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What's the deal with ISIS?

+1 vote
I'm not implying at all the anarchists agree with mass be-headings, but I don't really know anything about ISIS, nor do I trust any major news networks, as they have all been bought-out and are far too opinionated too tell jest the facts. What is ISIS all about? Is it as huge of a threat as I'm hearing? Please explain.
asked Sep 27, 2014 by BlackFlag1999 (130 points)
This whole post is probably off-topic, but whatever.
I've noticed that the corporate networks have rapidly defaulted to the rah-rah read-the-press-release-from-the-pentagon mode.  You could try BBC or al-jazeera's english service, though i haven't bothered.

And they don't do mass beheadings.  Mass kidnappings, mass rape, mass shootings - sure; the beheadings are one-offs for the camera.
The 'caliphate' thingy is a long standing thing in that part of the world - when the european kingdoms went into their 'dark ages', the islamic world blossomed and their influence and power spread across the mediteranean region.  The papal crusades and the religious wars in Spain came toward the end of this period, and left ethnic scars that are still nursed to this day.  As the europeans played with chinese gunpowder, the islamic states destroyed their topsoil, and eventually the mercantilists from europe subjected and pillaged what was left of the middle east (along with the rest of the fucking planet.)  Which has stuck in certain craws ever since.  This is an old, old grudge that is being nursed here, the latest blood-lettors are just exploiting those old myths.

Then there is the old sunni-shia divide, the blood feud amongst the various sunni factions of who is holier than thou.  And a half dozen other similar themes.

Basically, they're clever, vicious little bastards who have exploited an opening and are pushing for all it's worth.  Same shit, different pile, different epoch.
Great summary CB, I just want to expand a little bit on the caliphate issue -

The significance of declaring the caliphate is that it means they claim all Muslims worldwide owe them allegiance (well, all Sunni's at least, they don't regard Shia as Muslims).  The root word of 'caliphate' is 'Caliph' - the title used by Mohammed's direct successors (and then anyone wanting to assert authority over all Muslims as a politico-religious community).  Sunnism holds that there were four legitimate Caliphs after Mohammad (called the 'Rightly-Guided Caliphs'), and the Shia split from what became the Sunni's because they asserted that Ali (Mohammed's son-in-law) was the legitimate heir to Mohammed.  During the period of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, the Muslim community lived in more or less one contiguous territory, which was ruled by the Caliphs, which is why ISIS's claim to have re-established the Caliphate is a big deal - they're basically saying their leader is the 5th divinely legitimate leader of all Muslims everywhere.
Thanks Yosemite.  i can never keep the details the Great Schism straight in my head, and the origins of the caliphs (stewards) was new to me.  It is an interesting story in many ways.
Your comments inspired me to skim thru a few wikipedia pages.  While there have only been a handful of caliphs declared 'legitimate', it seems history is shins-deep in grasping little bastards eager to declare themself the next 'legitimate' Caliph.

To the original poster:  there are a couple of wikipedia articles that may be useful to you, if you skim thru and don't get bogged down in details, and if taken with a large grain of salt (and the psychoactive substance of your choice.)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wahhabi_movement
The latter is an ultra-orthodox faith/something-else that originated in the kingdom of saud, and has lately bought its way into every insurgency from Algeria to Afghanistan to Chechnya to Indonesia - with a suitcase full of cash in one hand and their Good Book of hate in the other.  This is the undercurrent you might want to look into.
"it seems history is shins-deep in grasping little bastards eager to declare themself the next 'legitimate' Caliph."

Hahaha no doubt, the last major empire to claim it was a caliphate (to my knowledge) was the Ottoman Empire, which really wasn't all that long ago.

To OP:
This might also be of interest - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_Brotherhood
One of the Muslim Brotherhood's most revered figures - Sayyid Qutb - was/is a sort of ideological godfather for many Jihadist groups.
watch the adam curtis documentary series "the power of nightmare", for more info on qutb.
or just because curtis videos are amazing...

2 Answers

–1 vote
I'm not an expert but it seems to me that at it's core, ISIS is an extremist, reactionary response to unrest in the Middle East, much of which was directly or indirectly caused by the US and the rest of the western world. Their goal is to unite the Middle East and then to become a global military power. This will fail, as have all previous reactionary groups, because they have no real structure other than their jihadist ideals, which are too extreme to be enforced without eventual uprising, no matter how violently they enforce their views.

