ISIS And The Globalization Of Terrorism – Analysis


The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS), this unknown equation to all: neophyte at politics of the Middle East or hardened and experienced experts, seems to marry, at will, and expertly, too, sensationalism and defiance, to the extent that many people wonder, quite rightly, whether this organization-state is real or is it the cinematographic creation of Hollywood, for some grand design to serve the purpose of the West and countries of the region, or any other?

Many people of the region today believe that the ISIS communication approach is so slick, so technological, so modern that it cannot be the work of jihadists recruited in the hinterlands of poor Muslim countries alone. There is surely something big and sophisticated behind it, with an objective in mind: kick Islamism where it hurts the most: religious credibility.

Nevertheless, this questioning of the true identity of this mega terrorist organization will be brushed aside by invoking the sacrosanct “conspiracy theory” dear to Middle Eastern people, according to Western politicians and intellectuals.

Sowing terror

Islamic State's Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo by Al-Furqān Media, official media arm of Islamic State terrorist group.
Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo by Al-Furqān Media, official media arm of Islamic State terrorist group.

ISIS has brought to the third millennium horrible practices of the Middle Ages meant to terrorize enemies and subdue grassroots, such as public beheading or burning of imprisoned foes alive in cages, as well as parading them in cages in markets and public places. Only two horror practices are duly missing from this horror repertoire, which probably will come later on: sticking the severed head of enemies on spears and putting them at the gates of cities to set an example to incoming visitors or travelers, and public dismembering of enemy prisoners.

The Islamic State, unlike other nascent states is not trying to win the hearts and the minds of the other countries, to be recognized worldwide. From the very beginning, it showed its bellicose nature and belligerent attitude, and this is rather odd. So, from the word go this organization-state is taking a suicide path, beheading Americans, French, English, Japanese and burning a Jordanian pilot who bombed their positions as part of the American coalition to destroy ISIS.

For Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst and social theorist lecturing at the Birkbeck School of Law, University of London and author of many books, including the “Absolute Recoil.”i

“Does this make ISIS premodern? Instead of seeing in ISIS a case of extreme resistance to modernization, one should rather conceive of it as a case of perverted modernization and locate it into the series of conservative modernizations which began with the Meiji restoration in 19th-century Japan (rapid industrial modernization assumed the ideological form of “restoration,” or the return to the full authority of the emperor).”

However, the terrorist act committed in Libya by ISIS leaves everyone totally perplexed at the message behind the odious and abominable act of beheading Egyptian Copts on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.ii Of course the inferences meant from this horrible act are multiple:

  1. ISIS is everywhere either in the form of military presence or terrorist dormant cells or sympathizers ready to exhibit the flag or commit atrocities, or else ;
  2. Decapitating Christian enemies on a beach facing Italy, the seat of the Vatican, is a coded message sent to all Christians worldwide to tell them quietly clearly that ISIS rejects the Pact of Umar (630)iii which instituted the status of dhimmi (protected believers of other monotheistic religions i.e. Judaism and Christianity) under Islamic rule, and would physically annihilate male Christians of the Muslim world and treat their women as sabaya (sex slaves) as they did with Yazidi women in Iraq. In conclusion, this means that for ISIS the coexistence between Islam and other religions of the book is a thing of the past, and
  3. ISIS could, also, be eyeing a possible gradual invasion of Italy, one way or another, to initiate some sort of war against Christianity, just to trigger a wave of fear in Europe or maybe remind the Christians of the historical episode of the crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar and the spreading of Islam in Spain by Tariq ibnou Zayyad in 711.
The Amazigh leader Tariq Ibnou Zayyad (670-720)
The Amazigh leader Tariq Ibnou Zayyad (670-720)

ISIS members function in a very retrograde fashion, they don’t recognize the world as it is today: international relations, international world order, diplomacy, economic reality, countries as they are (see their circulated map below). They have their own vision of the world, their own conception of belief in which their violent version of Islam has the upper hand.

Even in the map the color used to indicate Dar al-Islam is black, as if to mean sowing terror in the hearts and minds of the Muslim population to keep them obedient subjects ra’ya and, of course, not modern citizens with rights and obligations. The black color could, also, mean terror for the rest of the world; ISIS strives to get respect through fear.

