What might have been if the Green Revolution in Iran would have prevailed over the regime? Could there have been less of a militant Iranian meddling in Iraqi and Syrian strife? What might have been if the Syrian revolution in 2011 would of resulted in the Assad regime to fall instead of the brutal violence from Assad’s forces that helped create the void and energy for the rise of ISIS in Syria. What might have been are the saddest words ever penned.
Vox article on the various factors in the rise of ISIS:
Syria’s freedom protesters had asked for a better future for everyone, including for him, but received only bullets in reply. He conceded to me that the crackdown had been wrong and had forced Syrians to take up arms, and he told me that Assad had tried to stop the attacks, only to be overruled by his intelligence services. But when I asked about the use of sarin gas against civilians in August 2013, I clearly crossed a line. His demeanor changed, and a menacing smile crept onto his face. “We both know the who and why,” he snapped. “Don’t ask questions you know the answer to!”
Assad has deliberately nurtured ISIS, or at least tacitly allowed its rise, as a means of marginalizing more moderate rebels whom outside powers like the US might have supported against him. The Syrian dictator and ISIS seem to have made an implicit deal: ISIS temporarily gets a relatively free ride in some chunks of Syria, while Assad gets to weaken his other opponents. This allows Assad to divide the rebels, and to force the world to choose between him and ISIS.
"When Islamic radicals took over Raqqa, the first province to fall under rebels' control in its entirety, it was remarkable that the regime did not follow the same policy it had consistently employed elsewhere," Syrian journalist Hassan Hassan writes, "which is to shower liberated territories with bombs, day and night." Assad left ISIS alone because its very existence made an international intervention to stop his mass murder of Syrians less likely.
If Assad had assaulted ISIS-held territory with the same fervor he brought to the fight against other Syrian rebels, the group almost certainly wouldn't be as strong as it is today.
"ISIS has been a Saudi project," the Atlantic's Steve Clemons quotes a senior Qatari official as saying. The Qataris only (only!) admit to funding Jabhat al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda's branch in Syria.
The Iraqi and Syrian governments played a major role, but so did the United States, Iran, and Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia.
The predominant causes of ISIS's rise in the two countries — internal Iraqi politics and the Syrian civil war itself.
“Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level.”
There has been much hand wringing from think tanks and pundits about why people join ISIS from the anemic reason from the State Department (poverty and jobs) or some other simplistic assertion. A bureaucrat would assume a person could be appeased with a job. They miss the historical context, the geopolitical and cultural context, and the human element itself.
I. The Search for Identity. When it comes to some Jihadis especially those who have been third culture kids growing up in a country and having two identities can cause an identity crisis and tension. They may feel the drive to search for what the “real” or dominant identity is and feel compelled to prove that identity.
II. The Search for Meaning. What can be better than being at the center of the stage of a Cosmic Drama?
Jihadism offers this and no secular gang can offer such cosmic significance. To be part of a great narrative that gives one ultimate purpose and meaning is something that humans are attracted to. To be certain and to be central in the grand story of the Universe and existence is not a bad recruiting tool.
“I started getting interested in my deen [religious life] around 2012,” Hoda Muthana told BuzzFeed in an interview... “I felt like my life was so bland without it. Life has much more meaning when u know why ur here.” Muthana left America and went to join ISIS in Syria.
III. The Search for Justice. Grievances can be real (Assad’s crimes or other Tyrants) or perceived (middle class western recruits). Whether they be real or perceived to a human perceived is just as real. Not only those who are displaced and marginalized but those who feel displaced and marginalized.
IV. The Search for Asabiyyah. The great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun gave the term Asabiyyah for social cohesion, group feeling, and solidarity. It is the factor that gives one group the ability to rise over other groups that have little or lesser Asabiyyah. That is why a couple thousand ISIS members can take over Mosul from a larger and better funded military at the time. The Iraqi army had little Asabiyyah...they did not feel there was a State or government worth protecting. ISIS had the asabiyyah advantage.
The jihadism of Daesh is not Nihilism, it is a reaction to Nihilism.
Vali Nasr writing in 2006. From his book “The Shia Revival” :
The Shia-Sunni rift will become both more frequent and more intense. Before the Middle East can arrive at democracy and prosperity, it will have to settle these conflicts – those between ethnic groups such as the Kurds, Turks, Arabs, and Persians, and, more importantly, the broader one between Shias and Sunnis. Just as the settlement of religious conflicts marked Europe’s passage to modernity, so the Middle East will have to achieve sectarian peace before it can begin living up to its potential.