George Cairns analyses the ‘Islamic State’ and discusses their recent attacks on Paris and Kuwait.
This year saw a series of attacks in France, Kuwait, Lebanon, Kurdistan and Tunisia, to name a few. Naturally, as attacks like these leave hundreds dead and a world in shock, opinions dominate discussions. Most condemned the terror attacks in Paris and Beirut last month as barbaric, disgusting, tragic and justifiably so. The attacks were reminders of how dangerous extremist ideology can be.
Some will cite these attacks as an excuse to further the racial divide and create major racial tension in Western societies, which has – at least in part – contributed to the problem. Racial tension causes social and cultural disillusion among minority ethnic groups, which is exploited by the Islamic State, in the hope of luring the young fighters. It is easy to label the perpetrators (acting on behalf of the Islamic State) as violent savages, but if we – as a Global community – expect to be able to combat and ultimately defeat the group, then it is important to consider what their ultimate goal is. Indeed, to do so, we must look at how successful (to use the word objectively) these strategies of attack have been towards achieving it.
It is possible that the ultimate intention of the Islamic State is to emulate the perceived glory of the great Islamic Caliphates, which ruled over much of Persia, the Middle East and North Africa, stretching as far as Spain, shortly after the death of the Prophet. This period, from about 660-1258, is often referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam. At that time, the Islamic world was one of the most technologically advanced civilizations on the planet. In Baghdad, there was a great library known as the House of Wisdom, where important classical works by the likes of Plato and Aristotle had been translated and catalogued, and healthcare was considerably advanced with hospitals of the time even treating mental illness. Society was innovative, intelligent and – for the most part – progressive. The Caliphate fell in 1258, when Baghdad was sacked by invading Mongols.
If this is the case, then Islamic State fighters see it as their duty to return the Middle East and North Africa to their ‘Golden Age’ by enacting a strict and orthodox rule on the region’s people, which they believe is in line with the Prophet’s original teachings. This is what Islamist extremists do; they blame social and political problems on a supposed ‘departure’ from traditional values. This is why they use archaic punishments such as flogging, stoning and beheading for a wide variety of crimes, because these punishments were contemporary in the time the Qur’an was written.
The Islamic State fighters believe they are following the most accurate version of Islam, closest to that set out in the Qur’an. However, this argument is problematic. Firstly, it is unlikely that – had the original caliphates never fallen – the societies would have reverted back to the more orthodox and more outdated form of law. ISIL, however, see it differently. They believe that it is a departure from these extreme, conservative values that is the cause of so many problems and use extremist ideologies to prescribe meaning to their disillusioned existences.
The group’s actions appear to be awfully misguided. Looking specifically at Kuwait, to attack a mosque during Friday prayers, during Ramadan is the most unholy of crimes. The motivation – it can be concluded – was none other than that the mosque was Shia. The Prophet warned of such people, of ‘corrupt’ officials who commit the most devilish acts in astounding detail, right down to their black flags and long hair. The Caliph Ali (The Prophet’s son-in-law) notes that he once heard the Prophet talk of how, ‘There would arise at the end of the age a people who would be young in age and immature in thought, but they would talk [in such a manner] as if their words are the best among the creatures. They would recite the Qur’an, but it would not go beyond their throats’.
These individuals exploit chaos and, in areas where there is none, attempt to create it. The group made its most significant gains following the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, where it took advantage of the country’s fast-corroding political identity and claimed the city of Raqqa for its capital. In Paris, Beirut, Kuwait and Sousse, the group attempted to cause chaos by dividing a racial divide – and so long as people divide the world into ‘Muslims and otherwise’, it worked. The Islamic State target Muslims more than any other ethnic group, and this is because they believe that Muslims who do not follow their extremist ideology, are ‘corrupting’ the faith itself.
This taps into something additionally absurd: that ISIL appear to be selective in which passages of the Qur’an and which Hadiths (laws and guidance based on the life example of the Prophet) they follow. Their solution to public dissent is to transform the Middle East into a monotheistic, intolerant caliphate and they enforce this ideology by ethnically, culturally and historically cleansing the region. One example would be the destruction of ancient artefacts in the Iraqi city of Nimrud, claiming to destroy the ‘false idols’ of their ancestors, which represent a rejection of God. Yet corruption and hypocrisy is rife within the group, and they have in fact, been discovered to fund many of their operations through the sale of these artefacts on the black market. How can a group claiming that these artefacts of idols symbolise a rejection of God, then justify profiting from their sale?
Certainly, this so-called solution of going backwards in order to go forward, has proved to be anything but; it has not worked in Saudi Arabia, Iran or in the areas under Islamic State control. What ISIL do not seem to understand is that, during the Golden Age of Islam, secularism did not exist, it was an alien concept. Nowadays, the political and social climate of the world calls for new political and social structures to reflect them. To take society back to the Middle Ages, is not a progressive solution to dissent.
When these attacks occurred, it once again brought the fight against Extremist Ideology to the forefront of everybody’s minds. By preying on the vulnerability of the young, ISIL will likely see these attacks as a means of furthering the racial divide in Western countries. Refugees will feel the tension the most, as they seek refuge from seemingly never-ending conflicts, whilst also having to tackle the hostile and suspicious attitudes that greet them in Europe.
So long as xenophobes use the actions of terrorist to justify their own intolerance, the problem will not erode. The continued association of Islamism and Islam that the intolerant make in times like this, will only serve to create more tension. Compassion comes not out of fear of these things, but from understanding the difference.