Nine years ago today, on twelfth June 2014, ISIS terrorists captured and murdered 1700 Iraqi air force cadets outside Tikrit Air Academy, formerly known as Camp Speicher. While the brutality of ISIS is known to everyone, the terror group acted more monstrously in this particular incident because the cadets were from the Shiite sect that they wanted to ethnically cleanse.
After all, ISIS considers them “Khawarij” or seceders, meaning those who exit the community.
The story of Khawarij goes back to the mid-seventh century after the death of the third Calip Uthman ibn Affan and the inner fight that followed between the Muslims over the Caliphate. Unfortunately, this conflict is still alive among some radical elements of the Islamic community.
The brutal massacre against unarmed members of the Iraqi armed forces is one of many examples of how humans can become monsters if they are brainwashed enough under extreme circumstances.
I believe remembering the victims through our words and prayers is not enough. We must act by addressing the root of the problem and presenting solutions, which is the purpose of this video.
First things first, we have to agree that monstrous crimes by humans are transnational and trans-religions but for the purpose of our today’s video, I’m going to focus on the ISIS extremism which has hit the Islamic world not too long time ago. So let us do it together.
The roots of ISIS extremism are complex and multifaceted, stemming from a combination of historical, political, social, and ideological factors. Understanding these factors is crucial to comprehend the rise and spread of ISIS ideology. Some key elements that contributed to the emergence of ISIS extremism include:
1- Socio-Political Context: The political instability and power vacuums created in Iraq and Syria after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the CIA-backed regime change war provided fertile ground for the rise of extremist groups like ISIS. Sectarian tensions, marginalization, corruption, and incompetent governance created grievances among certain segments of the population, making them susceptible to radicalization.
2- Salafi-Jihadist Ideology: ISIS draws upon a specific interpretation of Salafi-jihadist ideology, which advocates for a puritanical and violent interpretation of Islam as a means to establish an Islamic state. This ideology emphasizes the concept of “takfir” by declaring other Muslims as unbelievers and seeks to implement strict Islamic laws through violent means.
3- Global Jihadist Movement: ISIS’s rise was also influenced by the broader global jihadist movement, which includes groups like Al-Qaeda. The movement provided a framework, ideological inspiration, and operational tactics for ISIS to build upon. Some former members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq played significant roles in the formation of ISIS.
4- Sectarian Tensions: Sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the region have played a role in fuelling ISIS extremism. Marginalization and discrimination of Sunnis in Iraq, particularly under the Shia-led government, created fertile ground for ISIS to exploit grievances and recruit followers from the Sunni community.
5- Online Propaganda and Recruitment: ISIS skilfully utilized social media and the internet to disseminate propaganda, recruit fighters, and inspire individuals globally. Their sophisticated use of online platforms enabled them to reach a wide audience, radicalize individuals remotely, and orchestrate terrorist attacks beyond their physical territories.
6- Regional Proxy Wars: The involvement of regional and international powers in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria further complicated the situation. The CIA-backed regime change war in Syria, for example, attracted a multitude of armed factions and foreign interventions, creating a chaotic environment in which ISIS could gain strength and territorial control.
It is important to note that these factors interacted and influenced each other, creating a complex web of circumstances that facilitated the rise of ISIS extremism. Efforts to counter ISIS must address these underlying causes, including the need for political stability, social inclusion, improved governance, and countering radical ideologies both online and offline.
Therefore, to dry the root causes of this type of extremism, we must agree that the solution is beyond the physical annihilation of the group and its affiliates. Hence, sustainable peace in the region depends on a few factors:
1- Foreign interference in the domestic affairs of the region by the US and its allies, in the form of direct invasions and regime change wars must come to an end. You may convince me that the Iraq war was a mistake but when the US pursued a similar policy in Syria and Libya, it gives me the impression that the creation of a power vacuum by Washington in the region is intentional.
2- People in the Islamic world are sitting on huge natural resources enough for creating strong and sustainable economies that can not only feed the people but also secure a high level of social welfare which is an antidote to extremism. Many young people in the region fell into the trap of ISIS out of grievances and poverty. Therefore, uplifting the financial status of the people in the region is definitely helpful.
3- The oil-rich countries must realize that they can pursue an independent foreign policy in the region and that they have powerful economic means to resist the US divide-and-conquer strategy in the region. That is why, I am happy to see Saudi Arabia and the UAE are increasingly pursuing independent foreign policies and rejecting the American demands to radicalize the Islamic youths which started in the late 1970s in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviet Union.
4- The political establishments in the region must practice maximum pressure on the religious references, sheikhs, and imams to influence their teaching, interpretations, and fatwas. Influential Islamic scholars must open a discussion about a potential reform in some of the religious texts that were probably necessary 14 centuries ago but they are not today. I know this is a controversial demand but it is a suggestion worth considering.
In short, the ISIS phenomenon is extremely complicated but I tried to summarize it and address its roots and present some solutions.
Kevork Almassian is an award-winning political commentator from Syria. He is the founder of Syriana Analysis and is known for his contribution to the literature on the Syrian war.