Despite this, ISIS could very well be a significant threat right now. For the last two decades the western world has been oppressing people in the Middle East, and as a result we have raised up a new generation of kids who hate us more than their fathers could have imagined (possibly why Al-Qaeda has rejected them as too extreme). By giving these kids a cause and an organization to join, ISIS is giving a dangerous group a means of solidarity, though as I said, it can't last. I think that this message of solidarity and retaliation against injustice (albeit by causing more injustice) is why even some westerners have been joining their ranks.

I'm not sure what ISIS has to do with anarchists at all though, as it is not even remotely an anarchist community.
answered Sep 27, 2014 by Lantz (-10 points)
I wasn't saying that ISIS was an anarchistic group, I just wanted to get some info on them without getting the "They hate our freedom!" answer again, and I figured I was more likely to get that here. Thanks.
given that i don't expect people to have particularly good information on the middle east unless they have a lot more/different access than most people in the us...
isis seems to just be the most media-savvy (at least in the short term) of the myriad of groups in the middle east.
people who seem to have no reason to lie do not consider them even the most dangerous, whatever that means.
but this isn't really a great site to learn about topical events outside of anarchist space.
so, good luck.
I think that on a western point of view, they are absolutely not the "most dangerous group", maybe even among violent religious groups. But in the middle east, in terms of number, money, weapons, and logistic, let's say simply that they are the most important organisation among those who are called "islamists". Unfortunatly.
+1 vote
Of course, its seems a total evidence that ISIS (or Daesh, in arab) absolutly have nothing to do in common with anarchism or any kind of anarchists.

The only link that could be made is by the anti-terrorist policies that tend to mix things that have nothing in common as long as certain acts should be considered "terrorist".

That being said, I think it's very important to reconsider the question of this "proto-State" or movement (call it whatever you want) out of the emotionnal plague and wave of paranoïa instilled by the States, the medias, of western countries that have been targeted by violent attacks claimed by ISIS or other violent religious reactionnary of fascist-alike organisations.

As we know, the fear that is produced by blind mass murder or any kind of violent attack against random people, even being in itself scarry and horrible, would inherently be subject to recovery by politics and the state (especially its repressive forces).

In addition, it must be recognized that -as terrible as it should seem- the violence of the attacks of ISIS against people in the western world have nothing in common with the brutality and horror of what ISIS is actually doing in Iraq and elsewhere in the middle east. The actual iraqi governement, that is not even controlling a half of the country, is now declaring that what ISIS is doing could be simply called by its name : a genocide.

The ideology of ISIS is called "Takfirism", and its rejected by the vast majority of muslims, and even by organisations like Al Qaida (or at least the original "headquarter" that didn't pledge allegiance to Al Baghdadi, because some others did), not only because it's "too extreme", but also because it goes against a lot of the basic principles of Islam as a religion.
What I mean is that for muslims, and regarding to the islamic tradition on a historical point of view, it's not only a question of "who is the most extremist" or "orthodox", because there is a concensus about the fact that takfiris are less orthodox than other groups as long as they are pretending that "the necessity of the holy war" justifies to bypass the very principles of islam concerning what is haraam (forbidden) and halal (authorized or "licit") for muslims in the Quran and the sunnah.

 Also because ISIS claim to be the "state of the ummah" (aka the whole muslim community), but that the vast majority of the ummah does not recognize itself in it. To make a simple comparision, it's exactly the same problem than far right and religious nationalists groups claiming to act in the name of "all christians" or "all american people" (for exemple) when the vast majority of these people don't support them.

To give an illustration of this problem, we could talk about the fact that most of the countries where islam is the dominant religion, even in islamic states (more or less authoritarian), the concept of "dhimmitude" is still applied to non-muslims. The idea is based on Quranic verses and the islamic tradition that recognize that non-muslims (especially believers) must be protected as long as they respect the law of the country and pay their bill (to sum it up).

