Part of the ISIS Explained series.
Part 4: 7 Suggested Ways to Fight ISIS // Part 5: ISIS Frequently Asked Questions Explained
A global coalition of 62 countries led by the United States is fighting the terrorist group so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS). Different countries contribute in different ways. What’s the best way to tackle terrorist groups?
The USA loves airstrikes. It has used them on 2,600 ISIS targets since 2014. Many countries including Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia and France also got involved. The UK is bombing Islamic State in Iraq, but not in Syria. MPs voted against similar action in Syria in 2013. This was mainly because Iraq asked for our help – the Syrian government hasn’t.
A Parliament committee suggested focusing instead on bringing peace to the country. Sensible, no? Despite this David Cameron wants to extend airstrikes to Syria… but won’t risk losing a vote in Parliament.
Let’s face it, there’s only so much you can do from the air. A source within the Armed Forces told us that for every ISIS fighter taken out by airstrikes, another is recruited. Last year it was reported that Drone Strikes in Yemen were causing more people to join extremist groups. Their books are always full.
Air Chief Sir Michael Graydon says airstrikes aren’t enough to stop terrorist groups such as ISIS. We need to send in the army. This view is shared by Colonel Richard Kemp who calls the current US-led airstrikes “half-hearted”. Kemp believes the Special Forces should conduct raids to “kill and strike fear into the hearts of IS fighters.”
It’s unclear how many fighters ISIS has. The CIA estimated around 30,000 people. A senior Kurdish leader says the group has 200,000 fighters. It could be argued that a few SAS raids wouldn’t do much damage. The Iraq War cost the UK £8.4 billion, so sending across an army would be costly. With the size of the British army shrinking to 83,000 by 2020 we’d probably need backup. Russia however, say they are prepared to send 150,000 troops into Syria so we might see a partnership in the making.
The current situation in Syria is a mess. As well as ISIS the country is divided by a civil war between the government and rebel groups. Most countries agree that ISIS need to be abolished, but can’t agree on how Syria should be governed. The UK says Syria’s President Assad can’t stay in power due to his record on human rights. Russia on the other hand supports Assad partly because he buys Russian weapons. Sending soldiers into Syria without a long-term plan might not be the greatest idea and probably why there has been hesitation thus far.
Something you might not know: wars can lead to the creation of terror groups. Foreign Policy Journal describes how ISIS “was born out of the Iraq war”; President Obama calls it an “unintended consequence”.
There are two main types of Muslim: Sunni and Shia. In Iraq, the Sunnis had been in charge since the 1920s. However when the US and the UK entered the country to take out Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, they handed over power to a Shia government. The Sunnis who had mostly boycotted this process, were not happy.
ISIS began as a group called Jam’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. They were a collection of Sunni Muslim resistance fighters fighting in Iraq and Jordan. The group formed in 1999 and became a major force during the 2003 Iraq War. The group joined other Iraqi rebels fighting Western forces. Eventually they joined Islamist group Al-Qaeda and their fight against the West. In 2006 they and other Islamist groups created the Mujahideen Shura Council, which later rebranded as ISIS.
Many experts believe the chaos in the aftermath of the Iraq War meant ISIS was able to grow stronger. The Guardian describes that though the name may have changed “the group’s grievances have been largely consistent. Central to them is the belief that the invasion destroyed a regional order, ousting a stalwart of Sunni rule, and inviting the rival Shia sect to take over.”
If wars create terror groups like ISIS, declaring war on those groups legitimizes them as a state. This, as Matthew Norman at the Independent writes, is exactly what ISIS wants.
“A crucial way to help defeat ISIL is to cut off its funding, its supply of arms, and its trade,” says Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party. He pressed David Cameron to clamp down on Britain’s allies which may be providing support to ISIS.
Maybe he has a point. It’s easier to fight an enemy with weakened supplies. It’s estimated ISIS could be making up to $3 million a day selling oil from captured oil fields. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have all been accused of assisting ISIS. All three countries deny the charges, and considering as they are in the oil game themselves, chances are they see ISIS as a threat. Stopping people buying oil from ISIS would reduce their income and limit their operations. Trying to identify buyers is the hard part. The Green Party recently got into trouble for accusing an oil company of buying from Islamic State. Awkward.
One step further would be to crack down on all companies accused of War Profiteering. It is what it says on the tin, profiting from war. As we’ve seen above, violence and conflict provides a space for extremist groups to flourish. Though war profiteers don’t cause violence, they supply the resources and it is unfortunate that both the media and politicians might have their part to play in this process. Comedian Russell Brand believes we should question the information we receive from the media and politicians for exactly this reason.
