Educate Yourself: the Islamic State
ISIS has existed ever since 1999, yet the first action that drew significant international attention was the capture of Turkish diplomatic workers from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, Iraq on June 11, 2014. The story reached televisions from Turkey to the United States. Questions began to flow in from every corner of the world, many wondering about the threat level of the “fledgling” terrorist group, others speculating how such a low-profile militia was able to gather enough resources to make such an ambitious move.
Little did they know that this small al-Qaeda breakoff faction would later create the largest crisis in the Middle East since the Arab Spring of 2010.
An extremist Sunni named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded the “Organization of Monotheism and Jihad (JTJ)” in 1999 as a small, under-funded Jihadist group to combat the Shia minority in Eastern Iraq. The organization remained largely under the radar, until a public declaration in 2004 by al-Zarqawi announcing the group’s allegiance to Osama bin Laden and the Afghani-based terrorist cell al-Qaeda.
The JTJ, now a sub-section of the growing al-Qaeda movement, began operations in Iraq, though the scope of the subversive activities performed were limited to extortion and suicide bombings, as the organization had not garnered much manpower or funding enough for anything larger.
In response to the increasingly anti-extremist policies set forth by the Iraqi government, the JTJ was forced to merge with other various cells in Iraq, ultimately forming the infamous “Mujahedeen Shura Council”. However, in the summer of 2006, al-Zarqawi was killed, leading to a shift in the direction of the militant group. After several more mergers with smaller subversive elements, the “Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)” was announced with a two-man executive council including Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
The executive council was short lived, however, when both leaders were killed by US-Iraqi military operations of 2010, and leadership of the terror conglomerate passed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
On April 8, 2013, having expanded into Syria, the ISI changed its moniker once again to more broadly encompass the extent of the organization. The “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” was officially “conceived” by its new leader, and began broad terror campaigns throughout the regions of western Iraq and eastern Syria.
Editors Note: It is important to note that the name does not translate well into English from Arabic, hence the usage of ISIS and ISIL interchangeably.
ISIL quickly seized Kurdish villages in northern Iraq, snowballing resources, weaponry, and manpower. Soon enough, they had sufficient capability to attack the Kurdish government directly, and launched a hostile takeover of Mosul.
Editors Note: Recent inquiries into the source of money found that, increasingly, the state is engaging in black market oil deals, using Turkish front companies to export the oil into Turkey, where it becomes indistinguishable from other oil. Also of note, there is evidence that IS is using this oil to pay people within it’s borders, as a kind of pseudocurrency.
On 29 June 2014, ISIS removed “Iraq and the Levant” from its name and began to refer to itself as the Islamic State, declaring the territory under its control a new caliphate and naming Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph. On the first night of Ramadan, Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami – spokesperson for ISIS – described the establishment of the caliphate as “a dream that lives in the depths of every Muslim believer” and “the abandoned obligation of the era”. He said that the group’s ruling Shura Council had decided to establish the caliphate formally and that Muslims around the world should now pledge their allegiance to the new caliph. The declaration of a caliphate has been criticized and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists inside and outside the occupied territory. On the other hand, the declaration has also been met with praise, with hundreds of young jihadis making their way to the State.
The Five-Year Plan
In an attempt to grab the attention of Western media, the IS has developed a five-year plan depicting former Islamic lands to be unified under the declared Caliphate. According to several maps posted by the IS’s extensive media organizations, estimated territory occupation will span from “Andalusia” to “Khorasan”. Due to the inconclusiveness of the map and the arbitrariness with which the borders were drawn, many are now debating how far East the IS intends to go. There is a large minority living under Chinese jurisdiction – the Muslim Uighurs – which number in the several millions, and are a possible stopping point for estimated IS expansion.
The European borders drawn by the cartographer behind the map seems to have sketched borders similar to those of the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s, perhaps with the goal of uniting the Muslim Tartars and Slavs in mind.
The IS ideology is deeply rooted in the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, calling for a return to principle worship practiced by Prophet Mohammad and the first three generations of his followers. Wahhabis are often referred to as “hardliner”, “orthodox”, and “ultra-conservative” by other Muslims and Western media alike, especially the practice of IS militants, whom adhere to “global jihadist principles” derived from the first Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in the 1920’s. Of further note, the Saudi regime is patently Wahhabi, and the kingdom itself was founded and is still run by a Wahhabi family.
Methods practiced by the new “caliphate” have shocked media outlets from all over the world, and have often been compared to al-Qaeda’s subversive acts as “more extreme”, as this quote by Bernard Haykel attests:
“For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself.”
By declaring a caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is calling all devout Muslims to defend the new institution, as has been done in the past by the various Sunni caliphates in the Middle East, yet scholars within the IS machine have attributed prophethood to al-Baghdadi as well in an attempt to unite Muslims from all over the world under “the will of Allah”. However, to many Sunnis, this claim is illegitimate, as it is in direct contradiction to statements in the Shahada and several sayings, which state:
“There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
As well as this hadith (quote) from the prophet himself:
“In My Ummah [Islamic Nation], there shall be born Thirty Grand Liars (Dajjals), each of whom will claim to be a prophet, But I am the Last Prophet; there is No Prophet after Me.”
The ideology and claims by the IS have been universally panned by clerics and critics alike, as well as Western and Middle Eastern media, and is often referred to by Muslims as illegitimate.
Since 2004, the group’s goal has been to establish a caliphate and demand the allegiance of Muslims all over the world, as a caliph normally has the rights to do (fiqh). Ever since their goals were realized in mid-2014, a new policy has been adopted, specifically aiming to destroy the Sykes-Picot lines drawn in the Middle East after the end of World War I, and is described more in-depth by the ISIS propaganda video “The End of Sykes-Picot”.