What’s the deal with ISIS?
Disclaimer: I did not pick this title
Disclaimer: I did not pick this title
Background on Islam
- Monotheistic faith revealed through Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah (God)
- 1.57 billion followers (over 23% of the world population)
- 49 Muslim-majority countries
- No official central authority - mostly decentralized
- ISIS does not represent the majority of Muslims!
- ISIS, however, has the potential to affect many Muslims
Kaaba - “The House of God” located in Saudi Arabia
- Basic Islamic legal system derived from scripture of Islam (Quran and Hadith)
Roughly 5 areas of Sharia law:
1. Belief: Allah, His angels, His books, His prophets, the Day of Judgment and the
decrees of God.
2. Moralities: giving good counsel, humility, patience and so forth.
3. Devotions: the Five Pillars, alms, pilgrimage to Mecca, and jihad (war against
4. Transactions: business law, marriage, divorce and disputes.
5. Punishments: stoning, amputation, lashings, and retaliation.
What is ISIS?
- Islamic state in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
- A extremist ultra-conservative militant Islamic group
- They control large portions of Syria and Iraq and are expanding rapidly
- Known for:
- Extreme violence such as mass executions, public beheadings, drownings
- Fast expansion in territory
- Enthusiasm and strong social media presence
- Strong beliefs and lack of compromise
- Branded by the UN as a terrorist group
What are ISIS’ goals?
- To establish a Caliphate - An Islamic political-religious leadership which
centers around the Caliph (the successor to Muhammad)
- Re-create the early days of Muhammad (despite heavy use of technology)
- Enforce Sharia Law; no one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia law
- Wage war against apostates and non-believers
- Expand the Caliphate and gain territory
- It considers itself a headline player in the imminent end of the world
What are ISIS’ beliefs?
- All laws must be from God (scripture or Sharia law)
- They can not recognize borders
- Not allowed to vote (no democracy)
- They require territory in which Islamic law can be enforced
- This allows them to be a legitimate Caliphate
- There is “an obligation to terrorize its enemies” - argument is that doing so
hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict
- Crucifixion, beheadings, stonings and cutting hands are sacred punishment for
crimes, depending on severity
What are ISIS’ beliefs? (continued)
- The caliph must wage jihad at least once a year, otherwise he will fall into sin
- Followers cannot:
- Sell alcohol or drugs
- Wear Western clothes
- Shave one’s beard
- Vote in an election - even for a Muslim candidate
- Roughly 200 million Muslims are marked for death, as well as the heads of state of every Muslim
country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not
made by God
- Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims
Where did they come from?
- ISIS was technically formed by uniting several groups
- al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia
- Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq
- Jund al-Sahhaba [Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions]
- Branched from Al-Qaeda, but Al-Qaeda cut ties in 2014
- ISIS failed to consult al-Qaeda, and was “notoriously intransigent”
Quotes from Adam Gadahn (of Al Qaeda)
- Despite once being sympathetic toward ISIS when it was “seen as a weak and
oppressed force valiantly fighting brutal tyrannies,” Al-Qaeda can no longer
continue to support ISIS after the attacking, displacing, killing and enslaving of
“largely powerless and defenseless minorities”
- “But now that it has become clear that [ISIS] has—unfortunately—adopted
some of the traits, methods and tactics of those same tyrannies, it no longer
holds the same place in our hearts that it did once upon a time”
Are they any different from other radical groups?
ISIS != (Al-Qaeda OR Taliban OR Hamas OR etc…)
- To the Islamic State, any act of political governance/following of man made law
- Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan exchanged ambassadors with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and
the United Arab Emirates
- Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas have participated in democracy, and even hold a seat in
the UN. Negotiation and accommodation have worked, at times, for the Taliban as well
- Al-Qaeda acts like an underground political movement, operating as a
geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells
How did they become so powerful?
- Huge part is usage of social media
- Videos from ISIS show that it’s an Islamic Utopia
- About 2000-2500 foreign nationals joining each month
- Many are academics with strong religious beliefs who want to live a purer life
- Lack of compromises and sheer intensity of beliefs strengthen the members
- As a caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all
Why are people joining?
- Heroism associated with leaving family behind for the sake of God
- A sense of empowerment; freedom to follow a pure version of their religion
- An escape from Islamophobic cultures of the West - desire to not live as “less
than a citizen”
- Attracts those who feel isolated with a sense of belonging
- It is considered a sin for muslims not to live in the Caliphate
- They want to live under true Sharia, and many want martyrdom
- Locals are in lands with bad governance, which is only valued for their oil
What are the impacts of ISIS?
- More radicalized actions from Muslims around the world
- Locals are hugely affected by the events - mass refugees, mass killings
- Christians are allowed to live in ISIS territory provided that they pay a tax, but
most have left the area
- Destruction of cultural heritage sites, and any religious buildings/symbols that
are not of Islam
- A few “lone wolf” supporters of the Islamic State have attacked Western
targets, and more attacks can come, but most are solo acts, and largely due to
frustration over failed immigration attempts
What is the world response?
- Americans/Canadians (until recently) are supporting Kurds/Iraq and Saudi
governments in the fight against ISIS
- Recently Russia joined this effort
- Bleeding ISIS seems to be the best of bad military options
- Military action is argued by some to be counter productive
- An invasion could rally even more supporters
- “The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it
allows us to predict some of the group’s actions. Osama bin Laden was seldom
predictable, operating in underground cells”
- “Its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of
change, even if that change might ensure its survival”
- “We tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to
an organization that has decisively eclipsed it.”
What can we do?
- Reduce Islamophobia in the West
- Try to understand the issues, and not hastily pick sides
- Help control the usage of social media, using satire!
- Eg. Isis-chan
- “Pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology
that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to
- Vice S03E12 - "Enemies at the Gates & Global Jihad“
- Wikipedia articles on ISIL/Sunni Islam