“The media just want to create stories and tacitly support the corporations that benefit from wars in foreign countries – because they are the corporations that benefit from those wars.”
We don’t mean trolling ISIS supporters on Twitter like Hacker group Anonymous. Chancellor George Osborne takes cyber warfare seriously; it is seen just as much as a threat as it is a weapon. He’s investing £2 billion in a new National Cyber Centre to target terrorist groups online.
“If our electricity supply, or our air traffic control, or our hospitals were successfully attacked online, the impact could be measured not just in terms of economic damage but of lives lost.”
Does this mean we could do the same in retaliation, or indeed that we should be worried? This year regulators in the US announced that certain hospital drug pumps could be hacked through the hospital network. This could be used to give an overdose to patients. Yet though ISIS may have a cyber army, its soldiers need lessons on internet security. One ISIS member gave away his location by posting selfies.
Stopping young Brits from becoming radicalised would deny terror groups new recruits. It could also reduce the risk of attack from “home grown” British terrorists. The UK government funds Channel, a secretive de-radicalisation scheme which attempts to steer young people from radicalisation. Eight people a day were referred to Channel this summer.
Apart from salvaging potential radicals, there could be a use for them too. Charlie Winter from anti-extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation thinks former extremists can be useful in de-radicalising potential terrorists. Speaking to the IB Times he said that they know the ideology which will be taught to recruits and can offer counter arguments. Quilliam was set up by Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist extremist. Another British former extremist has created a cartoon series designed to discourage young Muslims from joining extremist groups. That’s not to mention several times Muslims took action against Islamic Extremism.
This is a controversial question. Should we try to negotiate with extremist groups? The British government’s official line is that it does not negotiate with terrorists. Negotiating legitimizes terror groups by acknowledging that their demands are real. However, it seems there are exceptions to the rule. In the 1980s then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated she would not talk or negotiate with the Irish Republican Army, seeing them as terrorists. It was later revealed that she had taken part in negotiation with the group. However, the communication did not lead to a deal. More recently the G7 countries made a pledge in 2013 not to talk to terrorists. Could current problems be solved by just sitting down and having a chat with ISIS? Somehow we doubt it.
Terrorism techniques are constantly evolving. It could be argued there is no solution. Governments and anti-extremism groups must constantly change tactics to keep up. Which approach do you think is best?
Take part: The Quilliam Foundation is looking for young people to create a short film to challenge extreme views.
Part of the ISIS Explained series.
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.
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.
ISIS are an armed group, they use violent and coercive methods to achieve their goals.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
They dominate our headlines, but what do we actually know about the so-called Islamic State? Who or what is it? What do its members believe in? What do they want? Are they really so powerful? How do we combat them? All your questions; simply answered in our five-part guide.
What even is the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Wikipedia says it’s a Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist extremist militant group, but what do all these words even mean? We broke it down.
Members of the group want to create a caliphate. What is this? What is Muslim Sharia Law? Is this actually anything to do with Islam or is the group twisting it to suit its own ends?
Islamic State seems like an unstoppable force. How powerful is the group really? Why are young Westerners attracted to join the ranks?
A global coalition of 62 countries led by the USA is targeting the so-called Islamic State with airstrikes. What’s the best way to tackle terrorist groups? Is dropping bombs the answer or do we need actual boots on the ground?
All those questions you had about ISIS but were too embarrassed to ask? Yeah, we answered them. Trust us, ISIS can be a tricky subject to get your head around. So we took a bunch of frequently asked questions and broke down the answers. What does ISIS mean? What does the flag say? How did ISIS get weapons and Toyota jeeps? Are ISIS terrorists? Is ISIS actually Islamic? All this and more, with simple answers.
A tonne of material has been written on ISIS and our understanding of the group is constantly changing. World leaders, journalists and scholars continually struggle to explain the group and its motives. If there are any definitive answers, it’s clear we won’t have them for a while due to the lack of information we have on the group. The information we do have is often conflicting and challenged. Most importantly we can’t claim to be able to explain ISIS as we cannot assume there is a rationality behind their actions that we can fully understand. This is not to say that they are just batsh*t crazy and fueled purely by evil. Instead, we are saying that the ISIS worldview may be so different to that of most Western journalists and analysts that they may simply be unable to wrap their heads around it, not with the little information we have on them anyway.
Take it from us – the guys doing the explaining – some things don’t have a rough and ready straightforward explanation. But what the hell, we thought we’d try anyway.