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Friday, October 24, 2014

Islamic State: The New Phase of Religious Extremism

My opinion of the Islamic State (IS) as the new phase of religious extremism, intolerance and terrorism published by Daily Times, however, for reasons best known its editors, they have removed IS from the title s well as text. ISIS which they use is no more, its IS now. ISIS was limited to Iraq and Syria, which has now transformed into IS, unlimited by any geographic state boundary. Click anywhere above for the published (and edited version).
Read below the unpublished original write up

IS; The New Phase of Violent Extremist Challenge                              

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Da’esh in Arabic, now ‘Islamic State (IS), claims to be a Muslim Khilafat, occupying the states of Syria and Iraq as a first step, to be followed by occupation states of the Levant, (Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and Turkey), finally encompassing the whole of Muslim World. IS is the latest stage in the continuous, increasing and spreading process of Religious extremism; a more lethal challenge to peace and stability.


Although, it has roots in much earlier movements and thoughts, the current extremism turning terrorist can be traced to the ‘Afghan Jihad’ of 1980s. Afghan Jihad provided a meeting ground for religious extremists from all over the world, especially the Arab Middle East, with international state patronage, that included USA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, besides others. Osama Bin Laden (OBL) and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi were among those many Arabs who came to Afghanistan during that time. Most returned to Afghanistan starting mid 1990s after finding it difficult to survive or bring revolutions in their home countries. OBL with more financial resources besides organizational capabilities organized Al Qaeda, bringing together various national and localized Jihadists together. These organizations targeted USA, West as well as their own states. Al Qaeda became the most important organization with status of an international umbrella for these Jihadis.
 Al-Zarqawi, kept his distance and independent identity from OBL, while avoiding any conflict. Zarqawi maaintained a separate base in Afghanistan and formed his own organization named, Jamat Al Tawhid Al Jihad. In 2004, he moved to Iraq, and had an arrangement with Al Qaeda. Al Zaqawi operated in Iraq under the name of Al Qaeda in the land of two rivers; also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. Aligning with other Jihadi groups in Iraq he formed Majlis Shura Al Mujahidin (MSM) in 2006, gradually distancing from Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda considers the US and the West to be the main target with the Muslim rulers aligned to west as second. Al Qaeda also considered attacking ordinary Muslims who may not be practicing Islam strictly as not a good strategy. IS and its predecessors are Takfiris; believing they have the right to declare non-practicing Mulims as Kafirs and thus legitimate targets of Islamic Jihad. They also gave priority to bring Islamic revolutions in Muslim countries than fighting the West. Al Zarqawi came closer to Al Qaeda, and led ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ against US, Shias, and declared Sunnis not agreeing with its interpretation as Kafirs. Though Al Zarqawi died in June 2006, his movement continued under its new leader Abu Hamza Al Muhajir. In October 2006, Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) was announced, marking the start of open break with Al Qaeda. Abu Umar Al Baghdadi, an ally of Zarqawi in MSM, became the first Amir of IS succeeded by Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi after his death on 16 May 2010. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi is known for leading an extremely violent movement of his own against Shias, non-fundamentalist Sunnis and foreign troops in Iraq before joining MSM and then heading ISI.
Though Al Qaeda and ISI continued cooperation, strains in there relations were also emerging. Al Qaeda was more for continuing the struggle without taking control of territory, ISI tried to get hold of territory in Iraq. The collapse of Syrian state as well as other states due to various popular movements, supported by the West and even the conservative Arab Monarchies provided a space, which Al Nusra exploited to push forward its strategy and approach to Jihad. Most of Al Nusra later joined of ISI to form ISIS in 2013. Its takeover of Mosul earlier this year (2014) brought it in international limelight. In June 2014, ISIS declared itself as ‘Islamic State’ (IS) and Al Baghdadi as Khalifa.
IS works ideologically more cohesively than Al Qaeda, but organizationally it remains quite loose. It appeals to all those who agree with its approach to religion and Jihad, to act on their own without waiting for much central planning and control. IS considers, central planning and structure will emerge with time out of local actions of those agreeing with its ultimate aim of establishing an Islamic Khilafat. IS challenges the current state structures and boundaries. It appeals to those already active under different names in different Muslim or non Muslim States. IS thrives on the vacuum created by collapsing Muslim States, relying on the belief and strength of existing organized committed Jihadi groups, or attracting activists from them to form new structures.
Although, Al Qaeda still holds allegiance of most Jihadi outfits in Afghanistan and Pakistan, IS is fast challenging it. TTP’s announcement of support, followed by announcement of 06 TTP commanders of allegiance to IS, is the first step towards a shift away from Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has been critical of the violent means targeting other sects of Muslims by Jihadi groups of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Takfiri ideology of IS appears to be closer to many such groups in this region, including the Sectarian organizations of Pakistan, many in TTP and even Taliban of Afghanistan. The odds of most of these, as organizations, as breakaway groups or individuals, attracted to the more violent IS are very strong. The increasing statelessness in Pakistan and continued challenge of State building in Afghanistan is creating welcoming space for IS. IS is the new face of violent Islamists, targeting State structures in the whole of Larger Middle East for control.
A large number of Muslim Clergy, including those agreeing with anti American and anti West program, but not with the methodology of various Jihadis, have condemned IS and its proclamation of Khilafat as well as its Takfiri approach. We may see a new polarization in the Muslim World, splitting Al Qaeda with some of it attracted towards IS and some towards the non-violent political pan Islamists. The weakening State establishments in their own right are also opposed to this new threat. In this whole polarization, the liberal democratic or left voices have no or much less space. However, this conflict within Islamists must not be exaggerated, as Political Pan Islamists initially did not approve of Al Qaeda and both initially did not approve of Taliban, but all ended up cooperating. The difference was who is in leading position. They may again find reason to cooperate after their initial conflict over leadership is over, probably this time in favor of IS.
The International coalition formed by US, of which some Arab States are also a part have started a war, that also marks a new phase in the post 9/11 ‘War against Terrorism’. Wary of the experience of ground engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the West does not feel ready to get involved directly. The action plan of aerial bombardments has a chance of not just weakening the IS, but also of further weakening the states in which IS will be targeted, as well as those states that are cooperating directly or indirectly in this ‘War’. This new challenge hitting at the root of the State system of the larger Middle East seems beyond the capability of these weakening States. Direct intervention by non-regional powers may also create violence that is much more widespread and destruction only matched by their non-intervention or the current planned indirect and remote intervention.
One can find many causes, accuse even more for it, and endlessly debate on it, but the challenge, more comprehensive and lethal than its predecessors, has arrived



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