The Backstory of ISIS
On a street in Raqqa, Syria, an eight-year old girl stands front and center of a rallied group of boys and men. A lavender hijab is draped over her dark hair illuminating her chocolate eyes. Without a trace of apprehension, she struggles to hold up the heavy metal of a handgun as she chants in Arabic, “Thanks be to Allah we learned Islam and gave up ignorance. With the fearless, we walked and discovered the truth. God is the greatest!” Behind her, ISIS fighters raise their AK-47s in approval as they repeat, “God is the greatest! God is the greatest! God is the greatest!”
This scene is far too common in the war torn states of Syria and Iraq as ISIS makes daily advancements. Spreading across Syria and Iraq, ISIS has destroyed government buildings, mosques, and neighborhoods making cities look like an apocalyptic wasteland while killing thousands. Those who have not fallen victim to gruesome beheadings and public crucifixions have been forced to live under strict Sharia law.
As ISIS threats continually escalate, how do we begin to understand the terror and the complexity of the situation?
The backstory of the ISIS caliphate
To define the ISIS Caliphate, it is important to understand the meaning of caliphate. Caliphate, derived from the word caliph, means successor and in this case, successor to Mohammed.
Dating back to 620 A.D., the Prophet Mohammed founded Islam. This religion unified its community of believers as it served as both religion and state. With Mohammed’s death in 632 A.D., his society became a caliphate or a community that was much more than an official Muslim country; its main goal was to encompass every Muslim on earth.
After centuries of rest, a new caliphate has emerged – one that seeks to establish an Islamic State while eliminating all who stand in the way – Shia Muslims, Christians and Jews. This is ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham, meaning the Levant, or greater Syria. ISIS marries religious ideology with strategic military tactics to conquer large provinces of land. Currently, ISIS controls hundreds of miles from Syria to southern Baghdad, Iraq.
Religious idealism is what attracts jihadists to the ISIS caliphate. Jihadists see caliphates as the epitome of Islamic glory and nationalism. This caliphate also serves as a platform for Islamists and jihadists to express their oppression and humiliation allegedly inflicted by Western powers. Jihadists buy into the ancient backstory of ISIS as they pledge their allegiance and use it as a way to inflict horrific violence on people that do not identify as Muslim.
The creation of the caliphate and its leader
ISIS began as an uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his violent regime. Despite a quiet exterior, al-Assad allegedly fired chemical weapons on his own people gaining worldwide attention. For many years during the Syrian Civil War, rebel forces have been trying to overthrow the al-Assad regime.
Although created in 2006, ISIS truly came to be in 2013 after multiple failed attempts to unite with other forces such as Al-Qaeda. Not only does ISIS declare to overthrow the al-Assad regime, but it also has taken upon itself to spread strict Islamic beliefs throughout the world and gain world acceptance of Muslims at any cost.
Little is known about ISIS’s feared leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Baghdadi was held in Camp Bucca, a US run prison, and was released in 2009. July 4, 2014, a week after ISIS declared itself a sovereign state, al-Baghdadi addressed the recently seized city of Mosul stating that he would further be called Caliph Ibrahim, emir of the faithful in the Islamic State.
ISIS and Al-Qaeda: One in the same?
Since 9/11, Al-Qaeda has been the basic understanding of terrorism in the West, however ISIS poses a much bigger threat than Al-Qaeda. With its training camps and low scale attacks, Al-Qaeda has not committed a productive act of terrorism since the demise of Osama Bin Laden. ISIS, on the other hand, is significantly more dangerous and growing at a rapid rate.
Their deep identification to religious philosophy makes the group’s members and families relentless in their beliefs and violence. ISIS made itself known through social media with its brutal beheadings that were recorded like the execution of American journalist, James Fooley. And continues its terror with gruesome mutilations, murders, and public crucifixions. Earlier this year Al-Qaeda made it well known that it does not identify with ISIS.
ISIS receives funding in a variety of different ways. In 2012, ISIS seized Syrian oil fields and began selling barrels at discounted prices. They have also been know to seek donations from wealthy individual donors in the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia. On lower levels, robbery plays a key role in stabilizing ISIS’s monetary funds. At this point, it is estimated that ISIS possesses over $2 billion as a declared sovereign state.
Suspicious CIA activity
Within Iraq, suspicions run deep that the United States’ CIA is directly involved with the creation of ISIS. A conspiracy belief of US involvement with ISIS runs rampant through the streets of Baghdad all the way to the highest forms of Iraqi government.
Deputy prime minister, Bahaa al-Araji suggests that ISIS is President Obama’s way of intervening in Iraq without putting American boots on the ground. Through this violent group, al-Araji believes that Obama will be able to accomplish what he could not in Iraq the first time and is revisiting the conflict through radical means. To them, it is apparent that the United States is not making any radical moves to stop al-Baghdadi as they see the Islamic State’s leader and Obama working in conjunction.
New videos emerge daily of ISIS beheadings as they continue to seize cities on their religious rampage across Syria and Iraq, and the question remains: what is the best way to stop ISIS?
Across the world, concern is being raised as emergency UN Security Council meetings have been called numerous times. One argument is to arm the Kurds, a minority group in the Middle East that has the ability to fight ISIS but is simply out gunned. Tactical airstrikes have been employed by the US but President Obama has declared that this cannot be solely an American fight against the caliphate. Other countries have played a part in destroying ISIS, however it remains unclear exactly which nations are involved.
As nations come together to stop this radical group, one of the biggest problems they will face is the socialization of ISIS. The Islamic State is growing rapidly as it moves across the fields of Syria and Iraq projecting its ideology onto children. Young boys starting at age eight begin to pledge their allegiance to ISIS as they work their way through the ranks and learn the trades of being an ISIS fighter.
Videos have been released of young boys following middle-aged Islamic fighters chanting, “God is greatest!” as they learn how to achieve martyrdom. Young girls and women have been armed with military rifles in the name of Allah to fight anyone who does not conform to Islam. While the world figures out how to fight the tangible battle of the Islamic State, how will the world change the socialized ideology of ISIS that is feverishly spreading?
ISIS is causing a mass exodus of refugees into neighboring country borders as it continues to threaten the world’s security. In the name of Allah, ISIS will not stop until it has successfully spread Islam throughout the world. As ISIS grows, so does its violence. In order to stop the Islamic State’s rogue military actions, it is important to understand the ancient concept of a caliphate and its religiously radical backstory.
Ellie Rafoth is a graduate of John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. She is an English major with an interest in Political Science.