You can run, you can hide — but you cannot escape justice for ever. This is the message that the killing of ISIS founder and leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi should send to terrorists worldwide who may have, for a moment, thought that his crimes could go unpunished.
For anyone other than those who subscribe to his evil and radical ideologies, Al-Baghdadi’s killing is probably the most welcome and celebrated news the world has heard this year. And to anyone wondering if the Muslim world is an exception, the answer is: “Absolutely not.” The reality is that ISIS has no relation to Islam, and is totally unconnected with it. ISIS and Islam are beliefs in diametric opposition to each other. When Al-Baghdadi and his thuggish followers invoked the name of Islam, they did so falsely. And in doing so, they tarnished the name of Islam and its peaceful followers, and damaged our faith more than anyone has done in the past few years.
The burning alive of the Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasasbeh, locked in a cage; the horrific executions of humanitarian aid workers; the enslavement of Yazidi women, as poignantly documented and excruciatingly narrated by one of their number, the Nobel Peace laureate Nadia Murad; the violent eviction of people from their homes, forcing our Christian brothers and sisters to flee their own villages, towns and countries — all of those people who have suffered at the hands of ISIS and its evil leader may now feel at ease with his death.
Yes, the world is better off with Al-Baghdadi gone. It is here, however, that we must take a pause, and remind ourselves that the fight against extremist ideology is far from over — we saw that with the elimination of Osama bin Laden, when he was swiftly replaced by Al-Baghdadi himself. So we should not deceive ourselves, we should not become complacent, and we should not drop our guard — because the fight against terrorism can be won decisively only when we drain the swamp where such monsters are able to flourish.
The best way to fight terrorism, apart from militarily, is to do so on the ideological front. That is why efforts being made in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with centers dedicated to combating extremist ideology both online and on the ground, are of the utmost importance. The formation by Saudi Arabia of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition is a significant step, as important as the establishment in Riyadh of bodies such as the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, known as Etidal; both have given counterterrorism fighters significant headway.
The best antidote to the ISIS mentality, however, and the strongest and most effective riposte to extremist ideologies, is the program of social reforms being carried out in Saudi Arabia. They demonstrate that we believe in life, that we believe in coexistence, that we believe in tolerance. This is precisely why Saudi Arabia is opening its borders to allow residents of 49, mostly non-Muslim, countries to come here without going through the laborious process of obtaining a traditional visa. The fact that women can drive; the fact that women are working alongside men; the fact that we no longer impose the outdated draconian measures that mandated male guardianship over women — these reforms are the best answer to the evil ideology propagated by the advocates of terror.
Above all, it is significant that these reforms are taking place in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques, the center of Islam. Just as when Saudi Arabia sneezes the whole Muslim world catches a cold, when all these enlightened reforms take effect in Saudi Arabia then moderation is sure to follow in the wider Muslim world. This is how you drain that swamp of extremists.
Meanwhile, we should continue to maintain pressure on the terrorists — wherever they are, and whichever rock they are skulking under. For now, though, I believe the whole world, especially the Muslim world, should celebrate the end of the calamitous caliphate.