Uncovering the Islamic State

Mar 7th, 2016 | By | Category: Featured

Who supports the Islamic State (ISIS) and why do Sunni nations seem to tolerate it?

By Andrew Harrod, PhD

Patrick Sookhdeo, a Muslim convert to Christianity and scholar of Islamic faith and politics, “suggests a pessimistic prospect; Islamic State is likely to remain a persistent threat, even if it suffers overwhelming defeats.”  So reads his recent book Unmasking Islamic State:  Revealing Their Motivation, Theology, and End Time Predictions, an insightful primer into the Islamic State (IS) jihadist polity currently ravaging Mesopotamia and beyond.

unmasking islamic stateIslamic State “is the most well organized Sunni jihadi organization in the Middle East and may well have the most sophisticated structure of any terrorist organization currently active,” Sookhdeo writes. Islamic State presents an alliance of convenience between high ranking military officers and officials from Saddam Hussein’s deposed Baathist dictatorship and jihadist organizations that originally fought Iraq’s American-led regime change.  The result is a “powerful fusion of Salafi/Jihadi ideology with professional military and counterintelligence strategies and urban warfare tactics, as well as bureaucratic know how needed to run state.”

“With the declaration of the caliphate Islamic State has become the leading jihadi group worldwide, supplanting Al-Qaeda [AQ] as perceived leader of the radical Islamist movements,” assesses Sookhdeo.  Kidnapping for extortion, looting of bank gold deposits and other valuables like antiquities, and black market oil sales mean that “Islamic State has become the richest jihadi organization in the world,” worth over $2 billion in some estimates.  Having “constructed a viable territorial state,” Islamic State “is constantly opening up new, unexpected fronts and bringing other jihadi groups under its umbrella” globally.  The “information strategy now employed by Patrick Sookhdeo, Andrew Harrod, Islamic State, Saudi, ISIS, ISIL makes most of Al-Qaeda’s efforts seem old-fashioned.”

Amidst such advantages the “Islamic State has already demonstrated that it can recover from defeats and from huge loses of personnel, including experienced leaders,” Sookhdeo notes.  An estimated 20,000 recruits from some 80 countries indicate that “support for Islamic State seems to be a growing global phenomenon.”  Given Islamic State’s apocalyptic beliefs, it welcomes conflict and actually “hopes that its brutal actions will provoke the West to dispatch its armies, thus triggering the final eschatological battles in which Muslims are sure to emerge victorious.”

“Hampered by their multicultural postmodern and politically correct culture,” Sookhdeo observes, “Western governments appear caught on the back foot, unwilling to face up to the religious dimension of Islamic State.”  Yet “its doctrines are deeply embedded in traditional Islam and its source texts” and “[a]spects of it’s ideology actually bear some striking similarities to the thinking of some of the main influencers of Muslim opinion today.”  The “ideologies propagated by Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment, based on its Wahhabi legacy, are actually in many ways hard to distinguish from the ideology of Islamic State.”  In particular, “Islamic State jihadi ideology repeats the classical doctrine of spoils of war being the legitimate and God-given provision for warriors in jihad and for the Islamic state.  Spoils include land, property and slaves.”

“There may also be a greater degree of cultural acceptance of many of Islamic State practices in the Middle East than is often realized,” Sookhdeo somberly assesses.  “Problems of political oppression, patriarchy which verges upon misogyny, denial of human rights, and sectarian and tribal conflicts occur across the Middle East.”  Therefore, “Islamic State may be understood as an extreme manifestation of types or behavior which are already present.”

Sookhdeo notes the IS’s enormous damages and dangers; due to the Islamic State and other jihadists, for example, “Christianity in the Middle East now faces a holocaust.” Islamic State’s foreign fighters form an “unpredictable risk with regard to what will happen when these combatants return to their home countries.”  Particularly given the Islamic State-Al-Qaeda rivalry, “Islamic State might be tempted to stage a spectacular act of terror in the West, so as to maintain its leadership position in the radical Islamist movement.”

Babies of Christian refugees fleeing the Islamic State need diapers – Please help!

Yet Western countries will struggle for Middle East allies against IS, Sookhdeo warns.  Muslim popular sympathy for Islamic State means that Sunni “regimes fear that a direct confrontation with IS will cause their delegitimization and trigger civil unrest and open rebellion,” limiting military responses to Islamic State.  Saudi Arabia has an emphasis on attacking Yemen’s Shia Houthis, something that wins “plaudits from all Salafi/Jihadi groups, including the Islamic State, and places it in a virtual alliance with them against Iran and its Shia proxies.”

Nonetheless, weaknesses hinder the Islamic State as well, Sookhdeo writes.  “Like all jihadi organizations, Islamic State is prone to damaging splits which have at times escalated into outright conflict” and particularly it’s secular former Baathists and jihadists, united by anti-Shia and anti-Western sentiments, could fall out.  “However, there is also evidence that some of the former Baathists have become born-again Islamists.”

6040EA0F-E81D-4F1E-8E00-219FE3C44D3E (Islamic State) SMIS, Sookhdeo observes, also practices an “extreme takfiri ideology” that sees “Muslims as infidels worthy of the death sentence for any perceived infraction of sharia.”  This “narrow definition of who can be considered an acceptable Muslim means that the group is effectively at odds with almost the entire Muslim population of the world.” Islamic State’s defeats by “well motivated fighters defending their homelands” like Kurds indicate a “strong possibility that Islamic State will remain entrenched only in Sunni majority areas” alienated by domineering Shia rule in Baghdad and Damascus.

Sookhdeo notes as well that internally it’s rule remains unsolidified.  While IS’s “extreme brutality against civilians” has helped Islamic State “to keep an iron grip on the territory it has conquered, it does mean that there is little genuine public support for the organization.”  “Also, IS as yet failed to show that it can provide effective government,” although “some among the population ruled by IS find positive aspects to its rule, especially in enforcing law and order and fighting corruption.”

Babies of Christian refugees fleeing the Islamic State need diapers – Please help!

Beyond military and other practical measures to counter it’s immediate threat, Sookhdeo emphasis the necessity of ideological warfare against jihadist groups.  The West, he concludes, should support

liberal, reformist Muslim thinkers who can engage the minds of Muslim communities and, in particular, show a vibrant, positive, faith-based way forward to idealistic young people.  In the long term only movements within a reformed Islam that can delegitimize the religious validity of extremism to the Muslim masses, hold any hope of taking on and defeating the Salafi/Jihadi menace.

More about Unmasking Islamic State:  Revealing Their Motivation, Theology, and End Time Predictions

About Andrew Harrod
Andrew E. Harrod is a researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. He can be followed on twitter at @AEHarrod.

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