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Mosul on July 3
Mosul on July 3


The recapture of Mosul by the Iraqi armed forces, with the support of the international coalition led by the United States, is a real achievement. ISIS has seen its biggest military conquest reversed, and its dream of an Islamic caliphate destroyed.

But none of this means that the biggest terror organization the world has ever seen is under threat. On the contrary. There are great chances that the group will actually end up being reinforced in the desert areas between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. As of this moment, ISIS loses the characteristics of a "proto-state" that went as far as controlling a land mass the size of Britain, and reign over nearly 10 million people. But its own defeat could also consolidate its image as the great protector of the oppressed Sunni Muslims.

This is actually how it was born and how it grew. ISIS is, first and foremost, the result of the sectarian war that engulfed Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In the last analysis, it's a Sunni uprising against the abuses, vendettas and oppression from successive U.S. governments, which used to see potential supporters of Hussein in every Sunni Muslim, and Nouri al-Maliki — the Washington-backed Shia politician installed as Iraq's Prime Minister in 2006.

The status quo was a breeding ground for extremist ideas in the first place.

This rising dissatisfaction was well exploited by a figure who, until then, only had had a minor role inside al-Qaeda: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the great ideologue of what would later become ISIS, after his death in 2006. His successor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, wasn't haphazard in choosing the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul to proclaim the birth of the Islamic caliphate. As Iraq's biggest Sunni bastion, Mosul was the city that suffered the most during the 2009 Iraqi and American campaign to eradicate al-Qaeda. In the years that followed, Shia troops took the city and turned it into a sort of inferno for Sunnis, seen then as they are now as potential enemies.

Torture, extortion, and murder became commonplace. It was therefore not without reason that when ISIS militants took Mosul in 2014, they were welcomed as liberators.

The past nine months of battle between ISIS and the Iraqi armed forces made it clear that the poisoned relations between the civilians — most of them Sunni Muslims — and the military, mostly Shia, have barely changed. Accusations of killings, extortion, and torture continue to pile up. The U.S. airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians. Many of those who were fleeing the horrors of war now live like prisoners in refugee camps.

The military victory against ISIS in Mosul hasn't altered the status quo that served as the breeding ground for extremist ideas to flourish so easily in the first place. On the contrary, it reinforces further the sectarianism.

ISIS is more than just a military organization, more than a proto-state, more than a terrorist group of religious fanatics. It's first and foremost a powerful idea. As recent history has shown, bombs and weapons aren't enough to destroy ideas, especially those driven by messianic fervor.

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Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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