As a fractured state such as Iraq at the turn of the twenty-first century transitions into a new kind of governance through a myriad of explosives and combat, the identity of the state that once was becomes a mere memory. Citizens become nothing more than casualties or borderless civilians, no longer having a state to belong to. In a frazzled response to rebuild their individual identity or communal culture, many Iraqis chose to return to their roots, and rebuild from there.
Being a place of long-standing historical divides, religious groups in Iraq began to cluster together and separate themselves along non-secular lines once their authoritarian governing system fell in 2003. It is important to note that under dictatorships such as this one, oppression of all dissent among various groups is quickly dealt with and kept in check, often through abusive measures.
Jama’at al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad, a party of hardened Islamic Sunni ideologues, surfaced in the immediate aftermath of the removal of the Iraqi government. The group established static extremist principles built around the idea of jihad, a skewed term loosely defined by holy war in the name of what they considered Islam. Anything other than what they believed was not tolerated, often meaning abuse of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq. However, this emerging group went beyond a simple band of religious extremists.
After several tweaks, shifting alliances, and years of name changes, the group has become a legitimate powerhouse in the Middle East. Now masterminds of infrastructure, champions of resources in times of need, and above all, manipulators of human flaw, the Islamic State, as they are known today, have become an entity to be dealt with and certainly not ignored.
Declaring vast swaths of land to be under new control, without any regards to contest, is an audacious move of a rising power. However, it is no new issue. Though the Islamic State may seem like tyrants of a different species, in actuality, they retain many of the same qualities of past ambitious and morally blind characters. For example, following a devastating loss in the First World War, Germany was searching for some morale, a reason to once again rally together in one voice. There to take the lead was Adolf Hitler. Hitler discovered the great human flaw – the innate desire to live in affirmation that your own ways are best – and all those different are nothing but obstacles thwarting your own success. He understood this human defect and used it to bring a nation together. Oftentimes, it becomes easier to unify in hate rather than compassion, for the faults in others are blatant, but commendable attributes are hidden from jaded eyes.
Much in the same way, after Saddam Hussein was overthrown Iraq was searching for a cause to continue and a reason to unify again. Cultural divides among the people of Iraq were already prevalent when the Islamic State came into the picture. All they had to do was capitalize on the standing rhetoric that Sunni extremism is the one true way, and the only solution to every economic, social, or political problem residing in a broken state. The Islamic State took advantage of this human flaw and expounded upon it to further their political agenda, through acts of coercion and downright brainwashing of individuals. This initial draft into the extremist group allowed for the Islamic State to obtain a rather sizable following in order to carry out their goals.
It would be negligent to conclude that the Islamic State’s acts of killing and conquering are a purely religious cause; not only are they acting on ideals that do not follow Islam, but every action of theirs is a part of their political power game. Cleansing an area of ethnic and religious minorities, particularly the Yazidis and Shi’ite Muslims, and instilling harsh structure where there was no governing voice has not just warranted outcry over human rights violations by the world, but legitimacy to the Islamic State as a ruling power. The end game of the Islamic State is to reinstate an all-powerful caliphate throughout sovereign states from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea and eventually, across the globe.
This quasi-imperialism in the twenty-first century would never be plausible if it were simply a reincarnation of the crusades; for example because widely accepted notions of secular societies as well as the international community’s promise to prevent tragedies like these would surely stop the Islamic State before its reign became so substantially widespread. However, threats to the security and sovereignty of other states could be foreseeable simply because the Islamic State’s goals are not only to nationalize their extremist interpretation of Islam, but also to maximize their political and economic dominance in regions that currently host little authority.
No proper ruling system is sustainable without money. The Islamic State has been strategically conquering areas in which oil is produced and water is sourced, as well as taking advantage of any other exploitable resources in the areas they’ve taken control of. By ruling over countless smaller communities, the Islamic State instantly commands the sole sources of what every individual’s livelihood depends on. Sources for water, food, and general structure are all regulated by the Islamic State, whether the populations agree to it or not. This monopolization of human dependencies provides the very source of income that is needed to expand their sphere of influence.
The Islamic State’s tactics directly parallel such means of cooperation through forced dependency that Nazi Germany instituted. Hitler was able to amass an army because the people themselves could not afford to go against the regime. It wasn’t a matter of acceptance of anti-Semitic views or many other Nazi perspectives, but for the people, tolerating the ruling power was the only option. This is how such regimes are able to establish their own pillars of governing power wherever they go.
Therefore, in order to stop the Islamic State, it is up to the international community to recognize that the interests of such brutish entities are not confined by religious obligations but that these forces seek political and economic prestige as well. The Islamic State’s grotesque murders and genocide are often taken at face value to be in the name of fundamentalist Islam, a branch of the religion that the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not agree with.
This notion put forth by the international community that the only incentive is a religious cause only further muddles the situation at hand, and doesn’t allow for the proper response to curtail the Islamic State’s actions. As long as there is a moderately low socioeconomic status for the general populace propagated by civil unrest and wartime strife in these developing regions, there will be groups such as the Islamic State ready to rise up and take a hold on the public through mutual dependency.
by HOLLY CRAMER / contributing writer