It’s impossible to watch, listen to, or read the news today without finding at least one reference to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. We hear that it is a terrorist organization, but we also hear government officials talk about it more like a belligerent country in an ongoing war. So, what exactly is the Islamic State, where did it come from, and what do its people want?

Born in War

What is ISISThe organization we know today as the Islamic State has its origins in the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003. The very short version of that war’s first year is that the administration of President George W. Bush accused the government of Iraq, then under the control of military dictator Saddam Hussein, of possessing weapons of mass destruction. The United States Congress authorized a military invasion of Iraq, which very quickly deposed Hussein’s rule. Though Hussein was no longer in power and was later caught and executed, the conflict in Iraq didn’t end.

This is where the language around the war gets confusing. Those fighting against American forces came to be known as “insurgents,” suggesting that they came from somewhere other than Iraq. And while many so-called insurgents were indeed Iraqi people, many other fighters came from elsewhere in the region. An especially prominent group was Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a religious extremist group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This group ascribed to a version of Islam called Salafism, which is an intense variety of fundamentalism that advocates violence and a harsh interpretation of sharia law. Before long, al-Zarqawi’s fighters allied themselves with the infamous terrorist organization al-Qaeda.

Syria and ISIL

During the Iraq War, al-Zarqawi was killed. Under new leadership, his group named itself the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), with the intention of establishing a Islamic military theocracy, or caliphate, in one of Iraq’s fractured regions. Violence against Iraqi people created a backlash and ISI nearly crumbled. By 2008, most of the group’s leaders weren’t Salafi extremists, but surviving members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist group. Otherwise, many fighters for ISI were from other countries.

The biggest change for the Islamic State came with the Syrian Civil War. In the chaos of Syrian revolutionaries fighting against the government of Bashar al-Assad, Islamic State insurgents entered Syria and began attempting to take control of another troubled country. This is why the group is sometimes called ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). But because the group’s actions and ambitions have included many other countries in the Middle East, the preferred term by the United States government is ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).

The Power of the Islamic State

Today, the Islamic State has proclaimed itself a “Worldwide Caliphate” and its official position is that it is the legitimate ruling body of all Muslims – lead by a Caliph (a natural successor to the Prophet Mohammed). To date, no nation, international governing body, or Muslim organization has accepted that rule. So, if only the Islamic State recognizes its own legitimacy, how is it such a powerful organization?

The first thing to note is that the Islamic State has a habit of claiming responsibility for things its own fighters didn’t actually do. Most notably, the Islamic State claimed to have funded and directed a large group of fighters in the Syrian Civil War called al-Nusra, even though the two groups violently clashed. This variety of unilateral appropriation confuses the issue of who is and is not acting according to direction by Islamic State leadership.

But more than anything, the Islamic State’s power is in its media presence. The group captured the attentions of American and European domestic populations by kidnapping and killing foreign nationals, and video recording the entire process. The murders of foreign journalists and aid workers received a great deal of media attention in 2014, catapulting the Islamic State from a Middle Eastern insurgent group to a household name. These murders are notoriously gruesome, often carried out in the form of violent beheadings.

In the past two years, many independently operating terrorists have claimed allegiance to the Islamic State, though they have no means of communicating with its leadership. Terrorists from the Philippines to Chechnya and even the United States wave the black flag of the Islamic State, but they are not actually soldiers trained and organized by forces in Iraq and Syria. In short, the Islamic State is more of an idea rather than it is a real, cohesive political body.

Fighting the Idea

The full history of the Islamic State paints a very clear picture of how it was born and how it continues to thrive. Its origins are in the chaos of war, the radicalization of people suffering under the simultaneous pressure of local despots and foreign invaders. The Islamic State is, put simply, an appropriation of the very term “terrorism”, however nebulous and ever-changing that idea is. The organization’s name changes over the years, but its tactics of violence, media manipulation, and the consumption of other military groups stay the same.

Countries from all over the world have devoted their military forces to fighting the Islamic State, but violence is unlikely to truly destroy it. Wherever there is war, so-called Islamic State forces emerge. The radicals who attach themselves to the Islamic State flag depend on violence, confusion, and media attention to fuel their continued rise. The long-term solution to the Islamic State problem is, in a word, peace.

The ideal short-term solution still appears to be out-of-reach. How do you think the Islamic State should best be handled? And by whom?

17 comments

  1. John says:

    Totally agree, we should have not fought the Nazies but have made peace with them and let them deal with their violence- obviously you are kidding right? Peace with an organization bent on destruction and chaos – nice dream, but the lamb will be eaten by the wolf.

    1. Parks says:

      Who are you talking to, John?

  2. Andy says:

    They will only be stopped when the rest of the Muslim world has had enough.

  3. Charles Wood says:

    The best solution would be to ask people who actually live in that area to fight ISIS/L. Also, the US and other Western countries should stop sending arms to ISIL and/or routes that end up in their hands.

  4. Rev. Denise Dumars says:

    As a minister ordained by both your monastery and the Temple of Isis, I want to beg and plead with you to stop calling ISIL by the fraudulent appropriation of the holy name of ISIS. Your organization recognizes all faiths and we are part of the Fellowship of Isis, located in Ireland. We believe in the ancient goddess known as Aset to the Egyptians and Isis to the Greeks and Romans. ISIS IS A GODDESS, NOT A TERRORIST. It hurts me deeply to see you calling a terrorist organization by the holy name which the media has appropriated for their own uses. You will notice that Pres. Obama and most countries’ officials call it ISIL or Islamic Republic, NOT ISIS. Please stop slandering her name by applying it to these evil people.