I'm not a specialist of Islam, but basically I think I'm not mistaken about the concept. More or less, its the islamic version of the law on foreigners. It's often caricatured by islamophobic pranks (most of them being religious or non-atheists), but replaced in the context, comparing the way other religions are generally treating people considered "infidels" it should be considered as something less worth than many others. Of course, it always depend in the various situations of very different places in the world, and the way it's applied. But whatever...

The fact is that in principe, ISIS mainly considered dhimmis as ennemies, and those who don't pledge allegiance to the tyranic law of the Califate (the territories claimed by ISIS) and to Al Baghdadi aka "the Calif" (the big boss of ISIS) are condemned to death or slavery, which is of course considered a crazy thing by most of muslims.

I think it's also important to recognize, especially as people living in the western world (with its specific cultures, and paradigms) and even as atheists, that sadly (because it's often a forgotten fact) the first victims of ISIS in term of number are themselves muslims (considered infidels because of their specific practice of Islam) on the one hand, and non-muslim arabs and minorities on the other hands. Media often talking about these last ones as "christians from the east" or maronites, and yezidis.

And of course, ISIS says that killing or enslave all these people is in accordance with the Quran and "the necessity of the holy war", but the fact is that they have a very personnal way to interpret the Quran. And also they say that there is no possible "interpretation" of it, and that what is written must be followed to the letter. But of course they only choose the passages that fit to their practice and ideology.

To be more specific, many muslims accord themselves on the fact that the Takfiris (aka ISIS) are totally rejecting the principle of hermeneutics, which is the philosophical and religious theory that promotes the interpretation and exegesis of the texts, that -according to this principle- are always to be considered relatively to their historical period, and specific conditions, and not applied "by the word" (still always subject to interpretation).

Otherwise, it should be said as an evidence that most muslims consider slavery, murder of dhimmis (or non-muslims believers) or in general, etc... to be considered deadly sins in the Quran or even the Sunnah (the islamic tradition in accordance to the live of muhammed, aka the prophet), especially when its used as a form of propaganda or a way to force people to convert. And this because of a simple idea : you would never know if the conversion is sincere when its forced... Exactly like you can never know if something is "true" when confessed under torture, for exemple.

All this being said, I know that the temptation to criticize islam as a specific religion is very tempting for western atheists, but to me, it tends to easely degenerate in commonplaces, almagams or even racist prejudices. I know that islam is a religion and not a "ethnic" category, but in a similar way as with antisemitism, the racist clichés tends to amalgam religious beliefs, physical appereance and cultural specificities. And even not being racist, reducing the question of ISIS, or what media call "islamism" to Islam as a religion generally tend to reductionnism that make us miss a lot of important elements, if not the essential ones.

Before being a religious organisation, ISIS is mostly an army, and a rich warmongers international company at the age of global capitalism, like many others before them. We also must keep in mind the Al Qaida (their "ancestors") was founded by billioners, and not "simple poor peasants" and "romantic warriors".

This last image is the one that ISIS, and many organisations of the same kind are trying to give of themselves. Most of the time, the managers of the organisation are never in the first line when it gets to armed conflicts.

 From this point of view, it has been said that Al Qaeda was mostly a "startup" of international "terrorism", or simply warfare (which is also a business before anything else), and that it simply degenerate into a network of mercenaries. The "schism" between Al Qaeda and other little organisation on the one hand, and ISIS on the other hands should be reconsidered on this simple level. Ideology and religion quarels being always or most of the time questions of power in general, and money in particular.
answered Feb 18, 2015 by okapy (2,120 points)
edited Feb 21, 2015 by okapy
Concerning non-imperialist and non western resistance to ISIS, a lot of things have been happening in Rojava and in the city of Kobane (and in general in Kurdistan), where there is an important revolutionnary movement. Not only the PKK, but also other non-marxist groups fighting both against turkish governement, the iraqian governement, than against ISIS. Ironically, the main reason why the turkish governement closed their borders and didn't do anything to help people being slaughtered in iraqian kurdistan is because the turkish state consider their inhabitants as terrorists...

Some interesting stuff have been documented by turkish anarchists from DAF ("devrimci anarşist faaliyet", Revolutionnary Anarchist Organisation, in turkish) and other revolutionnaries on the topic, some of them being engaged with kurds in conflicts against ISIS, especially in Kobane.

