Exploding the ISIS myth

“I married ISIS on the fifth day of May

But I could not hold on to her very long

So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away

For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong.”  

(Bob Dylan)

IT is not often I agree with former Thatcher aide and privileged Tory MP Matthew Parris, but his column in Saturday’s The Times rang resonant chords.

Under a heading ‘We’ve become the Isis Propaganda Machine’, Mr Parris writes at some length why “British jihadists pose little threat to us and are no different to adventurers who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War.”

On the back of last week’s reports about three Muslim women from Bradford fleeing to Syria with their children – supposedly to join the insurgency – the columnist takes apart the ISIS bogeyman ideal and analyses the figures citing: “You can’t stop people going. It’s absurd blaming the airlines – 41 million people visited Turkey last year: the world’s sixth most popular tourist destination.

“And on any scale, the numbers are small. The government thinks that in the past four years maybe about 700 ISIS sympathisers have gone to Syria and Iraq. Many of these have been killed. Others will doubtless have come home disenchanted, sheepish, keeping their heads down.

“I’ve heard no evidence that a flyblown stint with murderous bigots in Syria has radicalised young British Muslims, who return: these are human beings like us, many of whom will have reacted to the reality of that dirty war in the same way you or I would have done – with shock and disillusion.

“Nor have I seen evidence that recruitment is growing, despite the media’s and the government’s unwitting efforts to drum up interest among young British Muslims.”

Later he writes: “It would be hard to argue that the Spanish Civil War was any less barbarous than what is happening in Syria or Iraq, yet it proved impossible to stop young (Christian and Atheist) idealists from Britain piling in.”

Indeed, in the 1930s here in Britain we applauded people who went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. In the 1940s we turned a blind eye to those that fought on either side in Palestine and Egypt. In the 1950s we encouraged those who joined the resistance in Cuba. In the 1960s and 70s we didn’t stop people fighting in various African conflicts. In the 1980s we allowed people to fight in central America. In the 1990s we again allowed people to join the fight on either side in the Middle East.

Yet, since 2001 our government has determined which side our people should fight on. And those that fight on the wrong side are deemed terrorists.

And if they dare return to Britain they are immediately regarded as a threat to our own country, have their passports withdrawn and are criminalised.

This is particularly alarming with regard to Syria, where our government, and the USA, armed and trained the same rebels which they now regard as “international terrorists”.

I hate ISIS and what its stands for. But who are we to tell British people who to fight for?

The logic is baffling.

So I catch a plane to Tel Aviv to help the IDF murder Palestinians. I would guess that as far as the British government is concerned a blind eye would be turned. The same blind eye that is turned constantly to the terrorism perpetrated in the name of Israel. Or the state terrorism of the Syrian government against its own people.

ISIS remains top of the news because it underscores all the demonization of Islam which this government wants to perpetuate to keep us living in fear and to smokescreen 9/11 and the West’s real intention in the Middle East.

And from a practical point of view this knee jerk so-called counter terrorism won’t stop this latest Jihadist threat.

The roots for this dangerous political stupidity run dep.

After 9/11, many within the US national security establishment worried that, following decades of preparation for confronting conventional enemies such as the Soviet Union, Washington was unready for the challenge posed by an unconventional adversary such as al Qaeda.

So over the next decade, the United States – with the UK hanging on its coat tails – built an elaborate structure to fight the jihadist organization, adapting its military and its intelligence and law enforcement agencies to the tasks of counterterrorism and counter-insurgency.

Now, however, a different group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has supplanted al Qaeda as the jihadist threat of greatest concern to the West and our “civilised Christian way of life”.

But ISIS is not al Qaeda.

Although al Qaeda remains dangerous, especially its affiliates in North Africa and Yemen.  ISIS represents the post–al Qaeda jihadist threat.

In a nationally televised speech last September explaining his plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, US President Barack Obama drew a straight line between the group and al Qaeda and claimed that ISIS is “a terrorist organization, pure and simple.”

The same line that is regularly drawn by Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

But ISIS hardly fits that description, and indeed, although it uses terrorism as a tactic, it is not really a terrorist organization at all.

Terrorist networks, such as al Qaeda, generally have only dozens or hundreds of members, attack civilians, do not hold territory, and cannot directly confront military forces.

ISIS, on the other hand, boasts some 30,000 fighters – many trained by the US and CIA operatives – holds territory in both Iraq and Syria, maintains extensive military capabilities, controls lines of communication, commands infrastructure, funds itself, and engages in sophisticated military operations.

If ISIS is purely and simply anything, it is a pseudo-state led by a conventional army.

And that is why the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies that greatly diminished the threat from al Qaeda will not work against ISIS.

And attempts by the Western media and governments to demonise them as terrorists who might arrive on our own doorstep as suicide bombers diverts us from the truth and act as recruiting sergeants for their cause.

