We defeated the caliphate on the battlefield, but the ideological war has only just begun.

By Sinam Sherkany Mohamad

The ISIS “caliphate” has fallen. Our brave fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) overran their last encampment, and took down the black ISIS flag. Politicians declared a historic victory, which rang around the world, and then they moved on to the next issue.

The ISIS situation is no longer making headlines. It seems the world wants to move on. But these terrorists have not even been tried in a court of law. They lay idle in camps, sleeper cells, and enclaves, still at work and conspiring to wreak more death and destruction all over the world. ISIS is still here.

Many former ISIS fighters are together every day, still making plans to resurrect the “caliphate.” They are meeting, talking and eating together in the detention camps run by SDF. There are ISIS family members currently in refugee camps, and they too are ticking time bombs. The women are feeding their children on extremist ideology. If we do nothing, we will soon see ISIS erupt again.

ISIS has now returned to committing individual acts of terrorism. The sound of suicide bombs have rung out in many cities through northeastern Syria in recent months. We are now witnessing daily fires set across northeastern Syria, which are a campaign of economic terrorism. These fires are threatening the lives and livelihoods of families in the region and will lead to mass hunger throughout Syria.

Throughout human history, we have not seen a backslide toward religious ignorance like that of ISIS. This movement emerged from the cellars of the Baathist regime in Iraq. It was carried forward in the name of religion, and it is a sophisticated version of al-Qaida in belief and fanaticism. The al-Qaida “caliphate” had fallen, but its chosen “caliph” did not fall. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the person who the extremists claimed was the caliph, survived to carry on the legacy of Osama bin Laden and his extremist ideas.

This caliphate took the name of Islam, called itself the Islamic State, and added the color black to it. They reversed history to take us back to the days of invasions in the east and remind us of the Inquisition in the West, back to the days when the maps read simply “Mesopotamia.”

We believe that, by its nature, ISIS works against Islam. It does not belong to the Islamic religion.

In a war that lasted for almost four years, the SDF, which began in northeast Syria and was joined by fighters from other parts of Syria, defeated with international help the extremist organization and liberate all the lands that they had seized.

Syria had turned into an international terrorist magnet, attracting those carrying extremist ideas. But now it has become a cemetery for ISIS and Islamic extremism.

We thank all those who contributed to this victory and all the parties who provided political, logistical and military support. We mourn the pure souls who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect human rights and security. And we follow the guidance of the heroes with condolences and blessings in this victory. Our children were martyred for the sake of humanity.

The Middle East in particular, and the global Muslim community in general, are undergoing a total makeover. The transformation will inevitably be towards democracy. The wheel won’t turn back. This may take some time and have some unexpected challenges. We may see religious wars among the major powers in the region — but these will be the last of the religious wars.

The transformation will inevitably be a shift towards democracy and a common trust among all people. We, the Syrian Democratic Council, will be proud to have contributed significantly to this transformation. And the idea of self-government, of decentralization that brings power back to the community level, is the last piece of the puzzle in the current struggle for freedom.

As a free Kurdish woman, I firmly believe that justice is the solution. The principles of justice and accountability form the foundation of a stable civil society.

It is justice and accountability that ISIS stole through its “caliphate.” Now, it is justice that they deserve.

The international community must not forget the forces that fought on the ground. It has cost many lives to win security against the terrorism directed at the whole world. We therefore call on the free world to fight extremism in all its forms. We ask you to assume moral responsibilities to preserve and protect northeastern Syria. That’s the least we could do to honor the sacrifices made by SDF.

We emphasize to the international community that the defeat of ISIS, which represents global terrorism, is not merely military. We must now enter the post-ISIS phase. The military war is over. But now we are facing a war against an extremist ideology. This is a war of science and enlightenment, a war against ignorance.

The international community must be aware that ideas do not die by bullets. Our international attention has turned away from ISIS as a threat. But this is premature. We must finish the job of truly defeating ISIS.

Now, we must carry out a major campaign of education and awareness. This process may be arduous, but it consumes fewer resources than a military war. After the liberation of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor and after the elimination of ISIS, we urgently need resources for reconstruction. We need reconstruction of cities, villages, and places of learning. We must prepare for the return of people, refugees and those who were displaced to their normal lives and cities. The progress of a new generation is the responsibility of countries that embrace free thought.

ISIS has fallen. The caliph will fall soon. And we will never roll back history again.

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