IF you think the answer is obvious, you’re not thinking, but letting heart or gut get the better of gray matter.
In the first place, the battle between the Asean and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not between standing armies. Nor will victory come when the loser is crushed on the battlefield by force of conventional arms. That’s not how World War III—and it’s what Asean vs IS is part of—will be fought and won.
Just ask the harried police in Paris, London and Manchester, to cite just the most prominent of IS targets, if they are winning against the terror network commanded or inspired by the Arab extremists falsely claiming to be fighting for Sunni Islam.
The fact is, for all the manpower, money, intelligence and technology harnessed by the West to fight IS, bloody attacks have kept erupting, either directed by IS cells or mounted by so-called lone wolves impossible to anticipate and counter.
And unless IS loses its appeal and propaganda touch, there will always be impressionable or self-serving souls seeking either moral rectitude, religious purpose, heavenly reward, plain lucre, or some of the above, to hoodwink into mass murder.
Just one-tenth of 1 percent builds a global army
If just one-tenth of 1 percent of all 1 billion Muslims on the planet buy the IS pitch that, as the Holy Quran says, killing infidels would land a jihadist in paradise, that’s a million crazed killers scheming to shoot, bomb, ram with pickups or otherwise exterminate non-Muslims.
If they were all in one military, it would be bigger than all but the active armed forces of all but those of China, the United States, India and North Korea. That those faceless bombers, shooters and other manner of homicidal jihadists are scattered across the globe, blending with the general population, actually makes them more dangerous and harder to guard against than any standing army.
And that is the real battle: keeping IS from directing, funding, coordinating or otherwise spurring Muslims anywhere to use bombs, bullets, blades, blunt items and bare fists to kill perceived enemies of Sunni Islam, including adherents of the rival Shia Muslim sect.
To defeat IS, it is not enough to destroy its camps in Iraq and Syria. Rather, we must extinguish its appeal and influence, and those of its fellow extremists, like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, among thousands, maybe millions of Muslims all over the world.
Jihadist gains in Europe, Arabia and Asia
Over the past month, sadly, IS propaganda and influence probably gained in Europe and Asia. Attacks in Manchester and London have brought jihadist terror to two more European capitals, after the attacks in Paris and Brussels last year.
That has surely stirred the fancies and schemes of many misguided Muslims that IS power is growing, and the West is powerless to stop its fighters and supporters. And even if British police arrest dozens of suspects and raid terrorist cells, extremists would just point to similar action on the continent after killings there, yet, the terror continues.
The Arab world is now rocked by the concerted action by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East states to blockade and pressure Qatar into stopping its funding and support for Islamist and extremist groups, including the violent Hamas mounting rocket and other attacks on Israel.
The Saudi group, which US President Donald J. Trump has unabashedly claimed to have prodded in its beatdown on Qatar, seem to have taken the latter by surprise. Yet, in the eyes of Islamists, following the lead of Israel’s top backer America in isolating a fellow Muslim and Arab state, can only boost the extremist cause, and the resolve of those backing it against a perceived conspiracy among Western powers, Israel and traitorous Arab rulers.
Then, there is the assault by IS-inspired and -funded extremists on Marawi City in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, now billed by global media as the Middle East cabal’s first operation to take and hold territory outside its base in Iraq and Syria.
No prizes for guessing what that has done for IS prestige, clout and appeal in Southeast Asia, not to mention its ability to wangle more funds from backers whose support may have wavered as IS lost ground and suffered massive losses in its home grounds.
This week the Philippines is hosting top diplomatic and security officials of Indonesia and Malaysia, to discuss terrorism and plot countermeasures, including ongoing sea and air patrols.
But instead of making terrorists quake in fear, the conference may well buttress the belief that IS is a bigger threat than ever, now casting its fearsome shadow on Southeast Asia.
Plainly, beating IS on the ground may well mean losing the Islamic mind to the jihadists.