Islamic State, a Fundamentalist Threat to the West

Islamic State, a Fundamentalist Threat to the West

By Dr. Hugo Harvey, Strategic Studies Institute, Chilean Army War College
July 22, 2016

ISIS. Everyone knows the word. Saying it is enough to bring an image of death, decapitations, and limitless atrocities. Nevertheless, there are still a large number of questions regarding the origin, potential ways in which to control excesses, and what it means, in other words, its presence to the world in general and for the West in particular. ISIS, or the Islamic State is not just a terrorist group. It is not a state, as its name would like to convince you. It is a political and military organization that supports a radical interpretation of Islam as a political philosophy, with the intent of imposing that vision of the world by force to Muslims and non Muslims alike. Expelled from al-Qaeda for being too extreme, ISIS says it is the legitimate guide for all Sunni Muslims in the entire world. They have established what they believe is a state that includes large portions of land in Syria and Iraq and is governed from Raqqa in Syria. The group has had many names. It began as a group called Jamaat al-Tawhid wa-i-Jihad (JTWJ), founded in 1999 by Abu Musa al-Zarqawi. The name lasted until 2004, when it changed to al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers (better known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI). In 2006 it began calling itself Majlis Shura al-Mujahedin (Mujahideen Shura Council, or MSC), and until 2013, it called itself Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). It finally settled on the terror-inducing name we all know, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), where "al-Sham" refers to the “Great Syria”. That is, it includes Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. Daesh is the Arab acronym of its full name: al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. French President François Hollande, together with U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, refer to the group by this name, which has several explanations. First of all, to delegitimize the group and abstain from associating the group with a “state” as they hope to do, by confusing people. Secondly, they use it to avoid associating it to Islam, which seems to be one of the goals of the attacks in Paris: Invite repression against Muslims to begin a spiral or escalation of violence. Most importantly, Daesh also has a negative connotation. In fact, depending on its Arab conjugation, it may mean “step over, or flatten with your feet”, or “intolerant”, something ISIS rejects and has banned people from using to refer to them. Since May 2010, the leader has been Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but until 2014, his only known photo is from a police report resulting from time spent captured by the United States in Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5th, 2015, he appeared at the pulpit of the al-Nuri Grand Mosque, in Mosul, where he gave a sermon during Ramadan as the first calif in generations. That is how, in a short time, he went from a sought-after guerrilla member to self proclaiming himself as “commander” of all Muslims. Yet, it would be a mistake to affirm that Islam is a religion that promotes hate and death. No religion does. Some Muslims have wrongly interpreted a message delivered in the context of over 1,400 years ago. For example, slavery existed at the time of Mohammed, but Qur’an limits it and grants certain rights to slaves, it allows them to buy their own freedom, and exhorts their owners to free them. Something similar happens in the Bible in Ephesians 6:5-9, when he refers to the responsibilities of the slaves and their owners. But nowadays, when slavery is illegal, those words are irrelevant. That is the trouble with Daesh, interpreting everything literally. They don't understand that in 14 centuries, social and historical circumstances have changed, and some of what the Prophet said was appropriate for the context in which he lived.
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