ISIS, a problem to be tackled by the Muslim world
2016 will be pivotal not only in the Middle East but also the rest of the world as countries unite to battle the Islamic State (ISIS), the most brutal, extremist and well-funded jihadi movement to arise in the cauldron of Middle East politics in centuries. The fight against ISIS will be long and hard and not limited to Iraq and Syria, as Sinai, Paris and San Bernardino have sadly shown.
There are plenty of guilty parties to assign the blame for the rise of ISIS but topping the list is the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq, which purportedly possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). No WMDs were found but the chaos following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in “the mother of all battles” effectively destroyed Iraq as a multi-ethnic, secular state.
The two first acts of Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, were banning the Ba’ath Party and dissolving the Iraqi Army, leaving former party and military members free to starve in the new Iraq.
Not surprisingly, many of them turned to violence against the new, “democratic” regime — and many of them now have senior positions in ISIS.
The ambivalence of a number of Middle East governments has fanned the flames of ISIS’s rise, from covert fiscal largesse to Sunni extremist movements to Turkey’s tardy closure of its 511-mile border with Syria, effectively maintaining a “jihadi highway” for militants to flow into Syria, while smuggled oil and antiquities flowed out to the international black market.
There is also blood on the hands of international auction houses that purvey looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria to the wealthy for their penthouses.
While ISIS proclaims that its caliphate embodies Muslim tradition, its brutal application of its perverted version of sharia has led to millions of refugees rejecting its vision and fleeing to neighbouring countries. Rape, torture, amputations, crucifixions, mass beheadings, the burning alive of prisoners — such are the components of the regime founded by ISIS.
This violence leads to another problem in combating ISIS — the relatively muted criticism from a number of leading Sunni Muslim clerics. From ulamas to imams, stern denunciations based on the Quran and hadith labelling ISIS atrocities as un-Islamic are desperately needed, as in their absence many both in the Muslim world and beyond conclude that such silence amounts to tacit support for the goals, if not the methods, of ISIS. The topic of whether ISIS is implementing “true” Islam needs to be definitively addressed by all sincere Muslim clerics.
It is in the theological realm that the ultimate battle against ISIS for Muslim “hearts and minds” will be fought, a realm where the West and its armaments are useless and irrelevant. And ISIS is directly attempting to recruit disaffected Muslim youth with its slick videos, savvy internet presence and social media use.
ISIS in its brutal extremism has degraded into a religious variant of Nazism, pure and simple, which also had a sense of destiny, exclusivity and superiority reserved for the “master race” alone. Their creed, as with ISIS, was simple — submit or die.
The time has passed for assigning responsibility for the emergence of ISIS. What is needed now is not just military confrontation but a full frontal assault on ISIS theology, a jihad that can only be undertaken by Muslims and one that is long overdue, unless Muslim parents want to see their sons turned into killers and their daughters into uneducated chattel.
A case for cautious optimism occurred December 15th when Saudi Arabia announced that 34 Muslim countries had agreed to form an “Islamic military alliance” to fight terrorism with a joint operations centre in the kingdom.
While the coalition does not include Shia-majority Iran or Iraq, it’s a start, which, combined with clerical denunciations and staunching funding, may do more in the long run to defeat ISIS than any other move.