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, referred to here above, believes ISIS is not retrograde, it only has a complex view of the world:iv

“The well-known photo of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, with an exquisite Swiss watch on his arm, is here emblematic: ISIS is well organized in web propaganda as well as financial dealings, although these ultra-modern practices are used to propagate and enforce an ideologico-political vision that is not so much conservative as a desperate move to fix clear hierarchic delimitations. However, we should not forget that even this image of a strictly disciplined and regulated fundamentalist organization is not without its ambiguities: is religious oppression not (more than) supplemented by the way local ISIS military units seem to function? While the official ISIS ideology rails against Western permissiveness, the daily practice of the ISIS gangs includes full-scale grotesque orgies, including robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of infidels.”

In their map of the world, Spain and Portugal are back in the fold of Dar al-Islam under the ancient mythical misnomer al-Andalus and, also, Eastern Europe, referred to as Orobpa, that was under the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923) at its apogee.

Islamic State's Five-Year Plan
Islamic State’s Five-Year Plan

A big chunk of Asia including today’s Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh are named Khorasan but the map ignores existing Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia. The Qoqaz refers o the Caucus Mountains area meaning central Asia Muslim republic members of the CIS and ex-Soviet republics.

In Africa, ISIS brings to mind the old Amazigh (Berber) Almoravid (1040- 1147) and Almohad (1121-1269) dynasties that controlled some parts of Western Africa, but in the map the whole of western Africa is part of the Maghreb probably because Islam was introduced into these lands by the Amazigh dynasties in the Middle Ages through the unfair trade of salt of the north exchanged for the gold of the Ghana Empire (300-1235). The ISIS map includes an area called “Land of Habasha” comprising Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

The Land of Hijaz includes Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and Sham Syria, Jordan and Palestine + Israel. As for the Land of al-Kinana it includes part of Libya, Egypt and Sudan.

This map denotes clearly the underlying philosophy of ISIS, no concessions to the Christian West referred to as Dar al-Kufr “the Land of the Infidels” to be conquered by Islam as in the time of foutouhat Islamiyya “Islamic Conquests” (623-1050) that affected the following lands in Europe, Asia and Africa: Mesopotamia, Caucasus, Persia, Levant, North Africa, Anatolia, Iberia, Gaul and Greater Khurasan.

ISIS is not only returning to the early concepts of the conquests whereby Islam had for duty to extend the rightful religion by persuasion or force to the land of the infidels, referred to as Dar al-Kufr “the Land of the Infidels,” open to Islamic conquest and referred to in early Islamic literature as Dar al-Harb “the Land of War,” areas to be converted to Islam by force, if need be.

These grand designs justify the return to the polity of the Islamic Caliphate, bearing in mind that it was during the period of the Caliphates that Islam reached its apogee and was seen as a formidable force and an incredible civilization under which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in peace.

The return to the Caliphate system of governance is the return to the time of the Rashidun Caliphs (Rightly-Guided Imams) who ruled Arabia, the Yemen and the Levant right after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632:

  • Abu Bakr (632–634) ;
  • Umar ibn al-Khattab, (Umar І, 634–644) – Umar is often spelled Omar in some Western scholarship;
  • Uthman ibn Affan (644–656) – Uthman is often spelled Othman (or Osman) in some non-Arabic scholarship; and
  • Ali ibn Abi Talib (656–661) – During this period however, Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan (Muawiyah I) and Amr ibn al-As controlled the Levant and Egypt regions independently of Ali.

The Rashidun Caliphate was followed by three important other dynasties that perpetrated the system and the grandeur of Islam:

  • The Ummayad Caliphate (661–750) ;
  • The Abbassid Caliphate (750- 1517) ; and
  • The Ottoman Caliphate (1299-1923).

