By Casey Heinisch
ISIS. You can’t turn on the TV or open a newspaper without hearing about them these days. But what is ISIS? It is safe to say that a lot of Americans have only a fringe understanding of what ISIS is, but many have a definite opinion on what they think of ISIS.
I feel that this approach is ignorant, and irresponsible. How can you try to give your opinion on something that you really don’t know much about?
When asked to explain what ISIS was, Student Tamara Locke said, “Its some kind of terrorist organization in the Middle East.”
In the eyes of many, yes, ISIS is a terrorist organization but in the eyes of others, they are a movement of religious fundamentals trying to spread what they believe to be the correct way of life. The correlation between Islam and terrorism is a trend we in America are familiar with, and this sentiment is what is fueling the bulk of the opposition in American eyes.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is the group’s official title. While it calls itself a state, lending the idea that is a legitimate government, the fact is that it is not an officially recognized state. That is not to say that it wouldn’t be recognized, just that ISIS has not asked to be officially recognized.
In 2006, Al Qaeda in Iraq began a brutal campaign against its citizens in an effort to cause a war between the sects of Islam, by attacking Sunni mosques, which spurred retaliation attacks against Shia sites. After the leader of the Al Qaeda in Iraq was killed, a group of moderate Sunnis formed, and almost defeated Al Qaeda, but ultimately was not able to complete the victory.
Following the withdrawal of American troops, the Iraqi forces were left disorganized and under trained, allowing Al Qaeda to regain a foothold and begin rebuilding. This new generation of Al Qaeda decided it was time for a change, and a rebranding occurred. No longer were they Al Qaeda and now they were the Islamic State of Iraq, and later an alliance with Syria changed it from ISI to ISIS.
The current leader of ISIS is a 39-year-old man by the name of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Al Baghdadi spent four years in a US prison camp for insurgents, where he is thought to have solidified his ideology and cemented his connections within the Al Qaeda Network. He was released in 2009 and immediately set to work, he rose within the ranks, and ultimately becoming the Caliph of the ISIS after his predecessor was killed in a joint US/Iraqi attack.
ISIS is trying to create an Islamic state that stretches across the entire region of the Middle East. It’s begun to enforce sharia law in all areas under its control. This includes the forced separation of the sexes in schools and public spaces, the mandatory wearing of full face veils by women, the banning of music and the enforcement of fasting during Ramadan. Sharia courts are known to dispense brutal “justice”.
With all of these seemingly oppressive actions against its citizenry, how is the group garnering support from those it’s oppressing? They have adopted time-tested tactics that many regimes have used in the past. Welfare programs. Feeding the hungry and tending to the sick. These small actions speak volumes to the people suffering in their regions. When a person is suffering and someone reaches out a hand to help them, it is far easier to convince the people that the organization is there for them, and that the old organizations are not. It solidifies their role as caretaker and good guy.
This leads to the question how an unofficial state attains the wealth necessary to engage in warfare and try to grow. It seems that they have taken a page from the mafia’s business plan. Extortion, threats of violence and robberies provide much of the necessary cash flow. The criminality of the group does not end there, it also applies into its recruitment techniques. Carefully orchestrated raids of prisons and detention camps have led to the liberation of hundreds of its members from custody.
Recently Al Qaeda has disowned ISIS for refusing to focus on Iraq and trying to expand its control to the entire region. Instead of trying to repair ties with the mother organization, ISIS has retaliated with a call to followers to see that Al Qaeda has become ineffective to the cause and for the followers to support ISIS instead.
However, because of the group’s rapid growth, there is the ever present risk that ISIS will spread itself too thin and take on too much without the manpower necessary for such endeavors. This opens the group up for attacks that it cannot defend against. With ISIS gaining in power, it is unknown what type of threat they pose to the region.
Recently the countries of the European Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations met in Paris and deemed ISIS to be an international threat, one that needs to be brought to justice.
The predominant American idea of what ISIS is may not be far from the truth, but I feel that it is a coincidence. It isn’t because of a critical look at the situation, that people have come to these decisions, but it is the result of what the media tells us the situation is, capitalizing on the “fear of Islam” that the mainstream media tends to favor.
I firmly believe that we must educate ourselves on the issues before we talk about them. It is not good enough to take someone’s word for it, because if we do that we are potentially spreading false information, and hurting the situation as opposed to helping it.
What I see as happening over in Iraq and Syria is a coup by a group of fundamental Islamic extremists, and is not in any way representative of Islam or its people.