The responsibility for ISIS doesn’t lie with the West

While it would be ridiculous to allow the West the moral high ground, it is even more absurd for the Muslim world to transfer the responsibility for ISIS on to the West.

ISIS flagj

While it would be ridiculous to allow the West the moral high ground, it is even more absurd for the Muslim world to transfer the responsibility for ISIS on to the West

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is emulating al Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Boko Haram and pretty much every single Sunni Islamist militant organisation in the world by taking up arms vying to establish a regional – and eventually global – caliphate.

Many in the West and the lion’s share of the Muslim intelligentsia, meanwhile, are relentlessly filling column spaces putting almost the entire blame for the Iraq crisis on George W Bush and Tony Blair.

Had Bush and Blair not decided to invade Iraq in 2003, would ISIS be wreaking havoc right now? Of course not. Health permitting, it would be Saddam Hussein who would be taking care of the wreaking bit. And, with Saddam at the helm, why would there be any need for a Sunni militant reactionary movement? Plus Saddam wasn’t a fan of militancy that wasn’t orchestrated via his command.

If Barack Obama had not hastily removed the US forces in 2007, would we witness the ongoing crisis? That might be slightly more difficult to answer; but it is hard to imagine any amount of sectarian diplomacy bridging the Shia-Sunni divide in Iraq in the last seven years.

The sectarian conflict has been there for 14 centuries. And if history, and the rest of the Middle East, is anything to go by, the odds are that a Shia prime minister like Nuri al-Maliki is not keeping his nose to the grindstone endeavouring to create an inclusive government or military.

While it would be ridiculous to allow the West the moral high ground that it is hankering after ever since ISIS began flexing its muscles, it is even more absurd for the Muslim world to transfer the responsibility for our own mess on to the West.

Lethally absurdity one might add.

Because the problem isn’t the US adhering to its national self-interests; the issue is that most Muslim countries don’t pay much heed to theirs.

It is always amusing to witness opinion makers in the Muslim world clamouring for the US to take responsibility for creating disharmony in their states, laying the burden of rectification on the Americans, all while bellowing about their sovereignty being breached.

It is even more amusing to witness the Pakistani intelligentsia that has finally warmed up to the idea of owning its own war against the Taliban, preferring to blame the US for the mess in Iraq.

The roots of the ongoing conflict in Iraq predate the American invasion. They actually predate Christopher Columbus discovering America by seven odd centuries. The roots are sectarian and the war over who is the true follower of Islam began when the first caliph of Islam was taking oath. The ‘true and false’ sectarian fault lines were established in 680 AD at Karbala. The fault lines have since been branching out, causing religious quivers for the past 1400 years.

Sectarian fault lines are more conspicuous than any nationalistic unity in almost every Muslim state.

It is no coincidence that sectarian demographics are at the heart of the various crises in the Middle East.

It is no coincidence that ISIS, TTP, Boko Haram, et al are following an identical ideology wherein outlawing and massacring everyone who disagrees with you has been god sanctioned.

It is no coincidence that Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, countries that are so different in everything barring their religious identity, are facing a common predicament.

It is also not a coincidence at all that the Muslim world hasn’t managed to solve its problems while ignoring the elephant in the room.

It is a no brainer then that tracing the commonalities among ISIS, TTP and Boko Haram, might give us all a ‘hint’ as to what that elephant in the room is.

When a religion’s political doctrine is being used as the rationale behind nationwide terrorism in a country, it is suicidal to incorporate said religion in politics. The political policy of the religion bolsters the religion’s inherent superiority complex, leading to antediluvian modes of suppression for the ‘wrong’ followers and non-believers.

Outlawing and butchering over ideological differences is as medieval as actions get, and the modern day solution to this particular problem is making religion irrelevant as a political entity. Sectarianism and religious extremism in turn are nipped in the bud.

