ISIS and Western Civilization
ISIS and the Western Civilization
When the city of Paris was attacked on the 13th of November, 2015, eyes immediately turned towards the terror group Islamic State. There was fear among the people, but there was also astonishment. The group that rose to power in Iraq due to a power vacuum in the government had been in talks for their radical treatment of people and enemies, but no one had expected them to make such a bold move.
Speaking about the rise of the Islamic State in the March 2015 issue of the Atlantic, writer Graeme Wood describes the organization’s journey to its powerful stature not like that of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, by like a ‘prelude’ to a dystopian and totalitarian future, where subjects not any different from David Koresh and Jim Jones are in power and have control over the lives of millions of people CITATION Woo15 p “par 4” l 16393 (Wood par 4).
The Rise of Islamic State
In his book, the ISIS Apocalypse, William McCants recalls the time of the Syrian Civil War, which acted as a prelude to the rise of the ISIS. The terror group traces its origins to al-Qaeda, though it has now received a recognition and importance that its parent organization could never manage to. Established by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the tipping point that sprung its founders into action was the United States’ invasion of Iraq, even though the thought had been brewing for some time CITATION McC15 l 16393 (McCants).
McCants also recalls the role of the United States in the formation of the ISIS.
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According to him, when the US overthrew the Baath Party from power and disbanded the respective army, they inadvertently created a power vacuum. This, it turns out, was the outlet that the al-Qaeda needed to set up ISIS, for it was a prospect of leadership in a country that had been suffering at the hands of politics and fragile social structures CITATION McC15 l 16393 (McCants).
A civil war ensued after the invasion, and most of the power went to the ascendants of the Shia sect. This caused contention in the local Sunni Muslims, who were tired of being handed the short straw, but had never been able to change their fates under the Baathist rule. They tried to gain support from Baghdad and even in Washington, but their efforts were shot down CITATION McC15 l 16393 (McCants).
The vacancy in a position of power was the perfect opportunity for the Islamic state. It leaped at the chance to be able to manipulate people’s grievances, and thus patronize them to the point of the creating a military state. They found support in numerous radical Sunni Muslims, who wanted to be liberated from the clutches of oppression CITATION McC15 l 16393 (McCants).
How ISIS rejects political institutions
In his article, ISIS Is Not Waging a War Against Western Civilization, Peter Beinart says directly that ISIS is not a civilization. Where civilization is defined as a picture, a reflection of the culture of the people, and allow the populace to flourish through independent thought, the ISIS has been distinct in its treatment of power. Beinart calls ISIS a network of terror groups brought together by ideologies that are largely criminal in nature CITATION Bei15 p “par. 5” l 16393 (Beinart par. 5).
According to Cole Bunzel, to know the ideologies and direction of any organization, one only has to look towards its leaders. In the recent years, many heads and leaders in ISIS have come forward to promote their thinking and justify their actions. These have been condensed largely into two categories by Bunzel in his research: Jihadism and the Brotherhood Dimension. Being a child of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State shares with the former, which is the popular Islamic school of thought. In fact, the leaders of al-Qaeda and ISIS have repeatedly been shows addressing the people as followers of Jihad, and identifying their soldiers and supporters as members of the current Jihadi movement CITATION Bun15 p 7 l 16393 (Bunzel 7).
Jihadism is a school of political thought in Sunni Islam, and draws heavily from religion rather than a doctrine of principles aimed at good governance. While it always had supporters in a small minority, its vast reach in the recent years has brought it to the centre of the world’s political state. Today, Jihadism finds its roots in a community of scholars, teachers, people, websites and even social media outlets spread out all across the world CITATION Bun15 p 7 l 16393 (Bunzel 7).
The central points of Jihadism, and its ways of governance come from a very extremist interpretation of the Islamic scriptures and texts. These interpretations almost always point towards the supremacy of Islam as a religion in the world. They also shun the western democratic structure of society, and establishes a prophet as the master of all decisions. This prophet is supposedly guided by Allah himself, and is advised through means of divine intervention on occasions of decision CITATION Bun15 p 7 l 16393 (Bunzel 7).
That the ISIS is extremely pro-Jihadi is clear from its treatment of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. From the time he came into power in May 2010, to the summer of last year, the only pictures that existed of Baghdadi were one of those grainy mug-shots retrieved from archives from his stay in captivity in the United States. In July of last year, however, he delivered his first sermon as a caliph from the mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, thus updating his states, as Graeme Wood puts it, from a hunted guerrilla commander to the commander of all Muslims in the worldCITATION Woo151 p “par. 2” t l 16393 (Wood par. 2).
The Jihadist ideology and its clash with western ideologies of freedom, expression, and democracy are also clear through the ISIS publication Dabiq. The introduction and the foreword of the issue titled the Failed Crusade showcased the ISIS’s acute dislike for former President Bush and America in general. In fact, the latter’s intervention for peace in the Middle East has been defined as a step against Allah. The foreword goes on to condemn the West by saying that preachers of democracy have ‘disease’ in their hearts, and are trying to dissuade the Muslim people from believing in the State. President Bush, too, has been openly condemned as an enemy of the Allah himself. The most interesting, and also disturbing, is the speech by Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani, an ISIS leader, who was also glorified as Shiekh, along with many others in the publication CITATION Ahm p 4 l 16393 (Ahmad, Dāwūd and Mājah 4).
