ISIS DIES IN THE WORLD AND LIVES ON THE WEB

ISIS DIES IN THE WORLD AND LIVES ON THE WEB

As you read this, US-backed Syrian and Kurdish forces are killing or capturing the last few Islamic State militants holding out in a fingernail-shaped sliver of riverbank in eastern Syria. It's all that remains of the caliphate declared by the Islamist extremist group across a swath of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

Despite being on the back foot territorially, here are three ways that ISIS will continue to rile global politics:


Returning fighters: Experts estimate that up to 40,000 foreigners from 110 countries traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the caliphate, marry into ISIS, or accompany family members. Over 4,000 EU citizens are thought to have made the trip, along with a few hundred Americans and thousands of people from the Balkans, the Caucasus, and other geopolitical hot spots. Many of the fighters who weren't killed have already returned home, creating a massive headache for security services and law enforcement. Thousands more are sitting in Kurdish detention camps awaiting news about where they'll be sent next. Distinguishing between regretful and repentant hangers-on and truly dangerous fighters is a legal and political nightmare that's already creating fissures between the US and Europe.

The next (cr)ISIS: The black flag of ISIS may no longer be waving over the Syrian desert, but it is flying over an ISIS enclave on the southern Philippine island of Basilan, where a group of militants claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a cathedral in January. ISIS-linked groups are also active in Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and stretches of northern Africa and the Sahel. While they may not have the same access to oil revenues that once enabled ISIS to take on the trappings of an actual state, these pockets of fighters remain a potent security threat.

The virtual caliphate: While ISIS may not have much territory in the world, it's still got real estate on the web, where it remains a force on social media despite some progress in stamping out the viral spread of its gruesome and well-produced propaganda. EU security czar Julian King warned as recently as November that the group is still entrenched on social media, despite losing its grip on its physical territory. As we recently saw in the live-streamed New Zealand mosque massacre – clips of which are still circulating on the web – fully stamping out extremist material is a Sisyphean task.

As long as there are disaffected young Muslims, the virtual caliphate will continue to attract and radicalize adherents and inspire publicity-seeking acts of violence. The risk now is that, rather than being inspired to join an Islamist utopia in the Mesopotamian desert, even more people will be inspired to commit acts of violence at home.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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