It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … Another propaganda video. Another bombing. Another threat.
Frankly, it is nearly impossible to go a day without some headline pertaining to ISIS and the terrorist threats of those who believe their way is the only way, who believe those who disagree ought to be killed. (For those who argue that it’s not a conflict of ideologies but of culture, policies and resources, we’ll get to that later.)
While the source of all this animosity may be complex, it’s important to sort through the historical setup of its development.
Part One: The History of ISIS
Shortly after the Paris attacks, Vox World released a full record of ISIS, from origin to now, written by Zack Beauchamp. He began with its founding, in the late 1980s.
ISIS was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, years after al-Qaeda’s origin following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Nearly a decade later, Osama bin Laden — along with fellow extremists who had fought against the Soviets — had become al-Qaeda, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had created ISIS.
Rather than being a religious zealot, Zarqawi was a criminal whose proclivity for violence attracted him to the fundamentalist Islamic teachings of leader Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Together, they constructed a network of like-minded followers, now backed by a fully converted and most extreme Zarqawi. Unlike Osama Bin Laden, his most notable contemporary, Zarqawi was poorly educated and grew up a member of the lower-class. For this reason, amongst others, the two did not work together or even meet until post 9/11 events gave way to a truly shared goal.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 added fuel to the fire, with Saddam Hussein’s former Sunni army now a group to be convinced, rallied and utilized, while Zarqawi’s version of al-Qaeda, AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) led the Sunni insurgence. AQI fought against Shia forces as well as Westerners, using methods so vile even other radical Islamic rebels were quick to distinguish themselves from their movement. Fellow Sunnis rose up against AQI and Zarqawi (who died in 2006 in a bombing directed at him specifically), as the U.S. focused more troops and attention in Iraq.
After his death, and with the rise of Sunni tribal leaders, AQI’s influence and numbers began to dwindle. It was only due to the political turmoil of Iraq that AQI would not only survive but eventually become ISIS.
With the brutal army killings of citizens and protestors, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki not only incited anger amongst his people but created heightened tension between the already divided Sunni and Shia populations via reconstructed sectarian lines. AQI, now led by the deeply religious Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made use of those disbanded from Hussein’s army and strengthened AQI. In 2011, Syrian unrest combined with radical beliefs and wealthy investors resulted in the perfect breeding ground for ISIS and similar terrorist groups. Freeing and employing Iraqi prisoners gave them a surge of fresh blood during 2012 and 2013. That April, ISIS was born, “the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria.”
From Baghdadi’s declaration of ISIS as a “caliphate” (merely the only true Islamic state of this world) to the invasion of Kurdistan, and finally the attacks on Paris, ISIS has reached the point of international terrorism that demands a reasoned, decisive, united response.
Part Two: The Source
According to Robert G. Rabil, a political science professor and author of Salafism in Lebanon: From Apoliticism to Transnational Jihadism (2014), “The ideological roots of the ISIS can be traced to the Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad,” Zarqawi’s eventual AQI, which embraces “a Salafi-jihadi ideology.”
Rabil writes that this ideology is rooted in a return to the most primitive and “authentic beliefs and practices of the al-salaf al-salih (pious ancestors), who comprised the companions of Prophet Muhammad (d. 632), the followers of the companions, and the followers of the followers of the companions. Establishing an Islamic state or a caliphate constitutes the means by which these beliefs and practices are applied.”
In his July 2014 article, The ISIS Chronicles, Rabil writes this about the concepts directing ISIS actions:
“[The] ideology focuses on the concept of tawhid (oneness/unity of God). This concept is divided into three categories: tawhid al-rububiyah (Oneness of Lordship), tawhid al-uluhiyah (Oneness of Godship), and tawhid al-asma’ wal-sifat (Oneness of the Names and Attributes of God). Tawhid al-rububiyah implies that God is the only creator and to attribute any power of creation to other than God constitutes kufr (unbelief). Tawhid al-uluhiyah implies that God only is the object of worship and to worship other than God or to associate worship with God constitutes unbelief. Tawhid al-asma’ wal-sifat implies that God’s depiction is literally limited only to that presented in the revelation. Correspondingly, Salafi-jihadists apply a literalist reading of the texts of the revelation, comprising the Koran and the Sunnah (customs and traditions of Prophet Muhammad), and they uphold ridding Islam of all bida’ (reprehensible/illegitimate innovations) in belief and practice. As such, they enforce their vision of Islam in belief and manifest action, and they endorse waging jihad against idolatrous regimes that do not govern according to God’s rules.”