The concept of the caliphate seems to be awkward to many because of its reference to a past reality that is no more. For ISIS, it is the ripe time to return to this system of Islamic governance for the following reasons:

  1. In the Arab World, pan-Arabism has failed because it was conceived by Christians in the Ba’th Party to isolate the Arab World from its Islamic natural family;
  2. The Western-induced Arab Spring to set up Western democracy and mostly secularism faltered miserably and created chaos;
  3. The massive return of the Muslims to their religion, especially among the youth known as sahwa islamiya (Islamic Revival) proves that the corruption attempts of the West through globalization have been flatly defeated; and
  4. Even the youth of the West is converting rapidly to Islam as a reaction to the inacceptable corruption of the mercantile West and lack of spiritualism in their way of life.

No concessions to the Christian West

Unlike al-Qaeda that built its strategy on hitting both the infidels of the West and the miscreants of the Muslim world, through spectacular and daring terrorist acts conducted by secret trained operatives and dormant cells, ISIS is undertaking actions in the open, either in the territory it controls or through affiliated factions in other countries, such as the assassination of French climber Gourdel in Algeria by Jund al-Khalifa or the decapitation of Egyptian Copts in Libya, probably undertaken by some faction of the Islamist Libyan group Ansar ash-Shari’a, or terrorist acts by Boko Haram in West Africa and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operating in North Africa and Sahel countries.

ISIS is predisposed to fight the Americans and their 60-country strong coalition to death. Their fighters are said to be euphoric and in high spirits to die as martyrs shouhada and nothing in the world is going to stop them, not even the formidable and lethal war machine of America.

The strong and infallible belief in God, iman bi Allah, is probably the most lethal weapon of the ISIS fighters. They are not going to make any concessions, whatsoever, to the West. They will fight to the last man and make no concessions as to their belief and their message.

Unlike any other Muslims, the word concession does not exist neither in their vocabulary nor in their literature, for them death in battle is the key to paradise, Jannah.

The ISIS people believe that they have been sent by God to herald al-Qiyama “the Judgment Day” and to lead the battle of the apocalypse due to take place imminently in Dabiq in Syria and most probably when the coalition forces will launch the ground battle after months of ineffectual aerial bombardments. The ISIS believe that they have been chosen by God to lead Islam to triumph on earth and establish it as the only religion prior to al-Qiyama, which is the inescapable apocalypse that is coming imminently and will usher eternal life in paradise to the pious Muslims and eternal burning in hell to the infidels and the miscreant, according to the Islamic eschatology.

Fighters belonging to the Islamic State group in Anbar, Iraq. Photo from Islamic State propaganda.
Fighters belonging to the Islamic State group in Anbar, Iraq. Photo from Islamic State propaganda.

For ISIS, the West is corrupt, its ideology is based on the emasculation of the Muslim world through history, first by the means of the Crusades: First Crusade (1096-99), Second Crusade (1147-49), Third Crusade (1189-92) and Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Crusades (1198-1229) and, then, the horrible European Colonialism (16-20 centuries) that was initiated by France, Spain, Britain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Russia in the Muslim word for pure mercantilist purposes.

These two historical events have led to the emasculation of the Muslims and the destruction of their cultures, not to mention the death and the displacement of millions. To date the Christian West and East have not apologized for these crimes against humanity, in the least.

Worse, for ISIS, the emasculation is continuing unabated through lackey Muslim regimes whose agenda is to secularize the Muslim world for the West to be able to control it easily afterwards and exploit its riches unashamedly. For this and more, ISIS is not going to make any concessions to the West.

In an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, in the eve of the meeting organized by the American government in Washington DC to coordinate the efforts of Western and Muslim countries to counter Jihadist violence and extremism, President Barack Obama argues: v

Governments that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity.

The question, however, is: Within the light of this, would America put pressure on the Arab regimes to accommodate frustrated youth by providing them with jobs and economic opportunities and allow more space for democracy and freedom of speech, or is it just a political statement that will go down as an empty promise like many in the past?

While the Obama American administration struggled in its fight ISIS, many American politicians argued that the President avoided calling a spade a spade by not calling ISIS violence and extremism, Islamic. However, the Los Angeles Times had a different view of the matter:vi

Portraying the campaign against Islamic State as a war on Islam wouldn’t just be inaccurate; it would be incendiary and self-defeating.

