United against terror or Islam?

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An ideological rigidity combined with a ruthless modus operandi makes ISIS a major threat in today's world. Besides the bloodshed, is the average Muslim a victim as well? Does Islam deserve to get a bad name because of an extremist offshoot?

Does ISIS have anything to do with Islam?

It's got a lot to do with Wahhabism, a stream of Islam followed by millions of Muslims. Whether the Salafis accept it or not, ISIS draws theological legitimacy from the teachings of Abdul Wahhab and the praxis of his immediate followers. Wahhabism denounced as un-Islamic many of the popular beliefs and practices prevalent among the Arabs in the 18th century. Wahhab rejected Muslims worshiping the dead or having any saints and making pilgrimages to tombs or special mosques. He asked his followers to return to the “fundamentals” of Islam, condemned practices of Shia, Sufi and other Muslims as invalid interpretations of the religion, and emphasised that his version of Islam alone had validity.

When the ISIS bombs a Shia mosque, the group says the structure was “unIslamic”. When it destroys a tomb or an ancient statue, its argument is that such properties do not have a place in its form of Islam. Minorities are being targeted because they are “apostates”. ISIS’s obscene savagery has parallels, too. It was Muhammad Ibn Saud, a tribal chieftain in central Arabia, who first used Wahhab’s ideas to mobilise sociopolitical power in 18th century. His son, Abd al-Aziz Ibn Muhammad, used takfir (the practice of declaring a fellow Muslim to be kafir) as a weapon to silence resistance to his political ambitions.

In the early 19th century, he attacked Karbala, and slaughtered thousands of Shias. ISIS does the same today. During the World War I, when the Saudis started mobilising power under another Abd al-Aziz, Wahhabism gained political relevance again. His Bedouin army, known as the Ikhwan, was infamous for its barbarity. It used brute force in the war, routinely massacred “apostates” and often slit the throats of male captives. This savagery actually helped the al-Saud family gain political power and eventually establish the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Baghdadi is actually emulating the Ikhwan.

Was ISIS created by the “Jews”?

A fundamentally weak conspiracy theory that lacks any material evidence. A few months ago Canada-based > Global Research had run a story quoting Edward Snowden as saying that ISIS was a Mossad (Israel's covert national intelligence agency) creation. Global Research is basically a conspiracy-theory website. And then Glenn Greenwald, the man who broke the Snowden story, had tweeted that Snowden hadn't said anything of that sort.

The "Jews-created-it" lobby says one thing to lend credibility to its argument. ISIS hasn't attacked Israel. While that statement is true, it doesn’t mean that Israel has created ISIS, does it? ISIS hasn't attacked Iran either. It's also a Middle-Eastern country which is on the frontlines of the war against ISIS. Baghdadi still spared Iran? Does it mean that Iran created ISIS?

Criticising the state of Israel’s foreign policy and its brutal occupation of the Palestinians can be understood. But blaming everything on the “Jews” is sheer anti-Semitism. ISIS' not having attacked Israel could be attributed to a number of reasons: 1) The fear of retribution — Israel doesn’t really bothered about civilian lives in counter-attacks; 2) Operating as a terror module within Israel, a tiny, walled-off security state, is not easy; 3) In countries where terror cells can't operate, local citizens-cum-ISIS sympathisers carry out mass attacks — like the Orlando shooting. ISIS may not be able to do that in Israel because the Muslim citizens of Israel may have better things to do.

The conspiracy theorists are discounting all these possibilities. Even from a strategic point of view, Israel didn't have to destabilise the Syrian regime. Though Israel still occupies the Golan Heights, the border with Syria was the most peaceful Israeli border over the past many years. There was a tacit understanding between President Assad and the Israelis. Then why do the Israelis want these barbarians to replace Assad?

Why can't ISIS be beaten? Does the West back them?

It's not easy. At its peak, ISIS controlled territories as big as Britain where some 8-10 million people were living. Its territory has shrunk ever since, but still the group controls two major cities in Iraq and Syria — Mosul and Raqqa — and has erased the border between the two countries. About a million people are living in Mosul and over 200,000 in Raqqa. So irrespective of your military might, you can't just take back these cities unless you go for a scorched-earth operation which will result in the deaths of thousands of non-combatants. The chance of ISIS using ordinary people as human shields can also not be shelved. And over the last two years ISIS may have built deep organisational structures in these cities. So, any successful operation will take time, and needs a policy shift from big powers and support from regional powers. But the complex geopolitics of the Middle East makes it impossible.

See this: ISIS is predominantly Sunni, fighting a Shia government in Iraq and an Alawi government in Syria that’s close to Tehran. Saudi Arabia, which is in theory against ISIS, has been locked in a regional cold war with Iran, and wants to topple the Syrian regime. The Kurdish militants who have successfully defended against ISIS are terrorists in the eye of Turkey. Turkey is opposed to both Damascus and Kurds — the enemies of ISIS on the ground. If you want to defeat ISIS in Syria, there has to be stability in Damascus and the Kurds should be empowered further. Both this is not happening because of geopolitics. The U.S. is arguably at war with ISIS. But Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are directly or indirectly blocking a comprehensive anti-ISIS strategy from emerging, are the U.S.'s greatest allies in the Middle East.

Where does ISIS get its money from?

^ The ISIS machine: Spewing blood in the East, spurting Oil in the West.

Usually terror organisations are run on money they receive from international donors. ISIS is also getting money through this channel. According to a Washington Post report, >ISIS received up to $40 million in 2013-14 from businessmen, wealthy families and other donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE.

But unlike other terror groups, ISIS is not dependent only on international donors for revenues.

One of its means of accumulating revenue is tax collection in the ‘Caliphate’. A 2015 report by >Thomson Reuters estimates that extortion and taxation could fetch the group around $360 million a year.

The group has also made millions from kidnappings. It also looted banks in Iraqi cities that fell to its hands.

But ISIS’s single largest source of income has been oil trade. It has reportedly established a network of oil trade starting from the production fields to the end user in and around the ‘Caliphate.’

They sell oil to independent traders at the oil fields, who get it refined in the mobile or local rudimentary refineries established in Iraq and Syria, and then the refined product is traded either to the IS-controlled or private oil markets or in the neighbouring countries such as Turkey.

Is ISIS a threat to India?

It may not be posing a direct organisational threat to the state of India. The group’s organisational presence outside the Middle East is limited. And the ideological influence of the Salafis in India is also minimal. But there are two problems. One, the possibility of turning lone-wolfs violent — a deadly tactic which was on display in San Bernardino and Colarado. Two, youths travelling to Syria and Iraq to join the ISIS ranks — like the thousands of foreign fighters in ISIS ranks, including the dead Jihadi John.

Attempts to compare ISIS with other communal organisations are simplistic. For the ISIS, killing innocent people comes first. You can’t negotiate with them. You can’t defeat them politically because it’s not a political movement, it’s a death cult by itself. Its ideology poses an immediate threat which, if left unchecked, will only weaken the socio-political fight against majoritiarian communalism.

Overall, ISIS is a threat not to just any particular nation, but to humanity as a whole. It's the opposite of modern civilisation. So, this is a threat every nation has to take seriously — and particularly the Muslim community, whose name these barbarians are using to spread their wicked worldview.

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