ISIS: Another Resurgence of Radical Islamists

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In his Op-Ed, Mohammad S. Moussalli analyzes the current security situations and political dilemma in the Middle East in view of ISIS savagery.

In June 2014, a major offensive launched by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq & Greater Syria (ISIS), also known as “The Islamic State” (IS), succeeded in no time to sweep and seize most northern Iraqi cities, like Samarra, Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities. To bring ISIS assaultive march toward Baghdad and the self-governing Iraqi-Kurdistan region into a halt, the U.S. administration initiated a surgical air strike operation, soon turned into a multinational campaign, aimed to destroy ISIS’s militant forces and war machines.

Before long, a series of vengeful tragic events began to come forth one after the other. Alas, besides the recent shocking assassination of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists in Paris, the world went through a traumatic shock after watching four video footages on August 19, September 2 & 24, October 4, and November 16 showing a hooded ISIS militant cold-bloodedly beheading five western hostages: three Americans, French and British citizen. Then as now, a strong wave of distress and anger bursts out across the world, especially among apolitical citizens who were misinformed about the aftereffects of Middle East’s ongoing carnage or were unobservant that the slaughtering of innocents is still in full play in the third world.

On the official theater, governments were prompt in denouncing the malign role and barbarous crimes of “The Islamic State”. Televised speeches condemning the evil doings of ISIS and al-Qaeda overfilled the international media; while expressions of sympathy with the families and friends of the victims traveled across all diplomatic channels and social media. Yet, neither the U.S. nor UK nor France told the horror-stricken public of some strategy through which they can subdue those fanatic butchers once and for all times. Or, at least, said a word about the unavowed camp that mothered the rise of Islamic ultra-radicalism, when democracy was at the doorstep of the Middle East region. Likewise, no international organization or group of nations, like the U.N, EU, P-5, and the Arab League, for example, assured the terrified world that they have a multinational plan to stop this unheard-of bloodletting and put an end to this heinousness before it expands in all directions. Obviously, there are none.

Meanwhile, in some parts of the non-Muslim orbit, Islam and Muslims were subjected to defamation and malicious finger-pointing—let alone name-calling. Islam, the faith, was tagged as a violent engine that generates fury and calls for an archaic form of life. Arabs and Muslims, in whole, were slanderously stigmatized as a nation of retarding clans who tend to live by the sword, and such.

Given the severity of those crimes, it is heady to condone spontaneous disparagements, presuming that most of which are involuntary emotional reactions of ordinary people. However, it is inexcusable to find some malevolent politicians and alleged analysts exploit people’s suffering in a suchlike defamatory track to justify their anti-Arab policies and ingrained Islamophobia. Recalling to public memory that neither Muslims nor Jews have ever incriminated Christianity or Christians for the Bosnian genocide or for the holocaust, though the slaughterers were followers of Christianity—leave alone older instances, like the uprooting of Native Americans.

Albeit that it is not the right time to counter-argue and refute those baseless imputations, yet there are some key points that need to be harked back to conceptualize the roots, driving force and course of events of which most radical Islamist groups and bloody-minded Jihadi movements gained momentum.


The bedrock of most Islamic movements, be they revivalists, reformists, Salafists or any other group, is fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalism is a school of thought and movement that stresses on the literal adherence and strict implementation—according to their interpretations—of Islamic scriptures: the Qur’an and Sunnah (Sunnah is the words and actions of Prophet Muhammad). Islamist groups, generally, necessitate the founding of a pan-Islamic state (Caliphate) so that they could live true Islam as in Prophet Muhammad’s era and his four successors (the first four caliphs).

For many centuries, Islamic ideologies continued to spread throughout the Islamic world on the strength of the teachings of many prominent Islamic scholars and clerics. Herein under a shortlist of few influential originators and advocates of Islamic fundamentalism, especially whose perceptions and teachings still serve as a reference point to most Islamic movements or cults until this time.

In chronological order, the list includes:

  • Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) founder of Wahhabism,
  • Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) ideologist of Pan-Islamism Unity,
  • Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) follower of al-Afghani and founder of Islamic Modernism,
  • Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979) founder of Jamaat-e-Islamia,
  • Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949) founder and ideologist of the Muslim Brotherhood,
  • Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) ideologist and leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood
  • Abdullah Azzam (1941-1989) Palestinian Islamic scholar, co-founder of al-Qaeda and father of Global Jihad

On the extreme right of Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic radicalism and Jihadist movements, such as al-Qaeda (founded by Osama bin Laden) and its offshoots like ISIS and al-Nusra Front, for example, and the Islamic Jihad (founded by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s deputy and current al-Qaeda’s chief), sprang up in the past six decades, or so, mainly on Sayyid Qutb’s Islamic philosophy, known as Qutbism, and Abdullah Azzam’s teachings.