Sectarianism and Takfir is at the heart of the quagmire that the Muslim world is precipitously sinking into. Any attempts to look elsewhere for either the problem or the solution will throw us into the vicious circle that we have hogged for almost a millennia and a half.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a journalist and writer. Follow him on Twitter

22 Responses to “The responsibility for ISIS doesn’t lie with the West”

  1. md

    While those fault lines may have existed for centuries, it is glib to explain current political crises in those terms. You cannot divorce the rise of ISIS from the recent political dynamics of Iraq and Syria and wider middle eastern geo-politics. Everything from the initial invasion, the strategy of the post-invasion US leadership in Iraq, the support for and subsequent actions of Maliki and the role of key western allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey have played specific roles that have contributed to a political crisis and social vacuum readily filled by jihadist elements. And as such, the “west” in particular must take a share of responsibility, though of course not all of it. Because of this, those on the left should be seeking further western intervention not less. If we can harness the US military to confront the monster that it helped create, then good.

  2. Dave Roberts

    Apart from the last two sentences this is a load of crap, or rather, stating the f……g obvious. The West is correct because what we do works. ave you seen anyone trying to get into Africa, Iraq or Syria? I rest my case.

  3. Moses Brenner

    This is an uninformed article. The roots to the current conflict is the post WWI borders imposed by Britain. Those borders didn’t follow tribal lines. Now is the opportunity to redivide Iraq into 3 nation states alon tribal lines. It doesn’t guarantee peace but it will diffuse tensions dramatically for a long while.

  4. David Lindsay

    At last, we have a real enemy in the Middle East. We have created it ourselves, of course. But at least it really exists. Unlike the previous ones.

  5. andagain

    We invaded Iraq and it is a mess. We didn’t invade Syria, and it is a near-identical mess.

    You would have thought that a full-scale invasion of a country would have had more of an effect.

  6. Ortega

    The sectarian conflict has been there for 14 centuries.

    Except not though. Distinct Shia/Sunni religious identities took centuries to form, and even then the lines between them were very blurred. Shia and Sunni dynasties were happy to work with eachother throughout history. The reason for the violence now is Saudi/Qatari financed propaganda directed at certain places, rather than muslims of different sects having an innate disposition to fight eachother. In Oman Ibadis, Sunnis, Shias coexist within a very traditional religious society in contrast to the secularised societies of Iraq and Syria where they’re killing eachother.

  7. Ortega

    We didn’t invade Syria, and it is a near-identical mess.

    Other countries have intervened in Syria though.

  8. andagain

    But even they did not start the war there.

  9. Ortega

    They didn’t start the civil protests but you could argue that their support escalated the situation into a war (which it wasn’t originally).

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes, they did. For example. Saudi and Qatar sent Islamists to fight Assad, when it was plain the West were not interested in following up on the moral values we espouse.

  11. carol_wilcox

    Saudi Arabia is the real culprit, but who supplies them? See this in FT on Friday:

    Look beyond Saudi Arabia for Sunni leadership

    David Gardner

    When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the jihadi leader whose blackshirts overran swathes of northern and central Iraq in June, gave his Ramadan rant last month after proclaiming himselfcaliph, he had it translated into English, French, German, Turkish, Russian – and Albanian. Why did his Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant(known as Isis), which now styles itself narcissistically as the Islamic State, take the trouble?

    Since the end of the cold war and after the wars of the Yugoslav succession, the western Balkans – in particular Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia and even bits of Bulgaria
    – have been carpeted with Saudi-financed Wahhabi mosques and madrassas. This is moving local Muslim culture away from Turkic-oriented, Sufi Islam towards the radical
    bigotry of Wahhabi absolutism, which groups such as Isis have taken to its logical conclusion. This is fertilised ground for jihadi ambition.

    Saudi Arabia not only exports oil, but tanker-loads of quasi-totalitarian religious dogma and pipelines of jihadi volunteers, even as it struggles to insulate itself from the
    blowback; and King Abdullah, in his end of Ramadan address, warns against the “devilish” extremism of “these deviant forces”. Jihadi extremism does present a threat to the kingdom. But in doctrinal terms it is hard to see in what way it “deviates” from Wahhabi orthodoxy, with its literalist and exclusivist rendering of Sunni Islam. Its extreme
    interpretation of monotheism anathematises other beliefs, in particular the “idolatrous” practices ofChristians and Shia Muslims, as infidel or apostate. That can be read as limitless sanction for jihad. The modern jihadi is a Wahhabi on steroids. His main grievance with the House of Saud is that it deviates:its profligate deeds do not match its Wahhabi words.

