Dealing with barbarism

An offshoot of al-Qaeda, but more extreme than its parent, the Islamic State seems eager to prove its violent credentials.

August 23, 2014 12:04 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:28 pm IST

The execution of the American journalist James Foley by militants of the Islamic State is a shocking iteration of the group’s barbarity. Foley was a freelance reporter who had been abducted many months ago in Syria. It has now emerged that the IS had demanded $100 million to free him, and that the U.S. government refused, but made a failed attempt to rescue him. It has said it executed Foley in revenge for the >U.S. airstrikes against it in Iraq . The execution also came days after the Security Council resolution against the IS and its activities. The group continues to hold one more journalist and has warned that his fate depended on President Barack Obama’s “next decision”. From decreeing that women living in territory under its control would have to undergo genital mutilation, to the massacre of the minority Yazidis, to their latest atrocity, the IS is determined to send out the message to the world that it will stop at nothing to achieve its goal, which is to establish its writ across the Islamic world. An offshoot of al-Qaeda, but more extreme than its parent, the IS seems eager to prove its violent credentials. Yet, precisely in its barbarity lies the hope that it can be stopped. Even most Sunni Muslims in Iraq, where the IS burst on the scene in June, do not subscribe to its extremism or the violence that it espouses. Also, unlike al-Qaeda, whose ambition to propagate an ideology to the entire world through a hydra-headed organisational structure and franchisees makes it much harder to fight, the IS is — at least for the moment — a single entity, locked in its territorial ambitions.

The recent change of guard in Iraq, where >Nouri al Maliki stepped down as Prime Minister to make way for Haider al-Abadi, might be of help if the new government that is still taking shape is inclusive of the country’s minority Sunnis. The IS took birth in the violence and chaos that gripped Iraq post-Saddam Hussain. Mr. Maliki was propped up by the U.S., which helped it grow. But the jihadist group really came into its own in the Syrian civil war, and there is no denying that contributing to its dramatic rise was the U.S., which gave regional backing to all manner of extremists in the fight against Bashar al Assad’s regime. That the IS has recruited hundreds of foreign fighters is a cause for concern — dozens of Indians are also reported to have joined the group. Indian security agencies need to be wary of these jihadists re-entering the country and spreading the IS’s toxic ideology here. Foley’s execution is an attack on media freedom, but a group as brutal as the IS cannot be held to any civilised standards. India must redouble its efforts to rescue the 40 Indian workers in IS custody.

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