Chiefs of al-Qaeda: OsamaBinLaden & AymanZawahiri- photo courtesy:
Chiefs of al-Qaeda: Osama Bin Laden & Ayman Zawahiri- photo courtesy:

COURSE OF EVENTS (in the past decades)

Alongside the triumph of Khomeini’s revolution (a Shiite radical Islamic scholar) to overthrow Iran’s monarchy and institute a Shiite Islamic state in 1979, Islamic radicalism and Jihadist movements began to surface out as an Islamic force as they waged a relentless Jihad (a holy war) against the occupying Bolshevik forces in Afghanistan. Forthwith, they won wide public support and thus gained real momentum in 1989 as the “Mujahideen” (the Taliban and “Arab-Afghans”), with the support of the U.S and Saudi Arabia, defeated the communist superpower and liberated Afghanistan from the Soviet occupation. However, by and by their political stature and importance was waning inasmuch as they misruled Afghanistan, threatened western interests and conducted suicidal missions against the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other countries

Despite their awry activities and ill deeds, radical Islamist groups, mainly al-Qaeda, remained a hard number in the regional power-play formula until they carried out the tragic 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. Thereon, the U.S declared war on Afghanistan upon which the ruling Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other Islamic jihad groups lost their safe haven and the wide public support of the Muslim world. Besides their military defeat, the ruling Taliban junta along with al-Qaeda and its affiliates were either killed off, taken captive or on the run for their lives.

Without any doubt, the U.S invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing global “War on Terror” have changed the rules of the game in the Middle East upon which overseas terror attacks were largely caged in or defused. Nevertheless, it is crucial to remember that the largest share of the released detainees and Islamist escapees who fled to Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, and Syria were recruited by many intelligence services to conduct sabotage and suicide missions.

In 2003, the U.S and its allies invaded Iraq to destroy the alleged Iraqi WMDs and overthrew Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist regime out of power. In actual terms, though the U.S has occupied Iraq successfully, yet it failed to manage the political vacuum thus and so to install a real democratic government. Instead, a Shiite-led regime was installed through which the political role of Arab-Sunnis was minified to become the third, after the Shia and Kurds.

In all probabilities, the causeless U.S. occupation of Iraq, the disbandment of the Iraqi Army,  and the instituting of pro-Iranian Shiite-led regime along with the faulty marginalization of Iraqi Sunnites have reinvigorated the Islamic vow of Jihadists and Islamists, radicals and moderates alike: to fight all occupying forces and rebuff the dominance of Shiism. This miscalculated political naivety (or wickedness), however, has furnished the radical Islamists with a cause to regain the support of Iraqi Sunnites and, more crucially, to evoke fellow feelings among the Arab public and Sunnis abroad.

As the political and security situations in Iraq were worsening year after year, a Syrian uprising sprang up, in March 2011, calling for a democratic government instead of Assad’s 40-year-old regime. In response, the ruling Assad family along with his Alawite (a Shiite subsect) juntas reverted to Stalinist countermeasures to put down the revolution of the mass majority of Syrians: the Sunnis. However, as Assad’s regime was about to collapse, Iran intervened directly and indirectly through its Shiite proxies, such as Hezbollah, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and many other Shiite Iraqi militants, to hold Assad to power.

Actually, Assad’s relentless overuse of extreme brutal force and torture combined with the open military interference of his Shiite upholders against Syrian Sunnites have opened a wide corridor to import the ongoing Iraqi Sunni-Shia bloody power struggle into Syria. Yet, this indifference and indecisiveness of the international community, UN, P-5, EU, and Arab League to stop the Syrian massacres at the beginning have resulted in more than two hundred thousand dead, over two hundred fifty thousand severely injured, and seven million refugees, and paved the way for extremists and ultra-racialists to playact as the saviors of Sunnis.

Given such unprecedented international impuissance and abandonment and as the lightly-armed Free Syrian Army and other Syrian rebels fell short either to siege Damascus district or to stop Assad’s mass bombardment on Sunni cities, many Syrian combatants joined ISIS or al-Nusra Front, most of which to continue battling the merciless dictator. Some joined them to champion Sunnis over Shia, others to avenge the carnage and torture of their families, some others for money and power, and others for all these reasons combined.

As a result, Islamic radical militants, mainly ISIS followed by al-Nusra Front, became the strongest paramilitary forces in the Syrian civil war at which ISIS alone could set up many strongholds in most eastern Syrian districts bordering Iraq. By default, ISIS’s scope of operations was stretched from eastern Syria to northwest Iraq, most of which are cities of frustrated Sunni communities. This surprising actuality, however, has propelled the hounded secular Iraqi Ba’athists paramilitary men to form a covert alliance with ISIS, which allowed the newly self-proclaimed Islamic State to incorporate Iraq’s best military minds and expertise under its ruthless umbrella.

