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ISIL and Hybrid Salafism



By Hasan Kanbolat

July 07, 2014

The emerging anachronistic take on Salafism, which can be defined as a “return to Islam's origins,” is boosting the global perception of Islam as being synonymous with terror and depravity. And so it is that humanism-focused Islam is being dragged into a potentially endless ideological crisis.

These new organizations we are seeing are actually lab-grown creations, utilizing hybrid structures that depend on new interpretations of Salafism. Every structure and ideology creates its own enemy. Capitalism's enemy is socialism. And in the wake of the collapse of socialism, global capitalism has created its new enemy from a manufactured sort of Salafism.

The main reason for the development and support given to hybrid Salafism is that it is devoid of the humanism at the core of Islam. It lacks the opposition to unfairness, and the basis of equality and tradition that real Islam possesses. Jihad in Islam has generally been developed -- as seen with Imam Shamil -- from the traditions of Naqshbandi and Quadiri. Traditional jihad, because of its harmony with nationalism and traditional values, has always possessed a tendency to be anti-imperialist as well. Hybrid Salafism, on the other hand, is in harmony with the wild, untamed side of globalism.

Similar to international companies, hybrid Salafism can work with different structures in every country. It easily gathers different ethnicities, languages, and even religions under the same target (jihad). With its Russian doll type organizational structure, hybrid Salafism is able to harbour completely opposing views and ideologies inside its core.

The war zones for these organizations wielding hybrid Salafism ideology are Muslim countries, and their targets are Muslims. And thus it is that Muslims appear condemned to live in lands where Muslims kill other Muslims, and where the economy is being strangled, as both cultural and historical legacies are destroyed.

Interestingly, the lifestyle that organizations basing their moves on hybrid Salafism are trying to impose on various societies bears striking resemblance to some parts of the lifestyle espoused by Orthodox Judaism.

Every new hybrid Salafi organization introduces levels of violence that make people long for the older organizations of this type. In regions where they've managed to take control, they use fear-based tactics to gain respect. We see clearly the rising violence used by hybrid Salafi organizations in Iraq and Syria, including al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and ISIL. Observing the current spiral of violence in recent years, it's fairly clear that ISIL will not be the last organization to form, new groups using violence even more systematically may well emerge. In the meantime, the sort of violence being espoused carries traces of Gulf culture in the pre-Islamic age of ignorance in that region; this is clear in things the Salafi practice like the chopping off an enemy's head, or the purposeful eating of the raw organs of someone who has just been killed.

In the case of ISIL, there are differences between it and some of its hybrid Salafi predecessors. It seems to be the organization which has best assimilated and in fact even perfected disproportional warfare and goal-based violence within its own asymmetrical organizational structure. More than half of the warriors fighting within ISIL are neither Syrian, Iraqi, nor even Middle Eastern. Many of them know little to nothing about Islam, Middle East geography, or the Arabic language. Apparently, if a Christian youth believes in the idea of jihad, it is sufficient to include him within the ranks of ISIL. Notably: the suicide bombers who struck in December of 2013 in Volgograd were both Russian and Orthodox Christian.

Differing ISIL Structures in Syria and Iraq

There are differences as well as overlapping similarities between the ISIL we see in Syria and the version we see in Iraq.

Part of what helped the hybrid ISIL organization develops in Syria has been the assistance it gave to the Baathist regime there. In Syria, it acted as a sort of cancer cell within the ranks of the Sunni opposition, dividing the movement. Ultimately, it transformed the sympathy the world had for the Sunni opposition into antipathy. It is alleged by some that in this, ISIL benefitted from previous Russian as well as Iranian experience. The Russians had created their own hybrid Salafi organizations in the wake of the first Chechen war, while the Iranians did this after the US invasion of Iraq. Similarly, some theorize that just as permission was given for hybrid Salafi organizations to completely contaminate the second Chechen war that permission was also given for ISIL to corrupt the Sunni opposition in Syria from within.

n Syria, ISIL controls the petrol fields in the name of the Bashar al-Assad regime. It oversees the extraction of petrol, and sells it to anyone who pays them Syrian lira. It does not accept sales made in dollars or any other foreign currency. In this way, ISIL sees to it that the Syrian lira is kept in circulation within Syria, and that as such, its value remains high. Likewise, it oversees the smuggling of illegally produced kerosene to Turkey for sale here. The profits from all this go straight to ISIL and the al-Assad regime.

In the meantime, in Iraq ISIL has become the armed face of Sunnis who were unable to attain their former standing in the wake of the 2003 invasion by US forces, and unable to stake out positions in the bureaucracy and the economy. In this way, ISIL is actually becoming a permanent feature in spots heavily populated by Sunnis in Iraq.

Arabaşlık: ISIL and Defeated Arab Nationalism

ISIL manages to renew, develop, and establish itself quite rapidly. In doing so, it employs a number of methods in both Syria and Iraq. In both places it aims to win over the people. In doing so, it acts in the way a government would.

At the same time, ISIL has begun making Sunni Arabic nationalism just one piece of Salafi ideology. It has managed to bring youth from all over the Arab lands to fight together.

Wielding this power, which in large part derives from the use of extreme violence, ISIL has managed to attain a notably superior level of power first in Syria, and now in Iraq. In this way, the Sykes-Picot border lines drawn up by England and France in the wake of the 1916 breakup of the Ottoman state has in function been erased.

ISIL has begun to be a cauldron in which Sunni Arab nationalism and unity are being mixed together. Salafism has started to replace the Arab nationalism and unity that the Baathist regime targeted through secularism in Syria, while in Iraq, ISIL has begun cooperating with the former Baathists and the Sunni Arab tribal leaders to re-interpret Arab nationalism.

The rising new interpretation of Arab nationalism in the region shows the potential for negative reactions to non-Arab peoples of the area, such as Turks, Kurds and Iranians, in addition to non-Arab states like Turkey and Iran. To wit, news is already spreading that it is due to Turkey's cutting off of the waters of the Euphrates that Syria and Iraq have been left without water. In previous years, this was the kind of news spread by Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq, later the Maliki regime undertook this rhetoric, and now, it's ISIL. The reshaped Arab nationalism within ISIL's ranks will not allow for the disputed regions held by the Iraqi Kurdistan region -- including Kirkuk -- to be included within Turkey's official borders. Which is why, if ISIL winds up becoming an official government, it will reconcile with Maliki, and try to take over the disputed regions.