Although Islamic State (IS) is rapidly losing territory in both Syria and Iraq, Michael Rubin warns that victory is not necessarily at hand:
There will be no formal surrender. Nor will the eventual defeat of IS necessarily delegitimize its apocalyptic theology.
The theological problem is this: the late Turki al-Bin’ali, the grand mufti of Islamic State, cited a hadith [extra-Quranic teaching], attributed to Muhammad, declaring that there would be twelve true and legitimate caliphs before the end of the world. He counted [the current IS caliph Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi as the eighth, giving ambitious or megalomaniacal upstarts theological cover to be number nine, ten, or eleven. This creates a win-win situation for those who wish to emulate IS. Success proves theological legitimacy but failure doesn’t count because its authors can be dismissed, in hindsight, as imposters.
Beyond the very real possibility of a long-term insurgency in territory formerly held by the caliphate, Rubin predicts IS will continue to pose a threat as an international, underground terror network, and stresses the “the dual necessity of shutting down Islamic State activists’ cyber access and blocking the return of IS veterans to Europe, North Africa, and elsewhere.”