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The situation in the Middle East has been a matter of interest for centuries. It is a territory of a large geopolitical significance and the birthplace of the major world religions like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The Middle East also has a serious economic impact on the rest of the world because of the rich oil deposits, especially in the countries bordering the Persian Gulf. Thus, the political, economic, and social conditions here in the light of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria interference are the topic to be discussed, for its influence, usually harmful, on the variety of spheres cannot be denied.
The history of ISIS
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (also known as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) is an international Islamic Sunnite organization, considered terroristic by the United Nations and the majority of world countries. At the moment, it is functioning mainly on the territory of Iraq and Syria, partially controlling their territory. It is an unrecognized state, known for its severity.
The background of ISIS creation goes back to 2003 when Americans with alliance partners broke the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. This situation was favorable for some foreign countries (like Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar) as well as for big radical (terrorist) organizations, one of which was Al-Qaeda. Iran was the most active in this respect. With the support of the Shiite majority of the Iraq population, it considerably influenced the Baghdad government. Consequently, the transport ways for military supply, fuel, and food to Syria were put through the territory of Iraq. Later it will have a significant impact on the situation with the conflict in Syria (Gerges 52).
Ideologically, ISIS is rooted in the Jama’at al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad, an organization founded in Iraq in 2004 by a Jordanian Salafi-jihadi Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. Later, he announced his loyalty to Osama bin Laden and renamed the organization to Tanzim al-Qaeda fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (Al Qaeda Organization in the Country of the Two Rivers) (Rabil 7). This union is widely recognized as Al Qaeda in Iraq. The organization follows the ideology of Salafi-jihad, which calls back to the authentic ideas of Prophet Mohammad. The major idea is “tawhid (oneness/unity of God). This concept is divided into three categories: Tawhid al-rububiyah (Oneness of Lordship), tawhid al-uluhiyah (Oneness of Godship), and tawhid al-asma’ wal-sifat (Oneness of the Names and Attributes of God)” (Rabil 9). Still, those ideas are interpreted in a rather unusual way. In fact, Salafi-jihadists impose their perception of Islam and act to affirm jihad opposing to those governments, which do not function in accordance with God’s rules.
The name and the status of the so-called “Islamic State” used to bring much confusion in the political arena. Its activity could not remain unnoticed. Actually, it became widely discussed in June 2014, when this group occupied Mosul, a city in Iraq. It has been headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi since 2010. In June 2014 he became “the first caliph in generations,” the leader of all Muslims. The events in Mosul opened the doors to jihadists from all over the world to Iraq territory (Gerges 15).
Having a particular influence on the whole world, ISIS mostly affects the neighboring countries, especially those situated along the Persian Gulf. These are Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arad Emirates. All of them, except for Iraq and Iran, constitute the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, also known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The presence of ISIS forces in the contemporary world can be seen on the map:
ISIS political consequences
There can be a lot of disputes on the origin of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It has already become a world sensation and changes the political configuration of the Middle East. Its military activity on the territory of Iraq and Syria had also considerably influenced the political situation of the area, and especially the Gulf countries. The Gulf Cooperation Council countries have been under the influence of ISIS since mid-2014 when the Islamic State was created in Iraq and Syria. Simultaneously, this situation increased the importance of international security.
In fact, ISIS is not “a usual case of a terrorist organization or insurgency, neither in military nor political terms” (Tziarras par. 2). ISIS, together with using social media and having well-armed forces, uses traditional terrorist means like suicide bombing, beheadings, abductions, etc. (Tziarras par. 3). There is little possibility of negotiations with ISIS representatives, because of their ideological views; they have a goal of a basically different order, both regional and global (Tziarras par. 3).
In case the Islamic State manages to step forward on their primary aim, which is establishing a Muslim State in the Middle East, it will affect the political and economic balance of the Gulf countries. The tense situation caused by the ISIS presence in the Middle East may result in oil price growth. Such a possibility is not desirable for both international politics and economy, for many other of their aspects depend on the oil cost. The dangerous situation in the Gulf would mean no free access to the oil recourses, which make 47 percent of the total oil reserves and 42 percent of gas reserves, with the various developments in and around the Arabian Peninsula (Guzansky 2).
The Gulf states are considered dependent on external support, especially that of the United States. The Arabian men in power believe that there was no other choice, for America has the military power that may stand against that of Iran, which is the most militarily powerful country on the Arabian Peninsula (Guzansky 7). The Arab Gulf countries are known not only for their relations with the USA but also for close cooperation with each other in different spheres. Nevertheless, the development of partnerships in the field of security remains comparatively slow. This is partly because of the quite dangerous countries, Iran especially, and also the appearance of the Islamic State in the area. The experience of the Gulf Cooperation Council reveals the fact that in the case of danger for one of the associate states, the others are likely to put apart their previous misunderstandings and unite. Still, the practice proves that this may not contribute much to the security of the Gulf countries (Guzansky 31).
Turkey and Lebanon
ISIS is a threat not only to the sovereignty of the countries where it is located. The national safety of the neighboring countries such as Turkey and Lebanon is also in danger. Due to the government’s policy, Turkey is among the countries that underwent great ISIS influence. The location of Turkey on the frontline also made it affected by ISIS policy. It caused serious problems in the Economics of the country. The inflow of refugees trough the Turkish-Syrian border also increased (Tziarras par. 11). Moreover, ISIS expansion intensified Turkey’s Kurdish problem. In the contemporary conditions, Turkey’s role increased among the western countries due to its participation in NATO, its military potential, and its location.
Lebanon is under a greater risk than any other country in case ISIS decides to broaden its territory as it shares the border with Syria (Powers par. 2). At present, it is the home for more refugees than any other country. In fact, about 25% of the inhabitants are refugees. The biggest refugee populations in Lebanon are the Palestinians and the Syrians. Since the country has the experience of a 15-year civil war, it tries to avoid being involved in the military conflict (Powers par. 3).
