Interviewed by Seymour Mammadov. Translated from Russian.
[Original title: ”ISIS Will Try to Reach Central Asia”]
ISIS’ defeats in Iraq and Syria have fueled a wave of speculation where the ”fragments” of a collapsing caliphate move. In June, the CIS Antiterrorist Center stated that from the regions of operations in the Middle East ”a new model of terrorist and extremist activity is being exported to the countries of Central Asia.” This confirms the gloomy forecasts about the incursion of ISIS into Central Asia. But is ISIS even the region’s main thunderstorm still today?
A well-known American historian, expert on Islam and the Middle East, Daniel Pipes, in an interview with Eurasia Expert, explained why ISIS will come to Central Asia, what the real threat is, which jihadist countries can take control in the future, and the causes of the global Islamist surge.
Why is the Middle East so unstable? Is there hope for improvement?
Middle Eastern instability results from the region’s particularly difficult transition to modernity. This can be explained by two main problems: historic Muslim-Christian tensions going back to the origins of Islam and acute differences between modern and Islamic ways at both the public and private levels. In all, Muslim-Christian relations are probably the most fraught of any two large bodies of people in the world.
Yes, there is hope for improvement, for today’s problems need not be tomorrow’s. Islam can be modernized. It will be a long and difficult process but I am optimistic it can and will occur. I see the current spasm of Islamism as the dark period before Muslims emerge into the light, somewhat comparable to the Christian wars of religion that raged in Europe in the era 1524-1648.
|The Battle of White Mountain in Bohemia (1620), a decisive battle in Europe’s wars of religion.|
Will Syria or its neighbors be occupied by terrorists?
For me, the word terrorist has lost meaning; it’s what everyone calls his enemies. Let me change your question from terrorists to jihadis.
Jihadis have a great future in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq and could control those states. The other neighbors – Turkey, Jordan, Israel – can protect themselves from anarchy though not from specific attacks.
In the aftermath of the Putin-Trump meeting at which both presidents expressed a readiness to fight ISIS in Syria, do you expect their forces to cooperate against it?
Every serious analyst recognizes that the real issue in Syria is the growing Iranian presence and the Sunni states’ resistance to it. ISIS is a sideshow. As Moscow is basically supporting Tehran and Washington supports the Sunni states, their differences will preclude more than occasionally tactical cooperation. I hope the Trump administration supports the Kurds and others who are resisting Iranian domination.
|Putin (L) and Trump.|
After helping the Iraqi army take Mosul from ISIS, will the U.S. government also help take Syrian cities from it?
Due to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Americans feel a special responsibility for Iraq; but no similar sense exists for Syria. Also, the presence of Turkish and YPG forces complicates matters in Syria. I therefore expect a lesser U.S. involvement in Syria than in Iraq.
Can ISIS export instability from Syria-Iraq to Central Asia?
ISIS has a history of doing too much too fast, making too many enemies and paying a heavy price for these mistakes. Assuming it has not learned the lesson of making alliances and limiting ambitions, it will likely try to reach Central Asia. I doubt it will succeed as the lure of the caliphate has been broken and other Islamist competitors are better positioned there.
What are the risks of ISIS destabilizing Afghanistan?
Again, I see ISIS has coming in late, with few resources and after its glory days. I doubt it will get far.
Does ISIS represent a serious threat to the southern Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia?
It presents a threat of jihadi violence, as in other Muslim-minority countries. It cannot take over, as it has done in parts of Libya, Syria, and Iraq.
What are the goals of the Taliban in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan? Is there any chance of capturing their territories?
The Taliban have too many challenges in their home base of Afghanistan and Pakistan to devote sufficient resources to these former Soviet republics.
Estimates suggest 5-7,000 people from Russia and the rest of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are fighting for ISIS; Putin has stated that ”we certainly cannot allow them to apply experience gained in Syria in our home.” Do these CIS fighters in fact pose a threat to Russia?
Assuming that the Russian authorities are on the alert for former ISIS fighters, I expect their threat will be contained to occasional acts of jihadi violence but no greater challenge.
Assuming Caliph Ibrahim is dead, what next for the caliphate?
Other Islamist figures will likely be tempted to revive this title of leader of the umma. Turkey’s President Erdoğan and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman stand out on the Sunni side. Khamene’i or his successor in Iran could be attracted to a Shi’i version.
How can one prevent young Muslims from being radicalized? What can be done when radicalization occurs?
They need to be offered an appealing non-radical version of Islam. This is a massive undertaking that will take time. There is no short-cut, no magic bullet.
The many and creative efforts at de-radicalization have proven inadequate. The best I can offer is social pressure along with the promotion of moderate and modern interpretations of Islam.
What drives the Sunni-Shia conflict? What can reduce it?
It’s an ancient conflict that had nearly disappeared in modern times, until the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 revived it. While Khomeini had hoped to appeal to Sunnis and Shia alike, such developments as the Iraq-Iran war limited his appeal to Sunnis and turned Iran into a state with a highly sectarian foreign policy. I expect that the eventual collapse of the Islamic Republic of Iran will substantially reduce Sunni-Shia conflict.
|ISIS blew up the Shi’i Al-Qubba Husseiniya mosque in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.|