By all odds, the recurrent atrocities of Islamist militants against innocent civilians, like those of al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS, have to be confronted more seriously in which those belligerent extremists can be disarmed and brought to justice.

ISIS executioners
ISIS executioners ready to behead Syrian bomber pilots-courtesy

That being said, leaves the international community and regional lead players with a number of crucial questions, most of which have never been fully addressed:

a) How and who will stop ISIS, and the like, from dominating the Fertile Crescent or from spreading out its ruinous waves to the Gulf region and western countries?

b) What is the political orientation and socioeconomic setting through which armed extremists, whether Sunnism or Shiism, can be circumvented and thus worn off?

c) What is the pragmatic cultural approach to preventing sectarianism, extremism, hate crimes and dormant ethnic-based conflicts from regaining impulse later?

d) What are the necessary steps to recalibrate the biased foreign policies of the international community and its organizations, let alone defusing religion-based phobias?

Obviously, the answers are easier said than done. Besides, the predictable heavy cost, the most difficult thing is to find an impartial international authority and righteous leadership that would apply the same standards on all sides to lead this troubled world to safety.

In all probabilities, the right path to stabilize the chaotic Middle East starts with the unavoidable ousting of the Syrian dictator upon which a transitional democratic government can have the capabilities and incentives to fight theoterrorism. Any attempt to cool off the current unprecedented inflamed situation in the Middle East has to reconstitute a new balanced power-sharing formula in Iraq, between Sunnis and Shiites, which is not only inevitable to the peacemaking progress in Iraq but to neighboring countries as well.

Within that compass, it is mandatory to the success of all regional security efforts to see the international community exerts real pressure on the Iranian regime to terminate its hostile interferences in the internal affairs of Arab countries: Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Keeping in mind that any effort to achieve a calm and peaceful Middle East without shutting down the Iranian nuclear programs soon is a political illusion, let alone it will induce a nuclear race in this edgy region.

Meanwhile, the international community should perceive their national interest in resolving Middle East’s pending issues, such as the realization of a sovereign Palestinian state, mediating a durable Arab–Israeli peace, putting an end to the Syrian tragedy, installing a balanced democracy in Iraq, and exerting pressure on Iran to stop meddling in Arab Affairs so that the burning hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims cool off.

To that end, Arab and Muslim governments along with all religious authorities are duty-bound to incriminate the senseless belligerencies of all radical militants and publicly invalidate the false Islamic rationales of extremists—be they Sunnites or Shiites. Middle East governments, including Iran and Turkey, should have discerned by now that providing effective human development programs and quality public education will produce more benefit to their nations than having a strong military, regional influence, skyscrapers, and mega malls. Arab and Muslim authorities are demanded now more than ever to put forth all efforts to enforce justice, fight poverty, improve the socioeconomic conditions and relax the social and cultural environment so that the forthcoming change in their societies happens peacefully.

After all, there are two unavoidable root questions of concern need to be answered. The first is whether the killing of innocents by the sword is different from the killing of hundreds of thousands of people by modern weaponry. The second is whether the killing of people in the name of religious fantasies is different from killing people for the predomination of political notions and economic interests.

In all norms, killing of innocents, no matter what, or why, or who, or how will always be a cursed act of terror. Yet, once all nations embrace and honor this criterion without buts, then a terror-free world becomes feasible to all.


“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

                                                         Mahatma Gandhi


Mohammad S. Moussalli is a renowned Lebanese writer. He has a reputable journalistic record with well-known regional English newspapers, magazines and web-based gazettes. He holds a long list of esteemed published Op-Eds and online articles mostly centered on civil liberties, human rights, socioeconomic and sociopolitical issues.

Mr. Moussalli is a management consultant and former managing director with years of top executive experience in the Middle East and Gulf region. He devises reorganization plans and restructuring schemes, provides advice on business planning, administration, operations, pay and benefit scales, and other business issues.

Mr. Moussalli blogs at The Middle East Tribune  & Tweet @msm54lb

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  1. Dear Mohammed:

    No question asked, very informative and well written piece.

    One question remains unanswered: now what?

    You and I, and many Educated Natives are helpless. We have the VISION but not the means to assist first Nations but…?

    Anyway, many thanks for your articles.
    Please be safe and Happy Holidays

  2. I have No doubt that, “the right path to stabilize the chaotic Middle East starts with the unavoidable ousting of the Syrian dictator upon which a transitional democratic government can have the capabilities and incentives to fight theoterrorism. In any attempt to cool off the current unprecedented inflamed situations, however, has to reconsider the shaky Iraq where reconstituting of a new balanced power formula (constitutionally shared between Sunni and Shia) is inevitable to bring about peace to Iraq and neighboring countries. Within that compass, it is mandatory to any regional security effort to see the international community exerts real pressure (as done in Ukraine’s case) on the Iranian regime so that to terminate its hostile interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries: Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.”
    Thanks Karima

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