If you are intersted, you can check the URLs below, but I have to warn that (to me) many things that are said are chocking and rough.

To sum it up quickly, and as a conclusion, I would say that ISIS are nothing but fascists, as simple as that. The problem being that they did not came from nowhere, that the groups who joined it were partly armed and financed by western countries during the war in Syria, and that their very existence is a product of the mess that was left by western imperialists after years of war in the area (especially in Iraq).

This text here : http://en.contrainfo.espiv.net/2014/10/12/iraq-syria-kurdistan/

And a big collection of texts, pictures and infos made by Crimethinc (including stuff by DAF) : http://crimethinc.com/texts/r/kobane/
A good illustration of the fact that muslims are the first targets of ISIS in the area where they operate is that the first big offensive of ISIS (the take of Mosoul) in Iraq was made in using and instrumenting conflicts between sunnis and shiites (the two main branches of islam : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shia%E2%80%93Sunni_relations) : ISIS claiming themselves sunnis (or defenders of sunnis) and considering all shiites to be "false muslims" or "infidels". That's exactly what happened during the take of city of Mosul : most of sunnis militias didn't do anything, the army ran away, and the shiites were killed when they didn't go somewhere else. Then, the sunnis and sunni militias were forced to pledge allegence to the Califate, and those who refused were generally killed or enslaved when they didn't ran away. Other mainstream informations can be found here : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Mosul (I'm sorry as I don't often post links to wikipedia, but considering the lack of informations on the topic, let's say that basic things should be interesting to know).
I hope I didn't said to much shit. I mean, there nothing certain about the methods (beheading, etc) but what is known as a fact is that, unfortunatly, they do practice mass murder. If we can't be too much cautious concerning the dominant medias, I think we can trust what kurdish revolutionnaries told and wrote about it, as eye witness, for exemple. Unfortunatly, there are many graves and serial killing practiced by ISIS.

I know we have to be cautious about any information on the topic, but the "conspiracy mentality" also tend to relativism about things that shouldn't be ignored or treated with levity.
If anyone have questions or critics of my answer, that would be very welcome because it's really not a definition and I'm really not sure about everything I said.
Okapy:  thorough and extensive as usual.
(now take a deep breath.  :)

I understand this must be somewhat emotionally-charged for you,  given the recent events in france and the recurring persecution of north african migrants by certain factions in european government and society.
Peace, compas.
I'm also a big fan of Orwell, but I tend to be very cautious with orwellian political analyzes. By that I mean political analyzes inspired of Orwell's thought.

I mean, I feel quite close to your analysis. But I would like to put a damper about this.

I think that you are very right in saying that ISIS is kind of a Goldstein figure for the Western World and more generally for imperialist superpowers (after all, not all of them being from the West : especially Russia, to only quote one). I agree to a loan detail, but not least : in 1984, Goldstein does not exist for real, it is a character . And its dissent is a fiction invented by the "system". More over, it is widely suggested that BIG BROTHER could also be a fiction. Some kind of puppet used by the power so as to produce subjection and submission.

I'm really not sure that the CIA would have made it all up. Not because they can't do something like this, but because it wouldn't be necessary.

Unfortunatly, islamic "foundamentalism" (I don't like this term, and I know it's also criticized by other muslims, but the fact is that most "foundamentalists" describe themselves like this), or at least very reactionnary, military and authoritarian political groups claiming to be inspired by islam do exist. And they exist also by themselves and not only because of some "conspiracy".

Of course, a lot of the critics of these groups are islamophobic, or racist, or making amalgams, etc. But the fact is that conspiracy theories, that pretend that ISIS or Al Qaeda were only made up by the CIA or other western bankers or millioners are also false and racist.

What is true (as a known fact), is that the groups ("islamic fronts", etc) who founded Al Qaeda were supported by the US from a military and financial perspective during the war in afghanistan against the USSR. Why ? Because at the time, the US were supporting any kind of armed thugs as long as they were "fighting communism".

