A somewhat ponderous exploration of the connotations of the word "Islamic" in Islamic State.
There is so much wrong with the way we think of and refer to the group we know as ISIS or ISIL, even in our most forward thinking publications. A thought has grown on me over the past couple of months and has now lodged itself firmly in my brain; that we should not allow ISIS to be considered on the terms by which it defines itself, and that ISIS is simply a mafioso organisation operating under the vaguest of religious pretexts.
If, as ISIS wants, we conflate its existence with Islam, we are not only playing into the hands of the group itself, but also the organisations and individuals within our own countries that would use ISIS as an excuse repress the rights and freedoms of those in the Muslim communities among us. If we begin to consider the true purpose of the organisation (ie the consolidation of resources and power to a group of amoral gangsters) we can start to understand why it is in the group's interest to associate itself with Islam.
The primary motivator for the religious connotations the organisation chooses to attach to itself is quite simply recruitment. We know from our experiences with inner city gangs in this country that such groups generally arise where there are young men who feel powerless and oppressed, whose maligned existence stands little chance of improvement through the normal and lawful channels within our societies. With the vilification that we have allowed to exist against young Muslims within the western world, is it not likely that a percentage of these men will find themselves disillusioned, rudderless? Does that not then also make them an excellent resource for an organisation which claims some affiliation to their kin, to the very thing that we have allowed to be used to mark them out for castigation in the first place? We even see that some of the very men previously found within inner city London gangs now find themselves among the ranks of ISIS. The association of the group with Islam also perpetuates these conditions, as a result of the Islamophobia of the right wing press' reaction to the atrocities carried out by what it sees an Islamic organisation.
The oppression of Muslims by the peoples that now find themselves among the powerful “democratized” nations goes as far back as the crusades, and has a much more recent history tied up multi-fold with the aims of the capitalist machine. Not only were these people oppressed as a result of the battle against the communist Soviets in the 80s, but their homelands' abundance in oil results in a power struggle that continually propagates war and conflict in the middle east (sometimes under the pretext of the existence of weapons of mass destruction). We know that ISIS has been extremely keen to take control of oil resources where possible, so surely it is not much of a stretch to draw parallels with the South American cartels whose declining drug businesses are now causing them to attempt illegitimate control over oil supplies.
The attempts to control the distribution of oil is not the only thing that ISIS has in common with these cartels. The drug connection should have also become clear since the surfacing of reports of large quantities of drugs being found in the possession and homes of ISIS members. In addition, Syria is a perfect route for the smuggling of drugs into the west from the opium and cannabis fields of Afghanistan, Lebanon and other countries within the region. Remember that opium production in Iraq increased significantly as result of farmers attempting to make ends meet in the wake of the most recent war there. How apt would it be if ISIS could not only acquire funding through this channel, but also proliferate the supply of substances which are known to cause harm within the very western democracies that they profess to hate and which created the conditions for the existence of ISIS in the first place? How strange that they should supply us with harmful substances derived from plants which we associate with our war dead, the burning of images of which (by a very small percentage of Muslims) have become such a controversy in this country.
Perhaps thus far this has been somewhat rambling, but allow me to draw us back to my key contention that it is in the interests of the gangland organisation known as ISIS to ostensibly align itself with Islam. Another of its key motivations for doing so is the pretence of legitimacy and justification that it hopes this will provide it with. Just as the group's attempts to claim itself a state lend it a kind of false and flimsy authority, so does its self-identification as Islamic. In addition to this, the group can use their intentionally warped interpretation of the teachings of Islam to exorcise power over populations within their area of control. Whilst ISIS may claim that its brutal executions are their enforcement of Islamic law, what they are so obviously really about is striking fear into the hearts of those who would seek to oppose them. Their strict “interpretation” of Islam is just another tool of oppression. Where once western governments sought to exercise influence for their capitalist religion, now ISIS does so ostensibly for its own. Where we once deferred all criticism to the influence of the market, which can not and should not be controlled, now they refer to the power allotted to them by God himself, which therefore is not to be questioned.
We might speculate as to what degree members of ISIS really do believe in some warped form of Islam. Perhaps if some of them really do then it serves to justify in their minds the terrible atrocities which the group is responsible for. Can this be in some way compared with the Catholic identity assumed within other mafioso traditions? If, as I suspect, many of them do not truly hold the existence of their particularly barbarous God to be hard truth, then it is within their interests to allow their enemies to believe they do. Who wants to fight against a man who believes that God's will is behind him, who is more than willing to die for his cause? It must be somewhat odd if these men do truly believe in the omniscience of their God and their acting out of his bidding that we have not seen the suicide bombings associated with those who do hold that particular belief.
If, as I hope I have briefly set out above, it is the case that it is in the interests of the group to be identified as Islamic then we should attempt to dissociate the two because it does serves their true purpose, and also because it is a patently false image of Islam that they project. Not only this but it also leads to the further persecution in our own nations of a minority that is already suffering much.
Perhaps then we should come up with a new name by which to refer to ISIS. Might I suggest something along the lines of the Organised Criminals in Iraq and Syria (OCIS)?