Monday, August 25, 2014

Non-Military Options in Combating the Islamic State and their Message

     The Islamic State (formerly ISIS or ISIL) now has the full attention of the United States.  This after the beheading of an American journalist in a retaliatory effort against US air strikes at militant advances in northern Iraq.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week provided startling analysis to reporters at a briefing on the historic terrorist group.  Gen. Dempsey asserted that in order to defeat the Islamic State, military efforts would have to focus on the group's positions in Syria as well as Iraq - an assessment many war-weary Americans are not inclined to favor, but true nonetheless.

     The United States has been reluctant to commit military resources to actively fight against the Islamic State.  Ideally, the United States would like to see a regional coalition in which neighboring nations coalesce in a unified front to uproot the terrorist "cancer" as President Obama has called the Islamic State.  In addition, the United States would like to see an inclusive government in Baghdad to bring together all ethnicities and backgrounds given that the last regime's authoritative rule significantly contributed to the rise of the Islamic State's resurgence in Iraq.  The Iraq front can be curbed with continued troop advisement and a more inclusive government to assuage disaffected minorities. The Syrian front is much more difficult as it is still facing a multi-pronged civil war that is pitting pro-government forces, rebel groups and terrorist organizations such as the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State all against each other.

     There has also been a call to rally religious leaders and government officials to denounce the radical interpretation of Islam and the Quran taken by Islamic State in an effort to bolster the global image of Islam as an institution of peace and discredit the ideology radical groups use to lure recruits to their cause.  "The top Islamic authority in Egypt, revered by many Muslims worldwide, launched an Internet-based campaign Sunday challenging an extremist group in Syria and Iraq by saying it should not be called an 'Islamic State,'" the Associated Press reported.  The Islamic authority suggested that the Islamic State be referred to as "al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria, (QSIS)" rather than the Islamic State.  Many Muslims disavow the practices by the Islamic State as they are not consistent with traditional teachings of the religion and tarnish its reputation globally, as seen in the United States after 9/11 with widespread xenophobic sentiment toward Muslim communities.

     In fact, according to British journalist Mehdi Hasan, two individuals who plead guilty to terrorism recently whom Hasan calls "wannabe jihadists," both purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran [sic] for Dummies before traveling to Syria.  "You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement," Hasan wrote.  Hasan also quoted from a news report of a leaked top secret briefing of England's MI5; "'far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could...be regarded as religious novices...a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.'" Hasan also pointed out some key trends for why many individuals decide to leave their loving families to pursue a life of radical militancy such as, "moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, for a sense of belonging and purpose."

     The Associated Press noted that they refer "to the extremists' organization as the Islamic State group or its combatants as Islamic State fighters" in an effort to undermine the group's aim.  The Islamic State maintains a large social media presence and attracts many misguided youths to the cause utilizing misguided principles of Islam.  At a recent forum hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington, moderator Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow and Director of Research and Foreign Policy, stated to Somali President H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, "I also didn't say Jihadist extremism. We Americans are still searching for the right way to describe this threat, and understand the threat, because we know that Jihad is actually a legitimate activity within Islam, and it's generally not a violent activity, it's a lifelong quest to become closer to one's maker, as I understand it."  Jihad is translated as "struggle," or "resisting" and is also referred to as the "Holy War" and is one of the five pillars of Islam.  Muslim scholar Mirza Tahir Ahmad, described Jihad in an address to Seville University on the five pillars of Islam by saying that "no religion at its source has ever permitted the use of force in any form whatsoever...According to the Quran, the Holy War, called Jihad, is in reality a holy campaign which uses the help of the Quran to bring about a spiritual revolution in the world...[Jihad] must be fought by means of the Quran and the Quranic message alone...Of course, defensive war is permitted only on the condition that the enemies initiate hostilities and raise sword against the weak, defenseless people...All offensive wars according to Islam are unholy."  According to Ahmad, the messages of new prophets that emerged were always suppressed and met with strong opposition, typically through force, which is where Jihad originated from.       

     The Islamic State is like nothing the world has ever seen as many officials have stated.  They likely will need to be met with brute force and an extended military campaign.  Although, religious leaders can play a large part in denouncing the views and ideology of the Islamic State in an effort to degrade their association with Islam and possibly deter others who are vulnerable to radicalization from using incorrect messages from an otherwise peaceful religion.  However, those susceptible to radicalization will most likely succumb one way or another, but the efforts of religious leaders may deter them if done correctly.  Furthermore, a concerted effort among all people will be needed to root out the terror and horror of the Islamic State.

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