ISIS has declared the northern Syria region of Aleppo extending to the Diyala region in eastern Iraqas the region of caliphate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been declared the Caliph that means “leader of Muslims everywhere” (Moore par.7).
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The proclamation of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi about the establishment of a caliphate shows their intention to restore Islam in its earlier form. The horrific manner in which the jihadists are treating people, opposing them, seems to have emerged from the past era. ISIS’s Islamic State exemplifies the totalitarian state of 20th century (Gray par.1)
ISIS has become a chief player in the difficult Syrian equation in a record time. The foundation of ISIS dates back to 2006 when the Islamic State of Iraq was founded by uniting various groups. This group includes mainly the al-Qaeda, the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq and Jund al-Sahhaba. Its first leader was Abu Omar al-Baghdadi who was a staunch advocate of Salafist ideology. After his demise, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was appointed ISI’s emir (Anjarini par.1-3).
The sectarian clashes between rebels and Assad regime in Syria and Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq paved the way for ISIS to gain a foothold in both countries. ISIS’s terror spreading activities have raised many speculations. Some people assume that their objective is to snatch control of the Middle East from the U.S. whereas others feel that it intends to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate (Saxena par.10-11).
However, ISIS’s success in the region depends mainly on its constantly increasing wealth. “Arab Gulf donors as a whole—of which Saudis are believed to be the most charitable—have funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars to Syria in recent years, including to ISIS and other groups” (Boghardt par.7).
Scholars in the Arab countries and the West have been emphasizing on the need for political liberalization in the region. According to Lebanese political scientist, Khashan (1998) “unchecked authoritarianism in many Arab countries is paving the way to deep crisis in the fabric of society” (as cited in Tessler 338).
The US has always committed to bring democracy to the Middle East; however, it is not something that cannot be presented to the people of distant lands as a gift (Basham & Preble par.1).
“From Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa to Latin America and Southeast Asia, recent history makes it clear that democracy’s future in the Arab world depends on Arabs, not Americans” (Calabresi par.7).
In their attempt to democratize politics in the Arab world Western organizations have financed various projects working in this field in the last decade of 20th century (Carapico 379).
Recent history suggests that Islamic groups may turn autocratic if not constrained by other contenders of power (Chaney 367).
However, the efforts of the United States and other Western countries to promote democracy in the Middle East soon revealed their intentions of not upsetting an order that had given them agile, no matter if illegitimate, Arab regimes. The regimes themselves created an illusion of reform leading to the prevention of the emergence of democracy rather than democratization. The autocracies remained engrossed in the disorganized reforms rather than reforming the fundamental power structure. Daniel Brumberg, a political scientist, named this political situation as ‘endless transition’ that could impact the Arabs negatively. The reality made the Arab opposition groups and the Islamic leaders to realize that America and the West world would not let the democratic outcomes take place against their liking (Hamid par.4-5).
Grappo (2013) believes that, “it’s the society and the people who are really responsible for finding solutions to this array of political turbulences such as that in Iraq” (par.7).
The political scenario in Iraq was favourable for emergence of such jihadist groups like the ISIS. The country was doomed to break up even if the American- led occupiers had not terminated the army and the ruling party. “Since its inception from the Ottoman Empire by the British, Iraq was ruled over by the minority Sunni group” (Gray par.8). Sunnis had been in power as the rulers since 1638 with the inclusion of Baghdad. The inclusion of the Kurds in the new state by the British in order to benefit from the oil resources in the north of the country sowed the seeds of separatism within the state and thwarted the idea of a stable federal system in the country. People who were against war had predicted that regime change would lead to a failed state. These conditions were also responsible for the emergence and flourishing of ISIS in the region (Gray par.8).
According to Birke (2013), “The most common speculation I encountered was that ISIS is the creation of Damascus, or its ally Iran, intended to fragment the opposition and ruin the revolution (Birke par.18).
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Syria does not seem to have a direct connection with the group, and Assad has always been making attempts to reassure that the militants are terrorists, with clear foreign backing to attack and create chaos within Syria ((Birke, 2013, Para19)ISIS cannot be considered merely a regional jihadist group as it has become an international threat recruiting people from the Western countries as well. The ISIS has been demonstrating its larger goals by “targeting Western countries through sleeper cells in Europe and the United States and beheading American and British citizens in Syria” (Siddiqi par.2).
It is not easy to presume the degree of terror ISIS can pose to the Western world since its target is mainly the Middle East. However, the Western citizens who have joined the group and have been trained in the fighting and bombing skills in Syria and Iraq may pose greater threat to Western countries. Moreover, its tussle with Al-Qaeda may pose threat of increased terror for securing leadership position at international level (Gray par.13).
Factors propelling the growth of ISIS
Financial support from the other Arab countries
Iran and Iraq have been accusing Saudi Arabia for promoting terrorism and extremism in the Middle East. Iraqi president’s Maliki’s accusation on Saudi Arabia for helping ISIS with funds led to the Iraqi cabinet stating that the Saudis were responsible for helping the militants with funds and moral support, thus, for the massacres and destruction in Iraq (McGregor par.2).
