memorable but still significant defeats—or to put it in positive form, defenders of freedom have made progress in fending off the onslaught of ISIS, and that’s what we should be talking about.
Consider Kobani, the Syrian border town that ISIS and Kurdish militia clashed over for months. The Kurds lost control of key sections of Kobani, and for a long time the battle looked like it would end in a victory for ISIS. But that didn’t happen. With the aid of U.S. airstrikes, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia completely expelled the militants. That’s a major victory, and we should celebrate it.
Throughout this whole conflict, the Kurds have been tragically underappreciated. When ISIS took Mount Sinjar and brutalized the Yazidi people, it made national headlines. Mount Sinjar, however, is no longer a success story for ISIS—because, again, with the aid of U.S. airstrikes, the Kurdish peshmerga broke ISIS control.
Like the examples of Kobani and Sinjar illusion, U.S. airstrikes have been integral in turning the tide. It’s hard to amass a large moving army when those armies immediately become targets. Thus, we haven’t seen any significant gain by ISIS since the airstrikes began—if they try, they’ll be destroyed. Fortuitously, most of what ISIS has done has only resulted in more vehement regional opposition. Jordan and Egypt, after the latest round of videos, are all the more ready to employ even more force. Military success is a long way off, but with the way things are currently unfolding, it’s only a matter of time.
I am not qualified to posit any particularly new insights on ISIS. Few people are (We should all keep that in mind). But I don’t think it is too forward of me to say that we give ISIS a small “win” when we buy into their elaborate media campaigns—especially since they make themselves look like a perfectly healthy organization, when that might not actually be the case.
The ISIS militants are quickly running out of victories; let’s turn off the videos, reject their rhetoric and deny them one more.