Al Qaeda came into being in the aftermath of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Its leaders’ world views and strategic thinking were shaped by the 10-year war against Soviet occupation, when thousands of Muslim militants, including Osama bin Laden, converged on the country.

As the organization coalesced, it took the form of a global network focused on carrying out spectacular attacks against Western or Western-allied targets, with the goal of rallying Muslims to join a global confrontation with secular powers near and far.

But ISIS came into being thanks to the 2003 US and UK invasion of Iraq. In its earliest incarnation, it was just one of a number of Sunni extremist groups fighting Allied forces and attacking Shiite civilians in an attempt to foment a sectarian civil war.

At that time, it was called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had pledged allegiance to bin Laden. Zarqawi was killed by a US air strike in 2006, and soon after, AQI was nearly wiped out when Sunni tribes decided to partner with the Americans to confront the jihadists.

But the defeat was temporary; AQI renewed itself inside US-run prisons in Iraq, where insurgents and terrorist operatives connected and formed networks—and where the group’s current chief and self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, first distinguished himself as a leader.

In 2011, as a revolt against the Assad regime in Syria expanded into a full-blown civil war, the group took advantage of the chaos, seizing territory in Syria’s northeast, establishing a base of operations, and rebranding itself as ISIS.

In Iraq, the group continued to capitalize on the weakness of the central state and to exploit the country’s sectarian strife, which intensified after US forces withdrew.

With the Allied troops gone, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pursued a hard-line pro-Shiite agenda, further alienating Sunni Arabs throughout the country.

ISIS now counts among its members Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders, former anti-US insurgents, and even secular former Iraqi military officers who seek to regain the power and security they enjoyed during the Saddam Hussein era.

The group’s territorial conquest in Iraq came as a shock. When ISIS captured Fallujah and Ramadi in January 2014, most analysts predicted that the US-trained Iraqi security forces would contain the threat.

But last June, amid mass desertions from the Iraqi army, ISIS moved toward Baghdad, capturing Mosul, Tikrit, al-Qaim, and numerous other Iraqi towns.

By the end of last summer, ISIS had renamed itself the Islamic State and had proclaimed the territory under its control to be a new caliphate. Meanwhile, according to US intelligence estimates, some 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries flocked to the region to join ISIS, at the rate of around 1,000 per month.

Although most of these recruits came from Muslim-majority countries, such as Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, some also hailed from Australia, China, Russia, and western European countries (700 from Britain over four years).

As ISIS has grown, its goals and intentions have become clearer.

It seeks to control territory and create a “pure” Sunni Islamist state governed by a brutal interpretation of Sharia; to immediately obliterate the political borders of the Middle East that were created by Western powers in the 20th century; and to position itself as the sole political, religious, and military authority over all of the world’s Muslims.

Holding territory has allowed the group to build a self-sustaining financial model unthinkable for most terrorist groups.

Beginning in 2012, ISIS gradually took over key oil assets in eastern Syria; it now controls an estimated 60 percent of the country’s oil production capacity. Meanwhile, during its push into Iraq last summer, ISIS also seized seven oil-producing operations in that country.

The group manages to sell some of this oil on the black market in Iraq and Syria – including, according to some reports, to the Assad regime itself. ISIS also smuggles oil out of Iraq and Syria into Jordan and Turkey, where it finds plenty of buyers happy to pay below-market prices for illicit crude. All told, ISIS’ revenue from oil is estimated to be between $1 million and $3 million per day.

The group also controls major transportation arteries in western Iraq, allowing it to tax the movement of goods and charge tolls. It even earns revenue from cotton and wheat grown in Raqqa, the breadbasket of Syria.

Of course, like terrorist groups, ISIS also takes hostages, demanding tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments. But more important to the group’s finances is a wide-ranging extortion racket that targets owners and producers in ISIS territory, taxing everything from small family farms to large enterprises such as cell-phone service providers, water delivery companies, and electric utilities.

And ISIS continues to grow helped by anti-Islamic rhetoric pursued by much of the Western media and its political leaders.

That rhetoric is littered with hate against all Muslims and hateful towards those of us who don’t share the antipathy against them.

We are immediately damned as sympathising with extremists, despising our country, ‘living in a bubble’, not understanding how ‘most people’ feel, and being ignorant of what’s happening.

I live in Wolverhampton, in a locality favoured by Muslims and Sikhs, who live and work happily side by side with ethnic white Christians and non believers.

Muslims come in all shapes and sizes and with a very wide range of opinions of matters religious and secular, and that millions of British Muslims are worried about extremism, some of them worried sick.

We collectively realise that under the skin and religion, we are all the same… we are all human beings struggling to make a living and make sense of our lives.

And what is happening regarding our Establishment view of ISIS makes no sense at all.

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Author: seagullnic

Writer, editor, lecturer and part-time musician. Passions in life: my family, Bob Dylan, music of many genres, Brighton and Hove Albion FC, cooking plus good food and wine.

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