    The late King Fahd, Abdullah’s predecessor, for example, acquired a reputation as a playboy and gamblerin his youth. Yet during his reign he built 1,359 mosques abroad,
    together with 202 colleges, 210 Islamic centres and more than 2,000 schools, according to official Saudi data.

    There seem to be no figures for Wahhabi “outreach” under Abdullah, a more austere and ecumenical figure. Anecdotal evidence says Saudi mosque-building is powering ahea
    wherever believers are found, especially in south, central and southeast Asia, home to about 1bn of the world’s 1.6bn Muslims.

    The House of Saud, facing a potentially wrenching succession to the ailing Abdullah at a time of upheaval across the Arab world, is in a delicate position. As custodian
    of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, it is the closest modern equivalent to the old Islamic caliphate. It thus abominates the violent presumption of Isis as much as it abhors the rival brand of pan-Islamic fundamentalism of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet the kingdom still spews out the corrosive poison that helps fuel religion-based fanaticism. The
    Isis rampage of destruction of shrines and mosques,
    for instance, continues the two centuries-old record of Wahhabi
    iconoclasm. Nor should it be forgotten that the House of Saud used
    Wahhabi zealots as its shock troops in the last century to unite by
    force most of the religiously diverse Arabian peninsula – won by the sword
    in 52 battles over 30 years. There are no churches in Saudi Arabia, and
    permits to build Shia mosques are rarer than desert rain.

    Saudi Arabia is not solely responsible for the result; resurgent jihadism amid the virulent battle within Islam between the majority Sunni and minority Shia is playing outacross the Levant, down into the Gulf and across to the Indian subcontinent. But it is a primary source of doctrinal bigotry, as Saudi schoolbooks enjoining believers to shun all but their own well attest.

    The worldwide surge in Wahhabi mosques began in response to Iran’s attempts to export the Shia radicalism of its 1979 revolution. The Anglo-American overthrow of
    Iraq’s minority Sunni regime in the 2003 invasion of Iraq – which installed a Shia majority and ignited sectarian carnage – and the west’sfailure to support the rebellion of the Sunni majority in Syria, have fed Sunni grievances, sharpened by the Iran-backed Shia axis across the region. It is uncertain whether the Saudi state
    and its Gulf allies finance groups such as Isis, but their citizens do, encouraged by the Sunni supremacist discourse and tactical promiscuity of their rulers, fearful of being
    outflanked from the religious right.

    Saudi Arabia’s position as the world’s leading oil exporter, a leading purchaser of western arms and a counterweight to Iran in the Gulf has shielded it from criticism. In the
    current turmoil in the Middle East – characterised by an absence of state and institutions, a loss of shared national narrative in mosaic countries such as Syria and Iraq, and the feebleness of previously influential big powers – there is a lack of mainstream Sunni leadership.

    The petrodollar theocracy of Saudi Arabia, in its contest with the petrodollar theocracy of Iran, has smothered Sunni space – except for the vacuum in which Isis is building its (also oil-rich) cross-border caliphate, now striking east into Kurdistan and west into Lebanon.

    Previous generations of mainstream Sunni Arabs gave their allegiance to pan-Arab nationalists such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, tarnished paladins of a dead-end ideology. The potential disaster now facing the Arabs demands a new generation of Sunni leaders,
    able to defeat extremism within their own camp. That is something Saudi Arabia, whose Wahhabi absolutism is part of the genetic code of groups such as Isis, cannot do.

  12. Just Visiting

    > In Oman Ibadis, Sunnis, Shias coexist

    Oman has only 4M inhabitants – and are neither Sunni nor Shia
    Wiki ‘the only country with a majority Ibadi population.’

