Mary Shelley’s epic novel ‘Frankenstein’ is a undeniable classic. Dr. Frankenstein, in his quest to create life, created an abomination, a grotesque and despised creature that terrorizes others. The novel is more than simply a story. Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ symbolises the continuous struggle between the responsibility of creator and creation. Despite the coverage ISIS has received, the attacks on Paris have galvanised the Western world to take a new and more aggressive stance against the terrorist group. In order to defeat ISIS, it must be understood how the group came into existence.
And so it begins
There is plenty of literature existing in explaining how ISIS came into existence. Each provide great analysis, but usually attempt to narrow it down to one or two of the following causes: the US invasion of Iraq, European colonialism, the Sunni-Shia divide, and regional proxy wars. Unfortunately, reality is not so clear cut. Just like Frankenstein’s monster, the gruesome body of ISIS was formed from a great many putrid limbs. It was created by a fusion of the different interests put forth by different actors with different agendas. Only when these different contributing sources are understood can the international community hope to create a comprehensive plan to combat ISIS.
The American invasion
The 2003 invasion of Iraq has been labelled as the “single worst foreign policy decision in American history.” Despite the presence of Saddam Hussein, a tyrant in his own right, the country was not plagued by violent religious fanatics. The invasion and subsequent short-sighted decisions made by the Bush Administration such as the immediate dismantling of the Iraqi army created the perfect storm for global jihadists to make Iraq the next front in their international struggle.
The involvement of Al Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Zarqawi transformed local opposition from simply battling the occupying United States. It acquired a sectarian flavour. However, with the death of Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s presence declined, and a relative calm emerged. But simultaneously, in an attempt to quell the insurgency, the Americans placed scores of military-aged Sunnis into prison camps. One of these prisons, Camp Bucca became a hotspot of radicalisation. Many of the core leadership of ISIS spent time here. It was in Camp Bucca that the deadly alliance between disenchanted former Sunni Baathists and extremists such as Abu Bakr Al-Badghdadi was first forged. With the radicalisation of many innocent Sunnis, future ISIS fighters were not in short supply.
The sectarian government
One of the main reasons for the rapid rise and extension of ISIS throughout Syria and Iraq is the disenfranchisement of the Sunni populations in these countries. This is especially true of Iraq. After the withdrawal of all US troops, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went on a Sunni purge. Maliki’s first act was to order the arrest of Iraq’s Vice President, a Sunni, who he referred to as a terrorist.What began as an attempt to purge all trace of the Sunni ancien regime soon turned into a brutal pogrom. The Iraqi government embarked on a campaign of murder, rape, and arrests against the Sunni population. Initially, the Sunnis attempted to use civil disobedience but it was to no avail. The world community continued to ignore the oppressive tactics of Maliki’s government. The Sunni population’s frustrations and resentment grew into hatred and thirst for revenge. The Sunnis in Iraq and later in Syria were looking for an outlet to address their grievances and provide protection for them against oppression. ISIS seemed to provide that.
The Gulf States
[via Arab Press]
Something that has gone under-reported is the extensive funnelling of arms and funds by citizens of Gulf States to ISIS. In the early years of its formation, elite donors from states such as Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia financed and armed many elements of ISIS. It was reported earlier this year that there was created a financial network to fund up to 100,000 ISIS fighters. There is no evidence that the governments of the Gulf are complicit. However, these states have been arguably lax in the prosecution of wealthy individuals responsible. Turkey and Jordan serve as the two conduit nations through which different groups including elements of ISIS receive support from the Gulf States.
The existence of a religious component to the rise of ISIS is a cause of great debate. Despite what many have claimed, the assertion that Islam in itself is responsible seems baseless. Yet there is a small sect of Islam, which lies at the heart of a regional power and Western ally, which has helped to create this monster. Saudi Arabia, in its early formation as a state formed an alliance between the House of Saud and the founder of Wahhabism, a puritanical and strict movement. The alliance allowed the House of Saud to rule and receive religious support, but in turn transformed the country into a missionary state exporting an extreme interpretation of Islam to the rest of the world. The continuous promulgation of Wahhabism by the Saudi regime has resulted into the explosive nature of Salafi-Jihadist terrorism that we have witnessed in the 21st century. The Saudis in the hopes of exporting Wahhabism have created a monster that is now bent on overthrowing the House of Saud itself. In creating such a climate, the Saudi’s have ensured that their Faustian pact will return to haunt them.
The rise of Iran and its Shiite proxies throughout the Middle East are a cause of alarm to the Gulf states. It is this which serves as a driving force behind their willingness to support any Sunni group willing to stand in opposition. ISIS undoubtedly fits the bill. However, the Gulf States may be playing a dangerous game. The Gulf States see the benefit of utilizing ISIS to fight against the Shiite expansion in the north outweighing the cost of ISIS’s direct existential threat to their regime. Like Frankenstein, they may have helped to create a monster, only to lose control.
[via Dardistan Times]
The problem of Syria
Without question, the events that unfolded in Syria after the Arab Spring provided the springboard for ISIS to launch and become what it is today. The culmination of all the factors above came together to create ISIS, in all their murderous barbarity. Syria is a microcosm of the region as a whole. It represents the culmination of all the factors that have led to the the destruction of the region; foreign interventionism, sectarian and ethnic tensions, proxy wars fought on behalf of regional and global powers, and the continuing brandishing of Wahhabism by Saudi Arabia that goes ignored.
A monster is born
The recent attacks in Paris, bombings in Beirut, and the downing of a Russian airline have created a global stir to do something about ISIS. But what the world forgets is that while bombing ISIS might lead to the eradication of the group, it will not eliminate the root cause. Employing a purely military strategy will be a fruitless endeavour. One extremist group may be destroyed, only for another to spring up in its place. Instead, the world needs to become cognizant of their actions and how it has led to the creation of ISIS. Mary Shelley said it best, “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel.”