When the leaders of the self-styled Islamic State (ISIS) take stock of their movement, they must like some of what they see. Affiliates of the group are cropping up across the Islamic world, and the organization has proved adept at recruiting or inspiring alienated young Muslims—many with criminal backgrounds—to commit murder in Europe and North America.
But there are also things that must concern the group’s leaders. In the past few months, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have taken back 40 percent of the territory the Islamic State had conquered over the past two years. American airstrikes have killed 25,000 of its fighters, while U.S. efforts to constrict its cash flow have hurt its finances badly. As U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work put it, “Those guys are under enormous pressure. Every time we have gone after one of their defended positions in the last 10 months, we have defeated them. They have left. They have retreated. They are hunkering down.”
Even more importantly, the Islamic State may now be losing the war of ideas. A recent poll found that nearly 80 percent of young Arabs now reject the group and believe it will fail to create a new caliphate. This has to be disheartening news for the extremists, sending a signal that an increasing percentage of Arabs see the difference between the Islamic State’s propaganda and reality.