Now that the “caliphate” has been decapitated, global jihad is ebbing. But from Nigeria to the Philippines, other developments deserve our attention.
ISIS thrived on two components that predate its rise: the global jihad movement, triggered by Al Qaeda, and the development of local Islamic emirates, from Nigeria to Philippines.
The global jihad movement has been developed under the direction of Al Qaeda since 1992. The first generation was made of former Arab volunteers who joined the Afghan war against USSR; the second generation (still burgeoning) was made of tens of thousands of youth coming from the West and from former Soviet Union, waging a relentless terror campaign in the West that has culminated with 9/11.
The rooting of local Islamic emirates started also at the end of the Afghan war (first in Afghanistan itself) and mushroomed mainly in tribal areas from Taliban held areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen, Nigeria, Mali, Sinai, Northern Iraq after the US military intervention and lately Syria with ISIS itself.
ISIS started as one of these local emirates, but succeeded in coalescing the two movements of global jihad and local emirates, turning the global jihadists into an efficient military corps of ready to die volunteers and ending in bringing most of the local emirates (Taliban excepted) under its nominal leadership.
It collapsed because it became the target of a loose coalition of local enemies (Kurdish and Iraqi Shia forces, local Sunni tribes that were decimated by ISIS) and the Western powers.
But the collapse did not touch the other local emirates, as seen by the quasi failure of the Barkhane French campaign in Mali. Meanwhile, the global jihad obviously suffers from the defeat of ISIS in Syria, but terrorist suicidal attacks, mostly perpetrated nowadays by single individuals, are still making the news in the West. Moreover, none of the problems that where at the root of the breakthrough of ISIS in Syria and Iraq has been solved.
In a more general way no political solution has been implemented to address the rise of local emirates. A military solution worked only in Syria/Iraq against ISIS at a very high cost.
So the issue is not so much: will ISIS rise from his ashes, but which global leadership will emerge (ISIS or not) to pretend acting as a coordinator of these local jihad, under the name of global jihad.
The future of ISIS is thus closely connected with eh evolution of the two trends:
Local emirates are on the rise, not on the decline, but their extension is limited by the relative narrowness of their tribal, ethnic or sociological basis: they don’t reach the big cities and their strongholds are usually in remote trans borders areas; they prospered from the failure of the regional states to ensure security, but they resist quite well against any military operation either from local armies (Sinai) or from foreign military corps (Barkhane).
Local emirates have an interest in pledging allegiance to ISIS (or to any future global leadership), because it gives them more visibility and legitimacy and access to a more sophisticated kind of warfare through the sharing of experience and volunteers. Nevertheless, they don’t seem to have benefited from any massive input of “global jihad”: few international jihadists are joining the ranks of Boko Haram, AQMI and Sinai fighters; no terrorists are acting under their name in the West. These regional emirates are more eager to root themselves in the local societies than to appear as heralding a global jihad: in this sense they are locally more successful on the long run than ISIS. By consequence, the resilience of the local emirates does not mean a new global rebirth of ISIS.
But the case of Syria/Iraq is not solved from the point of view of the local actors: the defeat of ISIS was not followed by negotiations with tribal groups that supported them, so they might resume the fighting, benefitting from the absence of a long term US policy, the undermined of the Kurdish military strength by the Turkish intervention and the crisis in Iraq itself. ISIS might come back as local actor.
The global jihad by contrast seems for the moment on decline.
One of the reasons is that the fascination for ISIS was fuelled by the very successes of ISIS on the field. A narrative of heroism, sex and death cleverly expressed under Western youth cultural codes, has attracted thousands of supporters; this narrative has been belied by the defeat of ISIS. Although the argument can be turned upside down (any local success of ISIS might rekindle the light), it is unlikely that global jihad will reach a new peak in the coming years. The reason here is that the success of ISIS among second generation Muslims in Europe and converts in search of a cause has been largely a generational phenomenon. The attractiveness of ISIS might decrease among the following generations because it has lost its power of fascination. Consequently, the rebirth of ISIS is less dependent of global jihad than of the resilience of the local Islamic emirates.