More than four years on, the Islamic State group has been forced from Mosul and no longer occupies towns or cities anywhere in Iraq or Syria. But its brutal legacy remains, under mounds of rubble, in ruined homes and fields.
The Islamic State may have been defeated in the field, but they have not been defeated in Iraq. What actually happened was that their fighters retreated from Mosul and Hawija, before slowly melting back into the Sunni Arab villages — and storing their weapons in the nearby caves — and prepared for war once again. What lies across from me are the most fanatical and hardcore: Those who have hung on, who refuse to surrender or flee. And they will stay there until they win or die.
The new Taliban government in Afghanistan represents the realization of the 155-year-old Deobandi movement’s objective of establishing a regime led by religious scholars. Over this time, and possibly much like the Taliban today, these religious clerics oscillated between jihadism and pragmatic politics.
To this small but influential number of Muslims in Europe and the U.S., Afghanistan is not really a country, but a mythical canvas onto which they can paint their own hopes and dreams.
Tunisia, today, remains mired in corruption and offers few prospects to its youth; it is a very different country than the one dreamed of by the thousands who took to the streets inspired by Bouazizi. A returning ISIS fighter on the systemic dysfunction that has set so many of its youth on the path of radicalization.
No one on the right wanted to hear that the U.S. threat environment was shifting from homegrown Muslim extremists aligned with al Qaeda to violent, right-wing extremists. As is customary with inconvenient intelligence, my work was politicized, and my team was dissolved.
People join violent groups for a variety of reasons, and they differ in their levels of commitment. Brain scans offer new insights into a particular type of members, the backbone of these groups we call “devoted actors.”