ISIS, ISIS, ISIS. From here on out I will try to refer to them by the name that many in the Middle East refer to them as, Daesh. Why refer to them as Deash? Because they hate it, and that is probably the best reason of all. Daesh has been in the headlines for a few years now and I can tell that there are many, many people who are completely uninformed about this organization. I am going to try and give a bit of information to help.
To understand Deash we first need to explore the origins of the group. To do that we need to talk about a horrible human being, the late unlamented Ahmad Fadil al-Nazal al-Khalaylah AKA Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This piece of work was from Jordan and went to Afghanistan to join the fight there with Al-Qaeda (AQ). He ran a training camp there, and he also had some issues with the AQ leadership, mainly over who to kill. Al-Zarqawi was more concerned with killing Shi’i and Sunni Muslims who did not fit the mold al-Zarqawi had for what a Muslim was supposed to be. AQ was more concerned about taking on the West. He moved on to Iraq in 2002-2003 prior to the US invasion. He set up his operations in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq in the shadow of the No-Fly Zone. Thereby making it difficult for militaries to target his camps. His group was first called Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. It later became al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQIZ). This was more a marriage of convenience than one of ideological similarities. Al-Zarqawi had the men and they were attacking US military, he was fantastic at using social medical as a tool for advertising what he was doing and recruitment, and AQ had the money and wanted the attention al-Zarqawi was garnering. From 2003-2006 al-Zarqawi led a brutal campaign against Coalition Forces in Iraq. Too bad for him, he also began to terrorize the Shi’i and other Sunni in Iraq. Cutting off heads, attempting to implement a completely made up version of shari’a law that even other Islamists were like, “Damn, that is a bit harsh.” Basically, everything Daesh is doing today. He was killed in 2006 as a result of a couple of bombs dropped on him.
After his death, AQIZ was lead by two men at the same time. I do not remember their names and I really do not care to look for their names. They were not the dynamic leader al-Zarqawi was and did not do much for the organization. They were killed within a short time of each other right before the final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Which opened the door for a devotee of al-Zarqawi to take over the leadership. A man known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
This guy was a bit smarter than al-Zarqawi in giving AQ what they wanted, thereby ensuring money continued to flow to Daesh. He also grew in support from local Sunni population in Iraq, and in Syria, because the Shi’i led government of Iraq began to get revenge for they years they suffered under Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi government completely undid the work that Coalition Forces had done in brining the Sunni population to the table. That is the only reason we were able to quell the insurgency long enough to leave. We engaged tribal sheikhs and other community leaders and gave them a chance to stand up against AQIZ instead of pushing them into the arms of AQIZ. Al-Baghdadi focused his attacks on the Shi’i and Iraqi government, he left the Sunni population alone.
Then comes the Arab Spring. This gives Daesh and unprecedented chance to become more than a guerrilla group. They, along with Syrian rebels who joined them, took over oil fields and military bases in Syria. Giving them the money and weapons to spread through Western Iraq gaining more smuggling routes and more access to military grade weapons as the Iraqi Army crumpled and fled before them. With this power base al-Baghdadi claimed the land controlled by Daesh to be a caliphate. With, surprise, surprise, him as the caliph. This “caliphate” is a brutal and cruel thing that has pushed other Islamist organizations away from Daesh. But, al-Baghdadi has embraced and perfected the use of social media to gain more and more followers and recruits from all over the globe. As a result Daesh no longer needs the support of an organization like AQ anymore. They have their own revenue streams. They sell oil on the black market, their biggest customers are actually Israel and Turkey. They run successful black market on everyday goods, they receive donations from wealthy individuals, a bunch from Gulf nations, and they have captured a few banks, giving them access to millions in hard currency.
A few things about the caliphate they have set up. The rules they follow are completely false. There is zero evidence that any Middle Eastern, Arab, or Islamic empire, country, city, anything acted they way Daesh does. We in the West are quick to believe that this is actually the way things were in the Middle East during the Dark Ages, but it is a lie. So many of us believe that because Western Orientalism has taught us that this is how Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterners behave. It has been taught to us in the West since before the first Crusade in 1095. Why was it taught to us in the West? Because those in power had to demonize the “other,” to get the regular people to fight. Simple. So, the rules and laws that Daesh are following are Western inventions.
Think about that, they are using our own prejudices and racism against us. By basing their caliphate on racist, negative stereotypes that were completely fabricated they are re-enforcing those stereotypes in the minds of people in the West. Which, makes people in the West lash out against a religion, Islam, instead of the violent power-hungry asshats that deserve it. We lash out at the religion, then Daesh uses that as further evidence that the West is trying to destroy Islam, brining him more recruits and money. Propaganda is a very powerful tool and one that we are losing against. We are allowing the wrong people to control the conversation. The conversation should not be about religion. This is not Christianity vs Islam or Christianity and Judaism vs Islam. This conversation should be about decent people against violent asshats.