With a wave of recent terror attacks around the globe and the war against ISIS ongoing, we checked in with Brian Glyn Williams, professor of Islamic History at UMass Dartmouth and author of “Counter Jihad: The American Military Experience in Afghan, Iraq and Syria,” on what 2017 holds for the fight against global terrorism. Here’s what he had to say:
1) ISIS will be defeated this year — at least in a physical sense.
U.S. Navy helicopter takes off on a scheduled deployment in the War on Global Terrorism.(photo courtesy of Beverly & Pack via Flickr.com)
My prediction for 2017 is that the ISIS caliphate, this terror state in Syria and Iraq, will be militarily defeated. They will lose Mosul, which is their largest city, and then there’ll be a siege of the capital in Raqqa, and they will be crushed by Iraqi security forces, Kurdish fighters and proxy forces in Syria that are backed up by Americans.
They had oil supplies obliterated by Obama’s bombing. They have no contacts with foreign borders. They can’t pay their fighters. Their territory is shrinking. The forces against them have momentum, and are backed up by the world’s greatest superpower, the U.S. So economically, strategically, time isn’t on their side. They’re in a losing battle. They can’t get supplies going through Turkey anymore, the borders have been closed. And the armies against them are sort of jelling together and are all combining to obliterate this abomination, this state of jihadi evil.
2) But the ISIS ideology will survive.
The dream of these jihadis of building this transnational caliphate state, something Al-Qaeda never achieved, that dream will be crushed. But that won’t be the end of ISIS. ISIS is ideas now. It’s on the internet. The ideology will survive.
Al-Qaeda was sort of like AOL — outdated. They had no state. ISIS is like Google. They’re more vibrant, dynamic and bloody minded. They carried out mass atrocities — tens of thousands have been killed by ISIS. They make Al-Qaeda look weak by comparison. So I think in 2017, we’re still going to have these armchair jihadists, lone wolves, self-starters who go online, read these messages of hate and carry out acts of terrorism like we saw in Orlando, San Bernardino, Nice, Berlin, Brussels and Paris. This vicious ideology is alive and well and will last longer than the physical state.
So I do see more ISIS terrorism. The anger will boil as the state collapses, and they will lash out. And these acts of terrorism don’t need a state. The base for terrorism is the internet. It’s a virtual state.
3) President-elect Donald Trump’s comments about banning Muslims will fan the flames of terrorism.
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Ariz., in October 2016. (photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com)
When you tell the Muslim world that you’re banning Muslims, it is red meat for jihad recruiters. My wife is Muslim. I was in Turkey talking about this issue with Muslims. It is remarkable how off-putting it is for them to see the lights on the hill, the beacon of democracy, America, tell the world they’re going to ban Muslims. Only one other country has banned a religious group, and that’s Saudi Arabia. The ban is unconstitutional and unfeasible, and it’s red meat for jihadi recruitment.
4) Trump will not play a central role in defeating ISIS.
I think Trump has said on the campaign trail that he knows more than the generals, and he doubled down in the “60 Minutes” interview. I think he has irritated the military with these sort of brash, bravado comments, and they don’t like a civilian telling them that he knows more than them. And he’s irritated the CIA and the FBI, which have claimed that the hacking of the DNC and Hillary’s email was done by Russia. He’s come out against them. So he’s not creating a good foundation for working relations with the major American intelligence groups or with the fighting military that’s actively engaged right now in trying to destroy the ISIS caliphate in Mosul.
He’s got so much braggadocio and he’s so confident in himself that he doesn’t need the professionals who have dedicated their lives to unraveling these things. I don’t see him having his hand on the pulse of the war against ISIS.
5) The average person will not be affected by terrorism in 2017.
The average person should be aware that the odds of them being killed in a terror attack are less than them odds of them falling in the bathtub and dying that way. That’s a fact. The heightened terrorism that has led to this $5 trillion war in the Middle East has made it seem like it’s all-invasive and ubiquitous. But the truth is, we’ve had no major Al-Qaeda style attack in since 9/11.
What the average person should worry about is gun violence. There’s a high chance that someone will shoot them, and it won’t be a terrorist. That’s the real war, and it’s here at home. So the average person should worry about gun violence, which won’t go down. If anything, Trump will roll back any attempt to limit the use of assault weapons, for example, military-grade assault weapons that are designed to be used in combat, like the ones used in Orlando. So gun violence will continue to soar.
In 2017, the average citizen doesn’t need to be worried about a terror attack; they need to be worried about a gun attack. That is real, it’s ubiquitous and that could lead to them being killed. For all the ISIS phobia in America, it’s guns I think we should worry about.
Read more UMass expert predictions.