Where did ISIS come from?
It is the problem of our age, the complicated puzzle that needs to be solved, if the world is to defeat one of the most serious threats that face human civilization.
To be able to even begin answering this question, we need to understand many elements that, together, created the conditions which were essential for the appearance and expansion of Islamic movements all around the Middle East, leading to Al-Qaeda, and then what became known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or DAESH, which is the same in Arabic.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the world witnessed a number of events that many people, at the time, did not recognize the significance and importance of, not only for the regions where those events took place, but for the whole world as well. The first was the 1967 defeat of the Arabs in the Six Day War. Israel managed to take over the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and Sinai. A single small army battled and was victorious over the armies of many Arab countries. This is the point in time when many in most of those countries saw that their political leaderships were nothing more than total failures. Those leaders didn’t just fail to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their homelands, but they also were incapable of presenting or implementing any realistic plans to improve the economic, social, and educational conditions of their societies. While all the talk was about liberating the peoples from the effects and traces of colonialism (an argument that is still being used even today by the way; decades after the end of colonialism), and taking back their countries’ resources so that they can create a better future, the realities in Arab countries were not getting any better. As a matter of fact, they were getting worse by the day. Corruption was the common element between all those states, security apparatuses were enslaving the people, and schools, universities, and health care services were laughable at the least. Everyone in the region saw and realized that nationalistic and social regimes, as they were presented, were not the answer to the misery, poverty, suffering, and total decay in every sector, public and private in their countries.
The other event was the Saudi use of oil as a weapon in 1973, during the war between Egypt and Israel. The fact that the Saudis were not contested or challenged because of that, and that they did not face any consequences afterwards, was the trigger for further politicizing of the black gold, whether through using it to control prices in world markets, or through using its revenue to achieve political ends in different parts of the globe.
Then came the Afghan war. The Americans wanted a proxy war to fight the Soviets. And the Saudis wanted to proclaim their role as the sole “representatives and protectors” of all Muslims everywhere. So, as one was aiding the Mujahedeen militarily, the other used its petro-dollars to finance the war, to spread “the word of God” in every possible Arab and majority Muslim country to recruit, religiously brain-wash, and ship as many fighters as possible to die for “the cause”. The Saudi government built schools (the so-called madrassas) in the furthest corners of Earth, they created a generation of young boys committed to a religious ideology that sees Saudi Arabia at its center, and every other country, Muslim or not, as a legitimate target. I remember, when I was a little boy, studying in Jeddah – Saudi Arabia, how the so called “Daawa” preachers used to be allowed (even invited) into the classrooms to lecture us on Islam and to encourage us to go and fight alongside “our brothers” in Afghanistan against the “atheist Soviets”. They used to distribute audio cassettes and booklets about the “miracles” the Mujahedeen were witnessing every day during their battles with their enemy, the victories that Allah was granting them, just because they were fighting in His name.
This was the starting point for all the extremist and jihadist groups that the world saw afterwards. The Soviet Union collapsed, an Islamic state was established by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Islamic fighters came back to their home countries. Atrocities were committed in Afghanistan in the name of religion, women oppressed and tortured and humiliated, minorities eradicated, historic monuments erased from existence, not to mention the abolition of any event or scene related to music and the arts. All this was seen by religious fundamentalists everywhere as a victory of Islam; a victory that they were eager to emulate and imitate in their home countries.
The fighters that came back were divided in two factions, the first wanted to fight immediately to establish the Islamic state that resembles what the world witnessed in Afghanistan, and those waged a war against the political regimes in their countries and against their societies, claiming that a society that accepts to live without Sharia law is an infidel one and thus is not worthy of being called an Islamic society. The events that took place in Egypt in the 1990s were a direct result of the return of those fanatics. The other faction decided to take a different route. They decided to implement the same method that was used on them originally, they wanted to “teach real Islam” to a new generation. And here again came the Saudi government, which was more than willing to spread its module of Islam, the Wahhabi school, to all the Arab and majority Muslim countries and beyond. They funded extremists to build schools and Islamic centers, to construct mosques and appoint their own Imams in them, and to interfere in some countries’ educational systems in order to change the curricula and make them more in line with Saudi Islamic way of thought.
The defeat of 1967 and the continuing Israeli occupation of Arab land, added to the fact that peace deals with two Arab countries did not really bring peace and economic stability and prosperity to them, poverty and unemployment and lack of knowledge because of fighting any new enlightened school of thought, were all elements used by the fundamentalists to recruit and encourage more young people and spread their ideology of hate and rejection of the other. Societies became less tolerant of any values that are different within them, individuals became less accepting of each other, simply because of religion or sect or even way of life.
The appearance of ISIS should not have been considered a surprise, it was a monster in the making for decades. It was there, waiting for the right circumstances to reveal itself. The invasion of Iraq, the so-called Arab Spring, the collapse of states like Libya and the chaos in Syria, were those circumstances. And those who were funding them, are still doing so. In Syria, they are doing so in the name of fighting dictatorship, in Libya, they are doing it to have a foot hold in Africa. And they are doing the same thing in Europe.
Will people recognize the gravity of the situation? Will they understand that the whole Western Civilization is in danger? Soon we will know.