ISIS Explained: What is ISIS?

 

Part of the ISIS Explained series.

Part 1: What is ISIS?  //  Part 2: What does ISIS want?  //  Part 3: What makes ISIS powerful?

Part 4: 7 Suggested Ways to Fight ISIS  //  Part 5: ISIS Frequently Asked Questions Explained

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ISIS have taken responsibility for several attacks across Paris, Baghdad and Beirut that occurred within a few days of each other. This is the first in a series of explainers on ISIS, this lays the foundations of what those four letters mean.

 

What even is ISIS?

According to Wikipedia, ISIS/ISIL/ Daesh is a Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist extremist militant group and self-proclaimed Islamic State and caliphate. What’s not to understand?

One word at a time.

 

Militant

ISIS are an armed group, they use violent and coercive methods to achieve their goals.

 

Jihadist

This word is often translated as “holy war”, but is more accurately translated as “struggle in the way of God/Allah.” It is a religious duty to defend Islam and to seek self improvement as a Muslim. The word has become associated with the violent tactics of a minority of Muslim groups like ISIS, but many Muslims want to reclaim the word and take it back to its nicer origins.

 

Wahhabi/Salafi

Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX USA (2642870a)  Hayat Boumeddiene, far right  Hayat Boumeddiene 'appears in Islamic State film' - 06 Feb 2015  The latest video released by French-speaking Islamic state (ISIS), fighters may be Hayat Boumeddiene, who is beli

Credit: Photo by REX USA

Salafi and Wahhabi are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing. Wahhabism is an interpretation of Islam that ISIS has been strongly influenced by. Wahhabi Islam started with the founder Mohammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab in the 1700s who thought that, rather than listening to what religious leaders of the day thought about Islam, we should live more closely in line with the original religious texts. This approach to Islam now has a very bad rep these days, as being a version of the faith that is used to justify the very graphic forms of execution and control of women used by ISIS (and also Saudi Arabia). People have very strong and varying views on its relation to the broader faith and whether the way ISIS practise it is representative of the Muslim faith. While Sharia law, an Islamic version of law, does allow the death penalty under very specific circumstances, it should be emphasised that many feel ISIS distorts what the Islamic texts say to the point that they are no longer practising a kind of Islam that most Muslims would recognise as their faith. “Wahhabi” is considered by some who practise this form of Islam to be insulting, preferring “Salafi” instead. “Wahhabi” emphasises the name of the guy who started the movement, whereas “Salafi” emphasises the earlier Muslims and their practices whom the Salafist movement aims to emulate.  

It’s important to mention that ISIS should not simply be described as Wahhabi/Salafi but as Wahhabi/Salafi jihadists.  This refers to a specific movement from within Wahhabi/Salafis which emerged in the 1990s in the context of Afghanistan’s US-backed war with the Soviet Union. In a nutshell, some members of the Salafist movement came to feel that violence was a necessary means to achieve their political goals. These political goals essentially included leading a return to a society based on a “purer” form of Islam, which did not include democracy and which rejected the Shia political rule that had dominated parts of the region. So not all Wahhabi/Salafists are violent Wahhabi/Salafi jihadists. Early Salafi jihadist groups include Al Qaeda.

 

Extremist

What should be understood by the word “extremism” really depends on your point of view. When this word is used in conjunction with Islam, people might be talking about a strict and conservative approach to interpreting religious texts and practising religion. However, people using the word “extremist” might be talking about people who think grisly violence is a reasonable way to get what they want, in which case they actually mean militant. Words are tricky things, so it’s best to be sure we know what we mean.

 

Islamic State and caliphate

ISIS want to set up an Islamic State: a country run according to laws drawn directly from the Islamic faith. A caliphate is an Islamic state. It’s led by a caliph, a person considered to be a political religious successor to the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The laws of Western countries draw heavily on Christian morality, and Israel was set up as a Jewish state. ISIS control large areas of Syria and Iraq, and claim to have already set up an Islamic State there, and are running it according to a very controversial interpretation of Islam. Plus, the aim doesn’t stop at turning the current occupied territories into a full on Islamic State. To say that ISIS want world domination sounds like fear mongering, but they did say in their Dabiq magazine that they want to “expand” until their “blessed flag…covers all eastern and western extents of the Earth.”

 

ISIS or ISIL or Daesh

ISIS combatants with flag

Credit: muslimmatters.org

All these names refer to the same organisation and they’re all based on the same thing. However, ISIS has had even more different names in the past. The group used to be a chummy affiliate with Al Qaeda, and so were known to us as Al Qaeda in Iraq. The group became known as ISIS after they split off from Al Qaeda. They had aggressively taken over large areas of Iraq and had stopped being a team player. Al Qaeda cut ties with them, fearing they were giving them a bad name. Declaring itself a country of its own in northern Iraq around 2006, the organization began calling itself Islamic State in Iraq. Then they took a bunch of territory in Syria in 2013. This is when they became ISIS – which stands for Islamic State in Iraq and al-Shām.

