By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
13 July 2014
The bad news is the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the good news is also the emergence of ISIS. Look at the current ordeal from a different angle. Perhaps if we view this within the broader concept of the region’s, and the Muslim world’s, reality, the emergence of ISIS is not such a negative development as we imagine. The new organization, which is more extremist and brutal than al-Qaeda, came to save Muslims before the game ends. It faces everyone with their responsibilities and ends two dangerous states of contemporary thought in our region: indifference and political opportunism.
The sweeping advance of ISIS fighters in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and the targeting of Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi borders sounded alarm bells across the world for the first time since the end of the 9/11 phase. Different civil and governmental powers woke up from their slumber to the news of consecutive victories of groups like ISIS, the al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A state of alert reigned supreme because everyone witnessed that nothing seemed impossible for these groups.
Everyone witnessed the big city of Mosul falling into their hands within hours and how an unknown man who stood on a podium, and who announced himself as the caliph of a billion Muslims, terrified people and defied all the region’s governments.
Thank you, ISIS
Thank you ISIS! Thank you al-Nusra Front! Thank you, al-Qaeda - the old organization. You woke up the sleeping bureaucrats, exposed extremists and hidden cells and ratcheted up the struggle between two camps of Muslims: extremists and non-extremists.
Those harmed the most by the victories of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph, and of Abu Mohammad al-Golani, the alleged rival caliph, are those who seek change. ISIS exposed extremists who walk among us and speak eloquently about freedom and democracy when their rhetoric is actually as fascist, Takfirist and extremist as ISIS’!
ISIS’ sudden victory is like the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in the Egyptian elections. ISIS leaders rush to rule the world just as President Mohammad Mursi rushed to dominate the state and eliminate everyone. Just like the Brotherhood’s negative actions pushed millions of Egyptians to demand its ouster, millions of Muslims are currently appealing to be rescued from ISIS and similar groups.
The stances of Arab and Muslim intellectuals, who were willing to co-exist with extremists, have changed. The majority today realises the size of the threat as videos of ISIS’ recreational activities of slaughter, captivity and destruction go viral.
ISIS intimidated opportunists, politicians and governmental figures alike. They’ve realized this beast is too big to be controlled and that it will eliminate them if they try. They’ve realized that the public opinion has turned against religious extremists and that they have no other choice but to side against these destructive movements.
The opportunism of politicians, who court extremists’ movements to win their support, is one reason this ideology became popular, gained legitimacy and then spread. This happened at a time when states need civil development on both the social and institutional levels.
ISIS has grown because many of the world’s governments went into a deep sleep after they thought they had won the war against terrorism. But then the nightmare returned and extremists’ victories woke up all civil and governmental authorities. If it hadn’t been for ISIS, we may have died like frogs who are cooked alive in a pot on a low heat and who don’t feel the temperature rising until they are about to die. Confronting ISIS is not effectively done by fighting it in Iraq’s Anbar province, or Syria’s Deir al-Zour or Yemen’s Jawf but by fighting it from the inside first. This must be done in Muslim countries, or even China and Europe where the extremist ideology found its way into the psyche of Muslim minority communities.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.