And they just did the same during the recent war in Syria. The vast majority of the groups who founded ISIS were engaged in the Syrian civil war. And because the US was against Bashar Al Assad regime (the syrian dictator), they financed and armed non-communist groups who where fighting against him.  That's also why the PKK or other "democratic" groups were reduced to minority during the civil war inside of the "resistance", and forced to retreat because of internal conflicts were the "islamists" became the majority. The official version says that the money, the equipment or the weapons were "diverted". When asked why ISIS was equiped with american assault machine guns, and american hummers, and weapons, etc, Obama just said that "there were a lot of arms trafficking in the area" or something like that. Right  ? ;-)

I mean, to me it's absolutly not a conspiracy : that's "politico-military decisions" and "geostrategy" in terms of state imperialism. I mean : the biggest part of the iceberg is not hidden at all. It's just right before our amazed and dazzled opened eyes.

What I really want to say is that to me, it's only state imperialism. I mean, it's quite logical the that the US governement have been involved (from near or far) in every major conflict in the world since the begining of the XXth century as long as it's the first imperialist superpower.

And as anarchists, it's simple to analyze that, and we don't need any conspiracy theories. Because contrary to all the others, most of us think that every state is a latent imperialism. Because the logic, and the very principle of the state is imperialist by nature, and all states are really local empires that seek to colonise, police, control and dominate everyone. And it would kill and declare war to anyone who would challenge its hegemony if it have the opportunity to do so. In fact, a state would only be at "peace" (with other states) if it's the best way to temporary protects its interests, and that it doesn't have others means to expend. For the state, "peace" is only a temporary procedure.  And that's why the US have almost always been at war. Because they can do it, and because it's the best way to protect its capitalist and imperialist interests as a State.  

To me, it's as simple as that. Nothing less, nothing more.

More or less, I think that states are not "making all things up", but only pushing and using movements that already exists so as to remove as much profit as possible : both in terms of politics and capital. Just like in the tao philosophy of martial arts. And they are generally doing the same with revolutionnary or protest movements : not really "manipulating" or "pulling the strings", but only destroying things from the inside in encouraging political intrigues and self-destructive tendencies inside the movement, just like they did for the Black Panthers with COINTELPRO.

I'm quite okay with the idea of using references to Orwell, but I would say that we must be aware of the fact that the "conspiracy mentality" as a generalized political attitude is most of the time the fact of authoritarians (where ever they come from), and those people loooove to quote Orwell and see conspiracies everywhere.

I dont' know how it's like in the US, but here in france, and more generally in Europe as far as I know, those orwellian conspiracy theorists are generally antisemits (or close to the antisemitic mentality and when they can't say "the jews" they say "reptilians, illuminati" or anything else : but frankly, it's sounds quite the same to me), and a lot of them recycles far right arguments (or are supporting authoritarian regimes one against the others).

I don't want to look like the fucked up cyber-antifa-troll who sees nazis everywhere (;-)), and I'm not even suggesting that you would be concerned by these critics. I'm more like trying to adress these problematics to know what you folks think about it.

So I would say that when we quote orwell and make references to him, we shall be very careful not to reinforce unfounded and speculative conspiracy theories, to the extent that there is a kind of "anti-media" mythology which tends to consider that everything the all the "dominant media" says is necessarily a deliberate lie, or at least wrong, and that there is necessarily a hidden conspiracy behind every dramatic historical event. Including current events.

One more time, I don't think that's what you are exactly suggesting, but I felt like I wanted to add something about this.

As a conclusion, I would say that I'm really against conspiracy theories as I think it also reinforce the myth of the invulnerability of the State, or of any power, and most of the time encourages apathy. Indeed : if everything is doomed, what is to be done ?

While I'm thinking of it, I'm going to post a new question about this. ;-)
clodbuster : you are quite right about this.

I feel very concerned about all of this because I'm first eye witness of the rise of nationalism and racism in Europe these last years, and particularly against arabs and muslims in those times (but also all non-white people on the first hand, and against jews on the other hands).

What is very hard and troubles me is also that various kind of racism also contaminate far left and even some anarchists with arguments like "aren't we against all religions ?" so as to recycle racist clichés (considering all muslims or arabs, for example, to be reactionnary, poor and stupid) or the "It's my freedom of speech" rethoric. On the other hand, there is also a rise of antisemitism in western europe (I would say, especially in france and in greece), where this is again "trendy" in all political tendencies (or various random people) to consider jews or "zionists" to be responsible for every kind of fucked up shit (banks, media, war, etc...).
...