However, the Kingdom has denounced ISIS for their recruitment of the Saudi youth for instigating war in Syria and initiated the terrorist prosecutions impending from 2003-2006 Islamic insurgencies. King Abdullah has also declared that Saudi citizens are instructed not to join and provide financial backing to the jihadist group in Syria (Mcgregor, 2014, Para6), but the group is still getting financial backing from the private donors in the Kingdom and other gulf states. ISIS is intending to be self -supporting in future. It is looting bank treasuries and merging oil producing regions of Syria and Iraq for raising funds for the group (McGregor par.11).
Sources of fund
ISIS has used various means to raise funds for the group such as donations, seized resources and extortion (Leggiero par.20).
The group has got individual support in the countries like Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan with respect to funds and arms. Moreover, Turkey and Lebanon along with other Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and The UAE have supported Sunni sections with an aim to inhibit Shi’a-based movements in Iran (County & Pickering 2014 as cited in Leggiero par.21).
In Syria Sunni groups are helped monetarily by Saudi citizens. These citizens provide Sunni groups with sufficient funds. ISIS has been utilizing social media to progress its fund raising campaigns. ISIS keeps in touch with the private donors in Gulf States, mainly Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar through social media. The fund is mobilized via Kuwait being the least regulated and monitored zone of the Gulf area (Boghardt par.5). Further, it has set up a cell system in the Western countries like Bosnia and Switzerland to collect funds and enlist members (Leggiero par.21).
Besides these individual donations, the group has explored its own sources of income. This income is generated through activities like smuggling, extortion and other crimes and that are assumed to be exceeding the private donations (Boghardt par.8).
ISIS has been involved in annexing territories, seizing oil fields and plundering banks and utilizing these resources for strengthening its military campaign. It is also involved in the looting and selling of ancient artefacts. It seized the Shaer gas field in Homs, Syria and the Tabqa Air Base near Raqqa, Syria (CNN 2014 and Banco 2014 as cited in Leggiero 2015).
Kidnapping and extortion are the other means through which ISIS is enhancing its funds. ISIS charges taxes on dhimmis (non-Muslim living in an Islamic country) on local businesses earning approximately $8 million per month (Boghart par.8).
It has received millions of dollars as extortion money from the Spanish and French governments for releasing their journalists. Besides this, human trafficking of Iraqi and Syrian women and children has also become a source of income for ISIS (Homeland Security News Wire, 2014 as cited in Leggiero par.22).The jihadist group ISIS resembles Al-Qaeda in its working manner and is modern in organising itself as an efficient company. “It has become the most affluent jihadist organisation in the world by using means such as kidnapping, extortion, plundering and selling antiquities, snatching gold bullions and other properties from banks and draining off oil in the captured territories” (Gray par.3).
Besides this, they have picked up huge American martial hardware during their advance in the area. This wealth is used by ISIS for developing their base and maintaining the infrastructure in the areas under their control (Gray par.3).
Propagation of terror
ISIS’s real strength lies in the fear it has induced by showing zero tolerance for the political opposition. The violence of ISIS has caused many Syrians to look down on it. The increasing number of Syrian youth fighters is supposed to be the consequence of superior money and protection offered to them by ISIS as compared to the other rebel groups (Birke, 2013, Para 14-15).Turkey is also blamed for growing ISIS influence since it is believed that this country permits entry to ISIS into Syria through its border. Many of them are the Iraqis who share their border with the country (Birke par.19).
The ISIS claims that the American and British victims have fallen prey to executions due to the American bombing in Syria. These acts signify their attempt to spread terror in the West (Birke How ISIS rules par.3).
The use of social media by the jihadists is very professional and signifies their capability of exploiting advanced technology for spreading terror around the world. They show their annual reports about their operations and their activities like bombings, shooting and suicide missions on their websites. It uses internet to show their treatment of the enemies. “When it posts videos of people being beheaded or shot, ISIS advances several of its goals-simultaneously inspiring dread in its enemies, teaching the communities it controls the dire consequences of departing from an exceptionally extreme interpretation of Islam and sowing chaos in the population as a whole” (Gray par.5).
ISIS is the most brutal jihadist group, “crucifying, raping, pillaging, and beheading their way across Iraq and Syria and gleefully posting videos and pictures of the slaughter on You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for their devoted followers worldwide to revel in” (Stakelbeck 16).
Saudi Arabia has been criticized by the Iranian press for sponsoring terrorism and fear in the area (McGregor par.4). Tehran has expressed its fear of Saudi involvement in backing up the attempts to weaken Shi’a majority from the central government in Baghdad. Besides Iraq and Iran, Syria has also highlighted the role Saudi Arabia is playing in propelling the growth if ISIS by funding and arming them with obvious support from Qatar and Turkey. Though, the real players in the background are the United States and Israel. The state media of Israel has pointed out, “No Western country is unaware of the role Saudi Arabia is playing in supporting terrorism and funding and arming different fronts and battles, both inside and outside Iraq and Syria” (al-Thawra [Damascus] as cited in McGregor par.5).
