A STRATEGIC MISCALCULATION

A STRATEGIC MISCALCULATION

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By Yasmin Faruki

Abdullah II meets with U.S. President Barack Obama. Source: Executive Office of the President of the United States

The world is reeling from recent demonstrations of terror by Daesh (also known as ISIS, or ISIL). In Jordan, citizens are aghast by the brutal immolation of Lt. Moaz al-Kasesbeh, a 26 year-old pilot whose plane crashed during a coalition mission in December. In the week prior, Japanese citizens mourned the loss of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yakawa. The latest string of events has important implications for future of Daesh’s support in the region, as well as the resiliency of the U.S.-led coalition.

The fact that Lt. Kasabeh’s died as a result of immolation is very significant. According to the New York Times, burning someone alive is strictly prohibited in Islam because it is considered an act only punishable by God in hell. Though beheadings of hostages are not at all favorable among Muslims, its application has been at least rarely accepted in certain contexts; Saudi Arabia, for example, uses beheadings as a state-sponsored form of capital punishment. Muslims are already sickened by Daesh’s exclusive focus on takfirism (the belief that the Muslim community has been weakened by deviation in the practice of Islam) and wicked distortion of Islam’s teachings. The first widely publicized immolation of a Muslim hostage has therefore struck a very sensitive nerve in many Muslims throughout the world, and raises important questions for Arab partners in the coalition.

The Jordanian government intends to dial up the ante. Before the release of the immolation video, King Abdullah had considered releasing two Iraqi prisoners affiliated with Daesh – Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli. Within a matter of hours of the video released yesterday morning, King Abdullah ordered the execution of the two prisoners during his visit in Washington in an act of vengeance. Though there remains a small contingency of Jordanians who disagree with their country’s involvement in the coalition, Lt. Kasabeh’s death has brought out a hardened and confrontational attitude in the King, who has vociferously vowed retaliation and continued involvement in the U.S.-led coalition.

Though Kasabeh’s grisly killing has fostered greater acceptance of the war against Daesh in Jordan, some partners are not assured of contributions to the fight.  One country has already withdrawn from the coalition in fear of retaliation by Daesh. This is in fact the United Arab Emirates, one of the United States’ most important Arab partners in matters relating to counterterrorism. Other key countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have been defending their participation in the coalition despite unfavorable public opinion regarding involvement in Syria. Continued vetting and solicitation of support from majority-Sunni Muslim nations is therefore crucial to sustain the coalition and its credibility.

So where does Daesh stand, following the death of Lt. Kasabeh? Daesh’s latest showing of terror will ultimately hurt its movement in the long term. Though the organization might appeal to the most extreme of extremists, this particular killing repels more potential supporters than it attracts them. Given Daesh’s dampened momentum in Kobani, Diyala, and Mosul, it appears foolish to turn away potential recruits. Nonetheless, Daesh maintains controls 50,000 square kilometers of Iraq and approximately 30% of Syria;its presence is far from diminished. The United States’ and coalition members would raise the campaign by publicly exploiting Daesh’s latest strategic miscalculation and supporting each other during the grave loss of human beings.

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