ISIS Impact on Saudi Arabia
Speaking of international and local ISIS influence, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should be mentioned. It is one of the countries that stalk against the Islamic State (Khan 30). The KSA takes political, legal, economic, and strategic steps to diminish ISIS in the world arena. In fact, its antiterrorist strategy is among the most effective ones. Saudi Arabia has implemented “Anti-Terror Law” which helps to stand against ISIS. The improvement of local economic and administrative policies minimizes the chance of terrorists’ money involvement (Khan 30). The armed forces of the country are provided with military exercises that are aimed at the country protection. Saudi Arabia is usually treated as the home for Wahhabists which in turn is connected with jihadism. However, despite the associations, the country does not support the terrorists.
The religious impact of ISIS
Religion has always been a crucially important part of life. It used to be one of the factors in decision making concerning inner and outer problems of some countries. In the eastern countries, religious influence can be observed in the political processes as well. In this respect, the Islamic world is an example of the interrelation of religion and other aspects of life.
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The Middle East unites the people of three major religions. These are Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. There are also some minor religious groups, like Yazidism, Druze, Samaritanism, and some others, but they are not so popular and fewer in the number of followers. Speaking of the Gulf countries, Islam is the most spread one, as those states are mostly Arab.
It is widely believed that the main reason for conflicts in the Middle East is religion. Still, the religious component is not the only driving force. Of course, at times the leaders turn to religion as a factor of influence, and not always with good purpose. It does not seem possible to find reasons for people’s actions. These can be the influence from outside, inner motifs, or personal beliefs. In the Middle East, with Islam as a major religion, the impact of faith should be considered among the primary causes of action. It may be difficult to realize for western people, for whom citizenship can rather be a matter of pride. They can understand more material motivations like money or land. So, when it comes to religious motifs, thoughtful people often tend to look for a hidden meaning of the events.
When it comes to ISIS, they are characterized by the implication of religious images. They refer to Islamic imagery and history. In spite of these claims, most of Muslims deny the “Caliphate” imposed by ISIS. The Muslim population, in general, does not support Islamic extremism. The justification of terrorist activity by serving sacred ideas leads to the enhancement of religious intolerance. The situation when an Islamic terrorist rapes a girl with a prayer before and after and claims he acts in the name of God is absolutely wild. Definitely, such cases do not contribute to the religion’s popularity, but to its rejection.
Islam is a rather politicized religion (Zaman 169). This factor itself gives birth to the conflicts inside the confession. The Shiites and Sunnites are old political and ideological rivals, and their confrontation gets into an active phase from time to time. This sometimes causes conflicts inside the countries of the Gulf.
In general, the Gulf states do much to raise their religious heritage and culture. The United Arab Emirates, for example, “refers to the preservation of time-honored customs and values that are based on ethnic purity and religious uniformity” (Khashan par. 30). As for Saudi Arabia, there is a factor that can be dangerous for the traditional religious regime. The increasing inflow of workers from abroad may be hazardous for the Islamic society. “The most recent population figure places the country’s total population at 30.8 million people, including 33 percent expatriate workers” (Khashan par. 32).
Social media for ISIS Propaganda and Recruiting
ISIS is famous for its military skill and brutality. However, another thing that impresses the world is the use of social media to popularize Islamic State. Messages in networks, videos, and images are widely applied. The modern means of communication are used to “recruit fighters, intimidate enemies and promote its claim to have established a caliphate, a unified Muslim state run according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law” (Shane and Hubbard para. 2). As a rule, the technical quality of their videos is high. The content depends on the aim and circumstances (Rabil 6). Before 2014 it was mainly concentrated on propaganda. By 2014, the core of ISIS propaganda shifted from military to the broad audience. The recent videos are aimed at youth. They promote Islamic State and call for Jihad (Rabi 9). It should also be mentioned that the first attempts to attract attention to ISIS were in Arab while the situation changed later. At the moment, the videos art in German and other European languages. On the whole, ISIS’s appeal to extremism is based on the two basic needs of a person: that of cognitive closure and personal importance (Fernandez par.6). Consequently, the possibility of satisfying these needs may lead people to ISIS.
On the whole, it may be concluded that terrorism is one of the main threats in the contemporary world. The civilized community is under the risk of hazards like suicide bombing, the news report from time to time of mass shootings, or some other chaotic killing. The situation is mainly caused by the so-called “religious fanatics”, the ISIS members being among them. The organization that arose almost from nowhere keeps in fear not only a part of the Middle East but also the rest of the world. It influences almost every sphere of life in the Gulf countries. The most significant impact is observed in political, military, and religious aspects. If the situation remains where it is, the rest of the world may be in danger too. The Islamic State, realizing the power, may not stop in the Middle East. Thus, it is the first task of world leaders to unite in order to release humanity from terrorism.
Fernandez, Alberto M. “Here to Stay and Growing: Combating ISIS Propaganda Networks.” Center for Middle East Policy and Bookings, 2015. Web,
Gerges, Fawas A. ISIS. A History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.
Guzansky, Yoel. The Arab Gulf States and Reform in the Middle East. Between Iran and the “Arab Spring”. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Khan, Shaiza Mehmood. ‘Saudi Arabia’s Resolve Against ISIS”. Defence Journal, vol. 19, issue 10, 2016, pp.30-32.
Khashan, Hilal. “Religious Intolerance in the Gulf States”. Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2016, Web.
Powers, Janis. “Why Lebanon May Be ISIS’s Next Target”, Huffington Post, n.d., Web.
Rabil, Robert G. “The ISIS Chronicles: A History”. The National Interest, 2014, Web.
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