By now, most have heard or seen the atrocious YouTube videos posted by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) showing the beheadings of innocent people of the West. The most notable of those beheadings include American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. At first, it seemed like ISIS was specifically targeting Western journalists who were relaying back information of the war-torn parts of the Middle East to the West. However, after the killing of the British aid worker, Alan Henning, it appears that ISIS just wants to target any one associated with the West, in an effort to rally supporters against the West, which the American media has suggested could be a possible motive of ISIS targets.
Although the videos are horrific, they have incited rhetoric and nationalistic pride in the certain sects of the Muslim diaspora community abroad. The videos have broken geographic barriers and brought together certain factions of Islamic extremist supporters, even in Europe and America, in support of ISIS. It seems that they want to support ISIS in the hopes that ISIS will emerge victorious over the US, and the supporters will also reap the benefits of the ISIS agenda to resurrect its dreams of establishing the Islamic Caliphate.
Furthermore, the videos appear to have shown the true capability and power of ISIS. A terrorist with a British accent (clearly Western) can behead his own fellow Westerner. To this end, ISIS has garnered the accolades of the Taliban. According to the Guardian, Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid is quoted as saying the following to ISIS: “All Muslims in the world have great expectations of you … We are with you, we will provide you with Mujahideen [fighters] and with every possible support.” Al-Qaida has also taken interest in ISIS, allegedly reported to have formed an alliance. Both groups have been spotted in Indian-administered Kashmir distributing pamphlets and ISIS flags. ISIS wants to unite all the Islamic fundamentalist factions in countries like India, Syria, Turkey, etc. so that they can join together in a concerted effort to overpower the West and establish control over the entire Middle East.
The battle ultimately comes down to being a part of the “International System” or not, as explained by Yale professor and diplomat in residence and lecturer in International Studies at Yale, Charles Hill. “ISIS does not support the international state system in which countries operate through diplomacy and basic human rights. ISIS aims to take over states in the Middle East in order to go back to the 7th century Islamic ideals.” These ideas are confirmed by the fact that there are active terrorist fighting fronts between Muslim countries and the surrounding countries at every border, except at the Russian border.
Journalists have been the obvious targets for radical Islamic groups like ISIS because the journalists have a direct link to the American media, which disseminates most of the news that popular culture consumes. Professor Hill goes on to say that “American journalists have been obvious targets for ISIS because the killing of a journalist, as opposed to lesser known Americans, will garner attention from America.” Nonetheless, the real goal is not to try and kill the journalist out of spite for America, but rather spur nationalistic pride because our fellow Americans have been killed. However, it is important to note that one of the underlying issues at play here is that ISIS is tailoring to the American media. They are choosing to target people that they know the West will respond to.
This is not to say that the US airstrikes have been fruitless. They have successfully slowed the advance of ISIS and prevented the genocide against the Yazidi population in Iraq. However, the American media has rarely talked about how ISIS murdered one of their own people, the valiant Samira Salih al-Nuaimi, an Iraqi women and human rights lawyer. ISIS captured her for speaking out against their atrocities. Similarly, why did the Taliban shoot Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl, for speaking out for women to have education? Education should be a good thing, because it will lead to the prosperity of the nation, which could ultimately help in defeating the West.
The reason is that ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups want to continue to sustain extremism in the Middle East. Maintaining oppression will keep the cycle of extremism going. Historically, education nurtures a cosmopolitan middle class, according to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. For instance, the educated youth of Hong Kong are peacefully protesting for democracy, compared to the youth of the Middle Eastern countries resorting to violence to seek democracy, as seen with the Arab Spring.
Thus, the real issue is not about Americans coming together to fight against ISIS, but realizing that the terrorists are fighting smarter. The Middle East, for the most part, is focused on encouraging illiteracy, ignorance, and the oppression of women and minorities to allow for extremism. In the short-term, the air strikes can weaken ISIS, but in the long-run this may not be feasible. If our military response is the solution, then the Taliban would not still be thriving in Afghanistan after 13 years of American air attacks. These are the underlying issues that the American media fails to wholeheartedly chronicle, which could help with the general populations’ understanding of the real issues at stake surrounding ISIS.
We, too, should learn how to fight smart in order to combat the issues of the Middle East so we can stop the dominos at the core: extremism. Extremism is fostered by lack of education, as explained by Kristoff. We should focus on working to improve the education system and access to education in the Middle East, making sure that all women have the opportunity to be educated. Of course, education alone isn’t the sine-qua-non, but it is a start that could effectively hinder radicalism that leads to the strength of movements like ISIS.