Booty and bounty

From the word go, ISIS made clear its attitude towards women, in line with the Salafist tradition of the Muslim scholars Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) and Sayyid Qotb (1906-1966), for whom women are to be kept secluded in Hijab and at home to avoid public temptation leading to chaos fitna.

So, women are second class citizen and are there for the comfort of men, housework and making and raising children. They are confined to homes and kept behind veils.vii

Yazidi refugees escaping from the Islamic State receiving support from the International Rescue Committee. Photo by Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee, Wikimedia Commons.
Yazidi refugees escaping from the Islamic State receiving support from the International Rescue Committee. Photo by Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee, Wikimedia Commons.

In many ways, this treatment of females in the Middle East region is undoubtedly prior to Islam. It traces its origin in the tribal system in which women are considered “weak elements” of society: weak physically, emotionally and sexually speaking. Because of that Middle Eastern societies are patriarchal in the sense that rank and importance are decided on the concepts of physical strength and power, while power is derived from wealth, nobility and religious prominence.

Traditionally, in this part of the world taking the women of the enemy tribe as sex slaves is the worst of humiliations that can be inflicted on them; because it is about soiling their honor and dignity karama. To avoid this, in pre-Islamic societies females were equated with dishonor and fathers buried their newly-born daughters, it was referred to as wa’d l-banat. Islam, on its advent, banned this barbarian practice, but could not change the image and ranking of women within the tribal systems, nor empower them.

Today, the ISIS are using women as a weapon against the non-Muslim enemies by taking their female folk as sabaya “sex slaves” and even distributing written booklets (manuals) among their fighters on how to dispose of them for their pleasure and comfort:viii

“Chilling guidelines believed to be published by the Islamic State counsel militants on how to treat female slaves, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute.

The document advises captors they can have sex immediately with virgins, and even pre-pubescent girls if “fit for intercourse,” reads the institute’s translation. Fighters can have sex with non-virgins, although the “uterus must be purified.””

In the color-printed pamphlet entitled “Question and Answers on Female Slaves and their Freedom,” it is explained that capturing women is permissible if they are “nonbelievers.” It adds, “Female slaves are the women that Muslims took from their enemies.” The document was first printed in October or November 2014, and then later posted on an ISIS website.

This document states that Muslims can have sex with a nonbeliever female, for that matter even prepubescent girls.

The ISIS has pushed the humiliation of the Yazidi Christians by selling their women in an open sex slave market. Both Richard Engel and James Novogrod from NBC news related this terrible episode:ix

“Survivors tell NBC News that ISIS fighters entered Kuchu on August 3, stayed for several days, and eventually separated the men from their families. The men were then driven to the groves outside of the village, lined up and shot. Villagers estimate that around 500 men were executed. ISIS militants dragged away hundreds of Kuchu’s girls, women and children. Farida ended up in Raqqa, where she was sold as a concubine. Over the course of the next several months she was raped, beaten and starved. She says more than half of the 80 girls in the slave market in that room in Raqqa were from Kuchu.”

According to the UN, the ISIS at one time was holding an estimated 3,500 slaves — mostly women as sex slaves, and their children.x

The ISIS is a dangerous oddity

The ISIS has come onto the Middle Eastern scene at a time when the Arab uprisings of 2010 have brought a glimmer of hope to the Arab people, who have endured, over centuries, undemocratic rule, indignant nepotism, horrendous favoritism, horrible corruption, unacceptable abuse of power, terrible human rights violation and unbearable patriarchy.

With the advent of the Arab Spring and its domino effect with dictatorships in the region, lay people were rejoicing and hoping for the best in the future, but at the height of this promising revolution came the ISIS with a retrograde agenda to take back the Muslim world to its Golden Era.

Some people went along this with the belief that it will end the emasculation to which they are still subjected by the Western world through colonialism, exploitation and subjugation but that does not justify in the least the glorification of ISIS and its medieval beliefs and practices.

There is no doubt that the ISIS is a strange oddity of the third millennium and must be fought with no respite because it does truly give Islam a bad name.

iv. Op. cited
vii. Mernissi, F. 2003. Beyond the Veil: Male-female Dynamics in Muslim Society. London:Saqi Books.

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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