He is quick to note that “regional sociopolitical factors” are also to blame for ISIS origins, even pointing out the dysfunctional clashes in leadership that led to costly losses. However, their actions have largely been justified “on theological Salafi grounds, whereby the flag of tawhid rises and flutters, idolatrous orders destroyed, infidels disgraced, heretical people humiliated, and Islamic law implemented.”
With current Pew Polls reporting an overwhelming number of Muslims surveyed support Sharia Law, which basically condones many of the actions taken by ISIS and similar organizations.
Pamela Geller, a controversial commenter, published one of her readers’ observations: “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that with 1.6B Muslims, even if 10% of them were radical, that’s 160 million people: about half of the total US population. But in looking closer at their survey, I’d put the number closer to 25%.” This reader narrowed her focus to questions on the validity of Sharia Law and who should follow it.
According to the 2015 Pew Poll, 70 percent of a billion surveyed Muslims report that Sharia Law ought to be the law of the land. Furthermore, 32 percent of 840 million think it ought to be enforced upon everyone, Muslim and non.
The actual analysis goes on for a bit, and is available in PDF form, but the point is clear: Radical religious beliefs are very much alive, and they are in full support of terrorist activities. Basically, it doesn’t matter if thinking about this makes you squirm or feel like a jerk when your Muslim friend is around: You need to think about it.
Just ask a member of the Westboro Baptist Church how often they’re welcomed by members of mainstream America. The answer is: Never. We don’t accept indoctrination from fundamentalist Christians when those teachings fly in the face of compassion and a functional continuation of the human species. We don’t simply bow to cultural differences or condone hateful, violent actions. It’s one thing to have religious beliefs and various practices; it’s quite another for people to rely on outdated text and unverifiable ideas from a seemingly schizophrenic deity that justifies mass killings (check out the total death count in Syria since the origin of ISIS).
I guess the good news is that my younger Muslim acquaintances and their contemporaries are either ignorant or dismissive of such radical beliefs, and I suspect they simply aren’t answering Pew Polls. But the future requires some serious intellectual attacks on the ideas behind concrete, violently divisive Sharia law and its religious backing.
If love is blind, perhaps we should try some tough love, because hatred (especially when it’s inherently protected by religion) has impeccable eyesight and a far reach — and we need to find a way to counter that hate with reasonable expectations.
I know my personal view on religion as an unnecessary grouping of unverifiable beliefs has been heavily influenced by a youth spent primarily filtered through fundamental, conservative Christian viewpoints. In my conversations now, I often throw out jabs with the same venom as I perceive coming from someone who thinks I’m wrong merely because “the Bible says so.”
Obviously, every person has “intellectual” baggage to justify all of their emotional baggage and early indoctrination, and people who agree or disagree with me on this issue will find plenty of their own baggage if they’re honest. So let’s not pretend I’m just saying all this in the name of reason, and neither is anyone else.
However, I am sick of people pretending that religion can and should cover a magnitude of asinine beliefs in the name of “cultural sensitivity.” No matter what spiritual umbrella an assertion falls under, the dangerous beliefs ought to bother you more than the silly ones. It is both condescending to believers and (everyone’s favorite word) insensitive to victims of religiously-rooted terrorism not to address the connection between an old, un-adapted, traditional religion and what we see on the news.
Professor Robert Rabil said it well in his almost prophetic 2014 publication, so I’ll leave you with another extended quote:
“The international community should internalize the fact that the Islamic State is theologically driven to apply Salafist ideology in belief and manifest action by way of jihad in the path of Allah against idolatrous regimes and unbelievers to expand “God’s realm” on earth. Each day the Islamic State goes unchecked, the harder it becomes to defeat it. Therefore, the international community, led by United States, should pursue all means at their disposal to curb the power and expansion of this jihadi group, irrespective of any regional and/or international concerted political effort, which at the moment, seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.”
That being said, the Islamic State doesn’t include all Muslims. But that largely depends on the youngest generation to step up and change the thought process reflected in those poll numbers.
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.