    1. Rainbow Country Life says:

      The anachronism ISIS does not slander the Egyptian Goddess. It is merely a sad coincidence that the terrorists have been given that moniker. It’s just some initials, and no one is referring to the Goddess.

  5. Rainbow Country Life says:

    Get the U.S. troops out of the Middle East. Let them fight each other until they either exterminate themselves, or realize they are on the wrong track. No God could ever condone the violence.

  6. Rev. Yllena says:

    The ancient Egyptian goddess ISIS was part of the pantheon of the ancient Egyptians many centuries before Islam was a twinkle in the Prophets’ eyes. It is very sad that her name is now being so damaged by the terror and destruction those people are inflicting to the extent that people who know little or nothing of ancient history get upset at the mention of her name. Her name should NOT be used when referring to the Islamic State. She was worshiped in the ancient religion of the Pharoes and still is today in many circles which have absolutely nothing to do with Islam.

  7. Thomas Harkness says:

    The Book of Revelations makes it clear – We will fall. Not just the American Dream, but all humans will fall. “IT IS WRITTEN!”. Earth is, in fact, the Kingdom of Lucifer. We need to stop looking for good Christian Leaders and start working on good Christian Followers. The Key to winning the war against Satan is not having some really cool guy in the White House that can talk a good game. The Bible tells us that a really cool guy taking a really good game will, in fact, be Satan. What we need to do is get ourselves right with God; read the Word, understand the mission, and then fight only for what is right as the Word gives it. Yes, it is confusing for the unbeliever, but becomes more and more clear as you spend more and more time listening to what God has to say through the Word —-> Study to show yourself approved.

    We are supposed to be a government of the people… BUT BY DEFAULT we are only a government of the people that participate in the governmental process…. and right now, the only people participating in the process are the ones that want to win for themselves…… not for GOD! —————Repent, Fasting, and Praying for guidance.

    1. JO-ANN says:

      AMEN……Oh it is all happening as we speak….WE ARE THERE…WATCH FOR THE SIGNS….FIRST, THE PALSM WAR…When they say “PEACE AND SAFETY” THEN COMES SUDDEN DESTRUCTION! Looking at the secular world theatre is to say the least…. intertaining….. that is….. if it is not YOU in the path of destruction and it weren’t so devastatingly SAD…take a deep breath….”IT IS WRITTEN”:…..We are awaiting the 2ND COMING…we know that the actors are all in their places playing their parts for the BOOK OF REVELATIONS to unfold and ….. to get past ABOMINATIONS OF DESOLATION to the 2nd part of the tribulation… to the end ….ARMAGEDDON….and, THE 1000 YEAR REIGN OF CHRIST…
      WHAT A GRAND DAY…”THE RAPTURE”….WHAT A CREATOR …WHAT A GOD WE HAVE ….IN HIM DO WE TRUST AND RELY…..WHAT A STORY….ONLY HE COULD CREATE SUCH AN AMAZING ENDING…..EVEN DOWN TO THE BIRDS AND VULGERS TO FEAST ON EVERY LAST SOUL WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE IN HIM AND IN HIS SON JESUS!

      1. J0-ANN says:

        CORRECTION…VULTURES NOT VULGERS

        1. Rainbow Country Life says:

          Name calling does no justice to the tenet of promoting freedom of religion. I don’t like the terrorism threat, whether real or contrived, but name calling is not doing what is right. We all need to improve ourselves.

          1. Minister Rob says:

            True.

            There is a difference between Isis and ISIS.

            IMO, the big question is…Why do these people do what they do?

            Is it vengeance? Is it a quest for domination? Is it a quest for freedom of infidels?

            What were the true reasons for US and our allies going to war in that part of the world? We’re our reasons legit or not? Maybe they were. I dunno. Can we end this diplomatically?

            Try to see things from multiple perspectives. We’re all children of the same universe.

  8. Brother John says:

    Although there remains some controversy about the creation and support of ISIS, there is a substantial consensus. Search “who created ISIS” and “who arms ISIS” and compare the articles to find the consensus. The answers may make more sense if we remember that the Business of War is one of the most profitable in the world.

    1. Charles Wood says:

      Military, Industrial, Banking, Pharmaceutical, Healthcare complex…

      1. Tom says:

        i agree that the basis of the middle-eastern problems may be fundamentalism, but it is absolutely fueled by the inhumane drive to make money, no matter what harm it causes…the more money that goes into “our” military side, the more money can be made by opposing it…this is endless; there will be no military victory…there is no government to defeat, as there has been in past wars…the interesting thing is that the humane thing to do is to save the people being savaged by the fundamentalists, but the western democracies want to limit immigration as too expensive…interesting that we pay lip-service to saving people, until it would require major economic changes…the health system loves the immigration, because the hospitals must take care of everyone, and medical insurance premiums are predicated on everyone; the insurance companies do not even pretend, like auto insurers, that premiums are based on experience…our military will stay in the middle east because it has made companies like Cheney’s Halliburton go from bankruptcy to wealth; because we bow to the autocracy of Saudi Arabia because of oil…money is all…we give lip-service to the terrible wage conditions in many countries, like the Nike situation, but we oppose international trade agreements that would ultimately level wages, because America et al would have to go through a continuing lowering of comparative income levels…this goes on and on…the only thing we can do as individuals is to live our individual lives as compassionate, empathetic individuals (model)

  9. Michael Hamblin says:

    I’d say nuke them and let the good Lord sort them out that’s that I think

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