Despite their claim of following the guidance of Prophet Muhammad, ISIS’s jihadists are far from his spiritual curriculum of gradual and peaceful transformation and act contrary to the principles of mercy and compassion advocated by him. They consider mercy and compassion as the two sides of timidity and weakness (Arman par.6).
The ISIS has declared itself the successfully established first Islamic caliphate after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, but in reality “ISIS is part of a misguided fraternity of extremists whose violent ideology has long been proliferating in the world due to a number of domestic and foreign actors” (Arman par.3).
Sekulow (2014) claims “ISIS is stronger than any jihadist group in world history (8). According to him it is more brutal than al-Qaeda and is the wealthiest terrorist group in the world (Sekulow 8).
Statement of significance
ISIS has spread its power in most parts of the Middle East mainly in Iraq and Syria and is constantly making efforts to spread terror in the U.S. and other Western countries through its acts of brutality. It is important to look at the various factors that led to the expansion of ISIS and making the group a strong power posing threat to the international community. The group has drawn the attention of local and international media in recent years for executing serious violence such as beheading captured foreign workers, conducting mass killings, and forcing local population to relocate in masses.
The atrocious acts of ISIS against the Arabs and non-Arabs are being criticized strongly in the international community. This research will try to find out the major factors that have paved the way for ISIS’s rapid growth in the region and the impact of its terrorist activities on the international community so that appropriate strategies can be adopted for countering its geographical expansion.
This research paper aims at finding answers to the following questions:
- What are the factors that have propelled the growth of ISIS in the Middle East?
- Why is ISIS a threat to the international community?
In view of the above research questions, this paper aims at reaching the following hypothesis:
- Proper funding and propaganda have propelled the growth of ISIS in the Middle East.
- ISIS is a threat to the international community because of its violent military campaigns and abuse of human rights.
Research data and methodology
This research will be conducted using secondary data analysis approach. For the purpose of the study, secondary data is collected from journals and books and other authentic online resources. Heaton (1998) explains that secondary data analysis is a research strategy which makes use of pre-existing qualitative and quantitative data for the purposes of investigating new questions or verifying previous studies (Heaton par. 2).
The secondary data analysis approach is used because the scope of the research is focused, subjective, dynamic, and discovery oriented. In order to quantify the relationship between the independent and dependent variable, analysis will be based on findings from the academic journals, books and scholarly articles. Each resource will be scrutinized into detail to avoid any bias and maintain high ethical standards for carrying out research.
Analysis of the secondary data
Based on an extensive research on the literature available on the subject of present research “How did ISIS become a stronger power and a threat to international community”, it can be inferred thatISIS has definitely become a stronger power in the recent years and has spread terror through its heinous acts of brutality against the Muslim and non-Muslim population throughout the world.
This paper finds that the growth of ISIS has been propelled mainly through the armed and monetary support from the other countries of the Arab world like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan etc. McGregor (2014) Boghardt (2014) and Leggiero (2015) seem right in their perception that surplus funding and increasing wealth through looting, seizes and extortion is the major cause of ISIS’s rapid and uninterrupted growth in the region.
ISIS is growing rapidly in the region and posing threat to the Arab world and as well to the international community. As Siddiqi (2014), Arman (2014) and Gary (2014) correctly feel, it is not merely a regional jihadist group and has become an international threat recruiting people from the Western countries as well. The intentions of ISIS of spreading terror are obvious as it is targeting Western countries by beheading and torturing their citizens.Stakelbeck, (2015) is genuine in calling ISIS is the most brutal jihadist group and excitedly posting videos and pictures of the slaughter on social media to propagate fear.
The group does not believe in the true ideology of Islam that promotes kindness and brotherhood. Mercy and compassion are the symbols of timidity and weaknessfor them and hence, they execute brutality and barbarism against innocent people as a medium to instigate fear.Western citizens who have joined the group and have been trained in the fighting and bombing skills in Syria and Iraq may pose greater threat to Western countries. Moreover, its tussle with Al-Qaeda may pose the threat of increased terror for securing leadership position at international level.Sekulow (2014) rightfully claims ISIS as the strongestand wealthiest jihadist group in the world.
ISIS cannot be considered merely a regional jihadist group now, as it has become an international terrorist group posing threat to international peace and security. Iraq, Iran and Syria havepointed out Saudi Arabia’s role in propelling the growth of ISIS by funding with obvious support from other Arab countries.The execution of American and British victims and uploading their videos on social media reveals ISIS’s intention to spread terror in the West. The group, in fact, has become the strongest and wealthiest terrorist group through means of foreign funding by private donors, self-established resources like looting, extortion and seizes etc. etc. Further, it has become the most ferocious terrorist group by instigating fear among the international community by publicizing their brutalities through social media.
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