    The Independent have a good article:
    “Sunni-Shia tensions are increasing across the world. They
    are on the rise in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon,
    Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia, Malaysia, Egypt, and even in London as issues
    of identity, rights, interests and enfranchisement find sectarian
    expression.”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-vicious-schism-between-sunni-and-shia-has-been-poisoning-islam-for-1400-years–and-its-getting-worse-9139525.html

  13. Ortega

    Oman has only 4M inhabitants

    So does Lebanon, the DRC and Bosnia??

    and are neither Sunni nor Shia
    Wiki ‘the only country with a majority Ibadi population.’


    The Ibadis only make up 75% of muslims there. The remaining 25% are Sunni/Shia.

  14. Guest

    “The West”. As you try and conflate this failing nation with the Nordics, or Germany…heck, even America.

    Your economics has failed.

  15. Guest

    You’re ignoring Qatar’s role there.

  16. Just Visiting

    So the country you chose as proof that Sunnis and Shia can live happily together: is a country where BOTH are in a minority.

    So you seem to be supporting the view – that in countries where either Sunni or Shia are in the majority: there will be Sunni/Shia conflict!

  17. Ortega

    Why are you just emphasising Sunnis and Shi’ites? The Ibadis are part of the wider Khajarite strain of Islam which historically has had more hostile relations with relations with Sunnis than Sunnis and Shias have had with eachother. I pointed to Oman because all 3 sects live there without any notable problems. My point was that the current sectarian violence isn’t due to some innate disposition of these sects to fight eachother that goes back 14 centuries as the author claimed. Contemporary Sunni Gulf financing of puritan movements is much more important than some supposed long standing hatred.

  18. Just Visiting

    It was you, not me, that ’emphasised sunnis and Shias’ when you wrote above:

    > Shia and Sunni dynasties were happy to work with each other throughout history.

    > I pointed to Oman because all 3 sects live there without any notable problems.

    So you now admit – Oman was not relevant at all, to the issue of Sunnis/Shias – just a red herring.

    > My point was that the current sectarian violence isn’t due to
    some innate disposition of these sects to fight each other that goes back 14 centuries as the author claimed.

    So what do you say about the violence between Sunnis and Shias that started right back at the start:

    From Wiki:
    > The tragedy in Karbala has had an impact on religious conscience of Muslims beyond its sacredness among Shiites.[9] In the long term, the cruel killings at Karbala became an example of the brutality of the Umayyads and fueled the later Shiite movements.

    Lastly, you said
    > Contemporary Sunni Gulf financing of puritan movements is much more important than some supposed long standing hatred.

    I’d agree that the new money in the gulf is a huge problem – but I’d say the money is being used to encourage the same violence that stems back to the roots of Islam.

  19. tezz

    Actually the first part is correct, and the last two sentences are a load of crap. I find it disgusting that you want to send more soldiers out to die in these places. Let people in these countries deal with their own problems. If you want to go fight in Syria or Iraq you go, but dont you dare suggest our army go and do your dirty work for you. The 2003 invasion was a total disaster to both the West and the Middle East, the best thing we can do is stay out of other people’s affairs!

  20. Ortega

    So you now admit – Oman was not relevant at all, to the issue of Sunnis/Shias – just a red herring.

    The author pointed to Sunni/Shia violence. I used Oman to make a general point about sectarianism in Islam. I know that in the West it’s popular to break Islam into Sunnis and Shia but historically it is Sunnis, Shia and Khawarij.

    The tragedy in Karbala has had an impact on religious conscience of Muslims beyond its sacredness among Shiites


    This first sentence you quoted disproves your general point. Karbala is important to Shias and Sunnis, Shia just emphasize it more because they identify with Muhammed’s family more than Sunnis do. Sunnis do not identify with the villains (from the Shia perspective) of Karbala, and Shias do not identify the villains as “Sunnis”. They just portray them as oppressive monarchical forces. Some modern Shia even equate the modern (non-Sunni) regime in Tehran with the villains of Karbala, which shows it’s not seen by Shias primarily in Shia vs Sunni terms.

  21. Just Visiting

    > Shias do not identify the villains as “Sunnis”.

    Not in your head maybe. But in the real world all the rest of us inhabit…

  22. Ortega

    Really? You leave a thread dormant for a month, and then come back with a weak ad hominem non-response. Cool.

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