Adnani described the ISIS’s vision for the future, which entails capturing Rome. Speaking against the crusaders, he also goes on to say that members of the ISIS will not only invade Rome, but also break crosses (the symbol of Christianity all over the world), and take the local women as prisoners. The men, he says, would be sold into the markets as slaves. He further stresses on the eternal presence of the ISIS by proclaiming that should the current ISIS fail to do so, their sons, and the coming generations would surely fulfil their vision CITATION Ahm p 5 l 16393 (Ahmad, Dāwūd and Mājah 5).
When compared to the political models of governance in the US and other western civilizations, one finds the ISIS to be extreme in every sense of the word. It is not, thus, a state, but a dictatorship spurred on by men who proclaim themselves to be minions of God himself. On the other hand, secularism and the empowerment of the minorities is one of the principal ideologies of governance in several countries not only in the West, but also across the world. The constitution of India, in fact, has even included the word into its preamble.
The result is an authoritarian state that protects only a certain number of people, and forces the others to run for shelter. The most apt support for the statement would be the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, where several thousand people are fleeing from their homes in Syria to escape terror. The state holds one deity in power, and rejects all others as sacrilegious, thus putting all other faiths, cultures and their followers in danger.
Liberal democracy and the ISIS
The ideology, impact, and the structure of the Islamic State can be understood by comparing the organization with the story of Innana in the Sumerian poem the Descent of Innana, and the story, Gilgamesh. However, to first understand how its structure came to be, one can turn to political economist Francis Fukuyama’s book, the Origins of Political Order. An attempt to comprehend why the practices of running and building a state failed in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and others, the book explains a lot about the social scenario and the conditions that might have led to the rise of the ISIS, and how it differs from liberal democracy.
Fukuyama describes three components of political order, namely, State Building, Rule of Law, and Accountable Government CITATION Fuk11 p “312, 420” l 16393 (Fukuyama 312, 420). Describing the Muslim states, and their governance in earlier times, Fukuyama refers to the practice prevalent in several of these nations—one of making their slaves join the ruling class. The primary reason behind this was to isolate the slaves from their roots, and cut them off from their families. Thus, without a tribe, or a family, they would be entirely dependent on the power of the state, which would then make conquest easier, and ensure their loyalty CITATION Fuk11 p “190, 218-219” l 16393 (Fukuyama 190, 218-219).
Proclaiming to be fulfilling Allah’s vision of the world, the ISIS and its ideologies can draw a parallel with the above practice. The only reason the ISIS was able to maintain a stronghold was their timely acquisition of a position of power, and their manipulation of the people’s grievances. The ISIS believes Allah to be supreme, and all who are members of it should agree with their ideas. By functioning as the only true power in the state, they turn their subjects into their dependants. A liberal democracy is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Unlike the case with the ISIS, a liberal democracy hands people the power to overthrow their government if it is not able to perform satisfactorily. All sections of people in a liberal democracy have a right to vote, a right to practice their religion, and a right to express what they mean. The ISIS follows none of these practices.
The story of Innana, on the other hand, is one of injustice and frivolity. For whom, though, is a matter of contention for many. Innana journeyed to the Underworld to witness the funeral rites of her brother-in-law, but was instead scorned upon by her sister and killed. Although she was brought back to life later in the poem, there still remains the question of why her sister was so angry with her.
The background comes from the story of Gilgamesh, which also features Innana, but in another name, Ishtar. The story describes that Innana tried to seduce Gilgamesh and his friend, Enkidu. When her advances are, however, refused, she feels insulted, and begs her father to give her the Bull of Heaven, Gugalanna, who was co-incidentally, the very brother-on-law who funeral rites she wanted to attend in the poem, the Descent of Innana.
Gugalanna goes to war with Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but loses his life. Innana’s provocations further prompt Enkidu to tear off Gugalanna’s thigh and hurl it at her. Thus, Innana herself was responsible for the death of her brother-in-law, and her sister was thus justified in seeking her retribution by killing her. Innana was facetious, manipulative, and could not see the repercussions of her actions. Her story, thus, is about one God misbehaving, and other Gods and mortals suffering for it: she drove Gugalanna into war, killing him and thousands of soldiers along. While it seems difficult to draw analogies between a myth and a terror organization, the ISIS can be compared to Innana in their way of exercising control so wholly that a whole nation, and several others have suffered for it. Their insistence on spreading what they consider to be Islam has caused problems not only in the world, but also in the religion itself. In fact, they may not be considered Islamic at all, given that the totalitarian state they run goes against the religion.
References BIBLIOGRAPHY Ahmad, Imām, et al. “Foreword.” The Failed Crusade: Dabiq n.d.: 4-5. Web.
Beinart, Peter. ISIS Is Not Waging a War Against Western Civilization. 15 Nov 2015. Web. 7 Dec 2015.
Bunzel, Cole. From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State. Analysis Paper. Washington: The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World , 2015. Print.
Fukuyama, Francis. Origins of political order : from prehuman times to the French revolution. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux., 2011. Print.
McCants, William. The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State. St. Martin’s Press , 2015. Print .
Wood, Graeme. What ISIS Really Wants. March 2015. Web. 3 Dec 2015.
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