essay: Islamic State

Getting my head around Islamic State

The self proclaimed ‘caliphate’ stretches across parts of rural Iraq and Syria, and controls at least two cities, helped by oil money and weapons captured from the Iraqi army.  It is brutally cruel, beheading captives and slaughtering women, children and anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to its extreme, mediaeval (Wahabi) form of Islam – particularly Christians, but including many other Muslims. It destroys world heritage sites and sells the pieces to keep its coffers full. Daily life under IS is reportedly very bleak. It seems to have formed from elements of the Iraqi army and existing jihadist groups in the power vacuum created by the western coalition’s defeat of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq dictatorship, and by the rebellion against Assad, the bloodthirsty dictator of Syria.  It has successfully recruited over the internet large numbers of disaffected young Muslim men from Europe, other western countries including Australia, and other Muslim countries.
What attracts them to such a barbaric, murderous cult?  My rough answer is that these are alienated young men  with little sense of self-worth or a future in their adopted countries.  IS holds out the lure of personal power, even fame, to them as individuals.  They’d have to be full of hate and anger to join such an extreme organization.
Now IS is striking distant civilian populations, bombing a Russian passenger airliner, massacring 130 people on the streets of Paris, and smaller numbers in Lebanon and Mali – using local cells of young men and women, some of whom have returned from fighting with IS in the Middle East.  Some commentators see this as a sign of a weakened IS trying to divert it’s enemies as it loses ground at home.  We live in hope that heightened international cooperation in the wake of these outrages will lead to the demise of IS, but most experts think that middle east-based terrorism will continue to strike us well into the future.  Efforts to defeat IS must not create another power vacuum, and recognize that to defeat an idea hearts and minds have to be changed; winning on the battlefield is only a part of the solution. That means working with moderate Muslims to support and re-educate disaffected youth, in addition to measures to protect civilian populations.