Some people translate al-Shām to mean “the Levant”, which is a loose term for a large region in the Middle East . This gets you the name ISIL. Others go for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which gets you ISIS. Daesh is another name for ISIL used by a bunch of state leaders and media outlets, but ISIS have banned the use of this name. It comes from taking the first letters of the full Arabic name for ISIS: al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq we al-Sham, which gives you DAIISH. ISIS take this acronym as an insult, because it sounds a lot like the Arabic word “dahes”, which can be translated to mean “one who sows discord”.

“So-called Islamic State” is how the BBC choose to refer to the group. This is a way to sass them on the regular by refusing to recognise Islamic State as a legitimate country.

 

ISIS Explained: Islamic State in Iraq and al-Shām are an armed group who use violence to achieve the goals they have set themselves based on their controversial interpretations of the Muslim faith and the religious duty to defend the faith.

 

NEXT – WHAT DOES ISIS WANT?

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When is a Hate Crime not a Hate Crime? When it’s a Terrorist Act…

OK, what’s a Hate Crime?

The organisation Stop Hate UK defines a “Hate Crime” as a crime “motivated by hostility or prejudice towards any aspect of a person’s identity”

These aspects can include; Race, Disability, Faith, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation. Why can’t people just learn to get along?

So, can a racist attack be a Hate Crime?

The difference between Racism and a Hate Crime. A black woman holds up a sign saying "Racism"

Doesn’t matter if it’s Racism or a Hate Crime. Just don’t.

For an act to be classed as a Hate Crime it has to break criminal law.

So if a physical attack is made because of a person’s skin colour, yes, it is a hate crime because the law has been broken.

However if a racist comment is made, it may be categorized as a Hate Incident.

If the police decide no law has been broken then it’s defined as an incident not a crime, but still motivated by hate.

Even though no laws are broken, you’ll still get in trouble. If reported to police they would still record this as a Non Crime Incident. Sorry, there’s no escape for being a racist.

What’s the difference between a Hate Crime and a Terrorist Attack?

The difference between a Hate Crime and Terrorism

Quite a big difference, actually.

Terrorism; the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Terrorism causes harm to life, buildings and infrastructure, resulting in fear within communities. If acts of terror specifically target a certain group within recognised hate crime strands (Disability, Faith, Gender Identity, Race or Sexual Orientation) then you could define these as Hate Crimes.

In an interview with KCUR.org Professor Steve Dilks from the University of Missouri-Kansas City states; that Terrorist attacks are often planned attacks to draw attention to a political cause, rather than a spontaneous attack for personal reasons. Terrorist attacks are often part of a larger plan.

Even when Hate Crimes are committed by a group, the aim is usually to send a message to people of a certain race, sexuality or gender, not make a specific political point.

For example;

In 1999 bombings in Soho, London; targeted the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender community (LGBT). Because the attacks targeted the LGBT community and ethnic minorities specifically this could be classed as a Hate Crime.

However the bomb set off by the rebel group the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre in 1996, was an Act of Terrorism. This is because it wasn’t aimed at a specific group of people; it was designed to scare and injure as many people as possible, and to make a political statement.

The Small Print: the definition of a Hate Crime is based on perception. Any incident or crime could be reported as being hate motivated by the victim or any other person. Some might argue the IRA attack could be interpreted as a Hate Crime against all British people.

So, can a terrorist attack be a hate crime? Potentially, though usually the motivations behind the attack make it one or the other. Basically, neither is very nice.

Why are we talking about this?

Hate Crime

Does the media report some Hate Crimes differently?

Yesterday in South Carolina, America; a white man opened fire on an African-American church, leaving nine people dead. The church’s pastor Senator Clementa Pinckney is among the dead.

At the moment very few details are known. The police have arrested a suspect, Dylann Roof and are investigating the incident as a Hate Crime.

On social media some people are already commenting on how the media is reporting this incident. Many people think that because the shooter was white, the media will report differently than they would if he was of another ethnic group.

What are people saying?

South Carolina, Hate Crime, Reaction on Twitter

#CharlestonShooting

What we learned; Haters gonna hate, we hate all crime, but it has to break the law to be classed as a Hate Crime.

Does the media report Hate Crimes differently if a white person is involved? Is doing that actually a Hate Crime itself?

Don’t be hatin’

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