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Every time you turn on the news, it’s impossible to escape reports on terrorism and ISIS’s growing stronghold in the Middle East because this group has carried out many brutal attacks, beheadings and bombings. ISIS has broadcasted ruthless propaganda videos to the world that would make anyone cringe in horror. Even though this group is highly publicized, how much does the average American actually know about its motives? Would you be shocked to learn that its number one target is not the United States but in fact are Shia Muslims in the Middle East? Members of this group believe in the strictest interpretation of Sharia law and they will use violence against any Muslim or non-Muslim who does not abide by the law’s standards. ISIS is predominately made up of Sunni Muslims and in their eyes the Shias are the biggest culprits. In ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, authors Hassan Hassan and Michael Weiss write that ISIS leader Abu Bakir al- Baghdadi says, “…the Shia are religiously void, deceitful and only marked for death.” He then goes on to call for Sunnis around the world to carry out attacks on their own. ISIS does not stop at killing Muslims, it has also carried out attacks against Christians because they are committing shirk. Shirk, according to Farid Senzai, a Middle East specialist and professor at Santa Clara University, is an act that goes against worshipping one God and is the only act that cannot be forgiven.
While religion is a large part of the conversation when it comes to ISIS, it is not the only important factor. The ISIS group has a clear political agenda that has roots dating back to colonial times. In fact, some people believe that that ISIS has revived the Pan-Islamist movement. Arab nationalism took off in 1952 when Gamal Abdul Nasser led a movement to overthrow the monarchy in Egypt. He gained a tremendous following because he was charismatic and had a unique ability to connect with the Arab people. This form of nationalism embraced four main beliefs that united the Arab people including: their Arab identity and Arabic language, their common struggle for Palestine, their economic desire for socialism and their desire for a united Arab territory. The movement continually progressed but in 1967 Nasser led the Arabs into battle against Israel and things took a turn for the worst, resulting in the 6-Day War, which was a quick and embarrassing defeat for the Arabs. This failure led to the movements decline. Its decline created a vacuum for extreme offshoots to form. In addition, it created an opening for Islamism to rise and an increase of Islamist groups began to emerge such as, The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, AKP and eventually ISIS. So why does all of this matter? It matters because we have to define and understand the enemy before it can be defeated.
Islamism is the belief that Islam should play a key role in politics. In addition, ISIS also believes in the idea of a united Arab territory; that is why they are fighting so hard to dismantle Iraq and Syria. It even says it in their name, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; they want it to be one territory for Arabs. Their passion is rooted in their hatred for colonialism and how the British drew borders aimlessly that divided people who had things in common and had lived together for years. The British did not understand the land or their cultures. Vice News, an international news channel, released a video showing ISIS leaders bulldozing the border between Iraq and Syria and claiming that this was an end to Sykes-Picot. The Sykes-Picot agreement took place in 1916 where the British and French carved up the land. They determined that they would have influence over certain areas as would France and Russia. They also promised the Arabs the same land but did not intend to follow through with their promises. To this day, Arabs are resentful for the huge mistakes colonial powers made in the Middle East and for giving away land that did not belong to them. For ISIS, dismantling the border was a huge victory and a powerful statement. Analyzing this action gives key insights into their core political motivations. While many Muslims might believe in establishing an Arab territory, they do not condone the extreme violence and terror ISIS creates. The group uses religion as a front to make it seem as if they are following orders in the Qur’an, however, this could not be further from the truth because Islam promotes peace; Its name alone means “peaceful submission.” ISIS’s true motive is to establish a strong national identity that will legitimize its extreme and radical actions. It is important that people of all backgrounds understand this and do not let this terror group give Islam a bad reputation. Understanding the history and ISIS’s true motivations is the only way to effectively defeat them in the end.
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“Bulldozing the Border Between Iraq and Syria: The Islamic State (Part 5).” YouTube. Vice News, 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
Ritz, Erica. “The 100-Year-Old Agreement You Need to Know About to Understand What’s Driving the Islamic State.” The Blaze. The Blaze, 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
Senzai, Farid. “Arab Nationalism History.” Politics in the Middle East. Santa Clara University, Santa Clara. 12 Jan. 2016. Lecture.
Weiss, Michael, and Hassan Hassan. Isis: Inside the Army of Terror. S.l.: Turnaround Serv, 2016. Print.