The ISIS’s owned coordinated attacks in Paris have laid bare the truth that the terror group is a global concern. This article is an attempt to understand the ISIS objectively by delving into its objectives, the underlying factors behind its rise and its strategies.
What are ISIS’s objectives?
Currently, the ISIS employs global caliphate ideology more as a mobilising strategy than a realistic goal. The group’s immediate objective is to capture power in Muslim majority states. Its secondary objective is to dismantle all borders that divide the Muslims into 56 countries and unite them into an Islamic state. Its ultimate objective is establishing a unified Islamic state under the leadership and command of the promised Mahdi, the divinely guided one.
Attributing powerful eschatological strain to Islam, several Muslims theologians — like their Jews and Christian counterparts — maintain that there will be a final major confrontation—an apocalypse—between good and evil, resulting in the prevalence of Islam all over the world. Currently, the ISIS’s slogan of global caliphate is meant to recruit ground fighters, ensure sympathisers and at least render majority of Muslims as neutral audience.
To a number of modern day Islamists, the purpose of a believer’s existence in the world is to help create an Islamic order called caliphate. Only those Muslims, who commit themselves for the cherished goal, will be salvaged in the hereafter, they contend. While most Muslims do not approve of the ISIS savagery, majority still avoid even to speak against it because they fear that saying ill of an allegedly Islamic state is akin to speaking against Islam itself. Nevertheless, it was not the ideology of caliphate, which gave birth to the ISIS.
What gave rise to the ISIS?
Two factors are significant. Power vacuum engendered by the weakening of central authority has coupled with festering grievances on the part of Sunni population to bring about the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. There was no al Qaeda in Saddam’s Iraq, an epitome of an authoritarian order and centralised state. Post US-led invasion of the country, the US’s dismantling of the Iraqi central authority by disbanding Iraqi army created a power void to be filled by a militant franchise called al Qaeda only to be succeeded and overshadowed by an offshoot called ISIS.
The ISIS has transformed from al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in October 2004 to the Islamic State of Iraq by merging with other Sunni insurgents in October 2006 to the ISIS in the end. The de-Baathification of Iraqi state not only weakened the central authority bordering on virtual collapse of the state itself but also strengthened the Sunni insurgents when hordes of unemployed Iraqi soldiers joined their ranks. Additionally, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki’s policies anchored in sheer Shiite bias were to marginalise and alienate the Sunni population there.
Similarly, the pro-democracy movement in Syria — initially demanding rights from the authoritarian government — transformed into an insurgency when Bashar al Assad’s government started using brute force to suppress the Sunni majority’s demand for an end to more-than-four-decade long Alawi dynastic rule. Aided by the US and regional states — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and Israel — through the provision of training, money and weapons, the Free Syrian Army led a rebellion that paralysed the Damascus writ over parts of the Syrian state.
The ISIS, which emerged in Syria in June 2014, would receive weapons from ranks of the rebellious force. Thus, in the Muslim world, while capitalising upon weak state conditions to carve a space for itself, the ISIS exploits local grievances to its advantage. In both Iraq and Syria, the ISIS cashes in on Sunni grievances against Baghdad and Damascus. In the two countries, the incapacitation of central governments has helped the ISIS to emerge as an alternative state.
What the ISIS aims at in the West?
In the strong states of the west, the ISIS aims at sowing deep hatred between Muslims and the rest so as to carve a niche for itself. Ostensibly, the Paris shooting rampage and detonation of suicide vests were a reaction to the French air strikes against the ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Contrary to this, the ISIS is playing the tactics of its overshadowed militant organisation, al Qaeda.
The underlying purpose of staging attacks within France was a deliberate attempt to incite violence between Muslims and non-Muslims in order to deepen the division between Islam and Christianity. In a bid to evoke an extreme response from the French government to come hard on its Muslim population, to be followed by other European and western states, the ISIS left the French government in real quandary. Any stringent measure against the five million-plus strong Muslim community in the country will expectedly alienate some of them, providing a pool of easy recruits to the ISIS. On the other hand, no measure multiplies worries for French public and the government alike. Obviously, Muslim localities are possibly a favourite shelter and breeding ground for Muslim militants.
The net implication of the terrorist assaults has left Europe cautious to refugees’ influx from Syria. This will help the ISIS in two ways. One, the anti-immigrant measure will stoke anti-western feelings among the Syrian Muslims. Second, the ISIS will use the population as a human shield against the Syrian, American and western bombing of the ISIS targets inside Syria. Resultantly, any so-called collateral damage caused by western bombing will bring more youngsters to the fold of ISIS.
The world community needs a bottom up approach to tackle the ISIS’s terrorism. Strengthening the central authority of Iraqi state should be coupled with resolving the genuine grievances of Sunni Muslims.
In Syria, foreign intervention from international and regional state actors should be ended before free and fair election are held under the UN auspices followed by strengthening of the central government in Damascus.
In the West, especially France, no such measures should be implemented which may leave Muslims aggrieved and feel discriminated against by governments there. The ISIS is the enemy of humanity. Muslims have suffered more at the hands of ISIS’s terrorists than anyone else. Last but not least, the Muslim world should reform the syllabi of religious seminaries.