Economics · International Affairs · Politics · Public Policy

Diagnosing the Origin and Rise of the ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or simply the Islamic state (IS) has had the entire world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, grappling with shock and disbelief. The IS comes in a succession of other equally successful terror groups, but goes much farther with its clear articulation of a specific desire of establishing a Caliphate across the entire world and the business-like fashion in which it disposes of people, Shias and non-Muslims, men and women and children. This sets them apart from the other terror groups in that their structure is layered and doesn’t hover around a single entity; they organize their funding in way that can put an MNC to shame. The group’s public broadcasting of its gruesome beheadings and killings has succeeded in lending credibility to its dangerous nature like no other group had ever enjoyed and has had nations worrying that the long drawn-out war in Iraq has spawned another more poisonous war that could affect a much larger territory. This time the wrath of Islamic fundamentalism originating in the Middle East isn’t directed only at the West, but is likely to affect the rest of the world, including Asia.

So, the possibility of democracy in Iraq has to be shelved for an indeterminate time period. An interesting piece of allegation, although it seems far from the truth even though conspiracy theories vow to its veracity, has to do with the claim that it is the US that is using the IS as a proxy for fuelling unrest in the middle east, something that isn’t a first as far as the US foreign policy is concerned. Given the scale of operation of the IS, the outright collusion of the US seems unlikely, but the fact that the Iraq war facilitated the rise of the IS the same way the war in Afganistan led to the rise of the Al-Qaeda, and the world has witnessed how fatal that was for the peace in the region. This points at something systemically wrong with America’s democracy missions around the globe. But our interest here lies in exploring the roots of the IS and delivering a prognosis of the IS infestation around the world; so we ignore debating the truth behind such speculation.

The IS and its religious association can be traced back to Wahabbi Islamism that provides rationale to all modern-day Islamic militant activity. The US may try to underplay the role of religion and decry the ISIS as a mere criminal group with no connection to Islam, but it is pertinent that we understand the religious dynamics at play here and not merely ignore the fact that there is something wrong with the way Islam is interpreted by a major chunk of Muslims today. At the same time it has to be acknowledged that the ISIS-type militant activity has a lot of supporters who aren’t religious, let alone religious fundamentalists, and have political and sectarian scores to settle. But the apparent religious character of the group poses credible threat to India and other nations in South-East Asia who have already witnessed a growing cyber presence of ISIS supporters seeking to recruit fighters for the group, a development that has caught many eyeballs in the near past. The entire subcontinent is a tinderbox of deep-seated sectarian divide, waiting to catch fire. So, the intelligence agencies have to gear up to deal with the exigent circumstances that a growing ISIS represents for the region.

This problem is compounded by the fact that Afghanistan, bereft of US presence, is again grappling with a growing Taliban foothold. Recent happenings suggest that the ISIS has already begun to gain a following in the previously Taliban-held regions and is far surpassing the brutality of the Taliban dispensation. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the animosity that the people in the region share toward US and the West nudges them towards this new terror outfit.

The ISIS points to a radicalization of Islam beyond redemption. Moderate and liberal Muslims around the world have been denouncing this Wahabbi interpretation of Islam, but they are increasingly becoming a minority voice.

The US has been alluding to the recent capture of Tikrit by Iraqi Shia forces and the injuring of self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a US drone attack as evidence of waning ISIS forces. But there has been a significant rise in the IS presence in Syria and other parts of the middle-east. The assiduous adherence to the Quran in all its dealings, notwithstanding how distorted the interpretation, signals that the ISIS is pretty keen on spreading its malicious religious propaganda and isn’t likely to be affected by a setback as minor as this.

Moreover, there is growing evidence that there may be increasing sympathy for the cause espoused by the group from many quarters in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Turkey doesn’t want to intervene in so much as the Syrian Kurds fighting the IS have affiliations with Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant organization engaged in a long battle for autonomy. Turkey has to gain if the IS does harm to the Kurds. Saudi Arabia is torn by an ambivalence so vicious that it is throwing into question its commitment to the fight against the ISIS. Saudi Arabia’s readiness in joining the fight against the ISIS stemmed from the Saudi fear that ISIS may be trying to replace the reigning Saudi family by more compliant leaders pursuant to the Wahabbi ideology, a development that concerns them at the utmost level. But there are many sections in the country that applaud the IS cause and sympathize with the attempt to resurrect Islam in its Wahabbi form. Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s Syrian venture against IS, in collaboration with the US, is contingent upon its long-held ambition of overthrowing the Iran-backed Assad regime. If the US didn’t share this goal, then Saudi Arabia could easily back out.

So, the fight against IS would require concerted efforts across the middle east and would require a realization that the flourishing of IS could mean a terrible blow to the free world, this has led many stalwarts in International affairs to term this decade as the Rise of the Islamic State, as their influence is not merely restricted to the regions in which they rule, but in the minds of the millions of Muslim youth around the globe that have started to sympathize with them. Muslims across the free world have seen and tasted the sweet nectar of democracy, notwithstanding its many deficiencies, and would not want a fundamentalist Islamic group to take hostage their dreams and ambitions. It is time for the entire globe to come together and castigate the IS.

About the Author

Ansh GandhiAnsh Gandhi is currently pursuing M.Sc. Economics from Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune after graduating in Economics from Hansraj College, Delhi University in 2014. He has previously interned with the Economics department at the Alexis Foundation and is currently associated with the Rakshak Foundation, Delhi.

He possesses a special interest in areas related to International Affairs and Public Policy and follows these matters religiously. He also completed the King’s College, London program in International Political Economy with a distinction and has been involved in many projects related to public policy and economics during the course of his internships and graduation. Academically, he has stood well throughout his college life and his hobbies include engaging in discussions and learning new things.

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