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Deciphering Daesh-Origins,Impact and Future

Summary and Results

The seven chapters making up this dossier all have one thing in common – they attest to the reality that Daesh* is a developing phenomenon with many paradoxes, a phenomenon that cannot be explained in one or two reports.

Al Jazeera Center for Studies

Thursday, 4 December 2014 11:26 GMT

[AL JAZEERA]

The seven chapters making up this dossier all have one thing in common – they attest to the reality that Daesh(*) is a developing phenomenon with many paradoxes, a phenomenon that cannot be explained in one or two reports. AlJazeera Centre for Studies also acknowledges that one dossier cannot fully explain this group; however, it is a necessary step in gathering credible information on Daesh that can serve as a source for policymakers and media organisations.

There were several goals mentioned in the dossier’s foreword, and by bringing together the work of top scholars in the fields of political science, sociology and Islamic thought, the dossier’s content presented a number of new findings which can in turn give credible information to policymakers, aiding them in understanding the group and in turn taking necessary actions to combat this type of ideology.  There are two key dimensions of the results from this dossier, the first of which includes new information on the group’s ideology, origins, structure and reach; and the second of which includes realities about facing the group on a regional and international level. This concluding summary is thus divided into two short sections, the first addressing dimension one and the second dimension two.

New findings

  • Daesh is an ideological extension of al-Qaeda and the idea of global Jihad rather than an aberration or isolated case of extremism. While the two groups differ on certain procedural issues, especially in terms of the use of brutality, the reality is that both stem from the same foundation of fighting those who “stand in the way of ruling by God’s word”.
  • The Islamic State has made it clear, particularly after dropping “of Iraq and Syria” from its name and announcing a caliphate, that it plans to extend its influence beyond the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. In fact, traces of this can be seen in IS’ activity in the Caucuses and Central Asia, with Chechen and Azeri members making a commitment to not only fight in Syria and Iraq but also to reach their home countries in due time. Russia and Iran, as well as China, are particularly concerned about the implications this will have on their security.
  • One single approach cannot be used to explain Daesh’s emergence. In other words, this dossier found that the group’s origins cannot simply be attributed to the typical explanations such as contextual factors, the religious texts on which it is premised, socio-psychological factors or the proposition that the Islamic State is an anomaly in the history of global jihad. Rather, any researcher hoping to understand this group must take into account local, regional, historical and international factors to trace the group’s impact as well as understand where it is headed in the future.
  • The dossier pinpointed the following factors which help explain the group’s emergence and subsequent speedy growth: 
    • Divisions within al-Qaeda’s ranks
      o Unresolved Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and general instability in the MENA region
    • Textual interpretations versus reality – for example, centuries-old religious texts are being used by Daesh as well as by the Muslim Brotherhood, with remarkably different outcomes
    • Various income sources and a strong organisational structure which have allowed for Daesh’s continued spread
    • Strong media and propaganda machine within the Islamic State
    • A multi-national, “ragtag” nature, with devotion to “implementing God’s rule” the unifying factor between members, regardless of other identities such as ethnicity
    • Exploitation of already-existing rifts in society, particularly in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq
    • A serious vacuum created by the deliberate impediment of democratic transition
  • Daesh’s organisational structure, including geographical division of captured territories into provinces, was clearly laid out in the dossier, particularly in Chapter 3, including the following “departments”:
    • Ruling caliph
    • Shura council
    • Ahlul hal wal Aqd (influential department likened to a parliament)
    • Sharia council 
    • Media council
    • Department of finance
    • Security council
    • Military council

Realities to address

  • Address existing impediments to confronting the group, including sectarian exploitation caused by Iranian and other international influences in the region, without playing into the narrative of authoritarian regimes. In both Iraq and Syria, the international coalition’s strikes on Daesh have thus far primarily benefited the existing rulers, allowing them to continue repressive tactics without holding them to account for their role in their respective countries’ instability.
  • Fighting an ideology militarily will not defeat it. If this is not clear from the international community’s prior experiences with groups like Daesh (including al-Qaeda and the Taliban), the latest coalition attacks on Daesh have clarified this. With civilian deaths and no plans to address Assad’s removal, the international community’s coalition has effectively pushed Syrians and Iraqis into the folds of IS’ ideology and not necessarily by choice: particularly for Syrians, there is some consensus they have no other choice but to submit to the group, and not because they want to, but because they fear consequences of not doing so as well as the fearful alternative of submitting to a dictator.
  • Repressive tactics to combat violent groups such as Daesh all too often end up targeting all politically active Muslims, even if those Muslims denounce Daesh’s extremist ideology. Policymakers attempting to curb the growth of violent groups must avoid the blanket approach of restricting freedoms to the extent of constraining an entire group of people based solely on their religious beliefs or ethnic ties.
  • The regional and international support for counter-revolutionary forces has often been quite overt, particularly in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya. This has left a serious political vacuum and disillusionment – those who were peacefully rallying for democracy and freedom found themselves again pushed back into a situation in which state violence and detention were the answers to any opposition. In the case of Egypt, not only is the opposition silenced, there is also explicit regional acceptance and support (financial and otherwise) to the regime that is perpetrating human rights abuses. Condemnations of human rights abuses has not yet curbed such abuses by these counter-revolutionary actors, and the international community must be willing to unequivocally cut ties with counter-revolutionary forces who continue to impede the road to democratic transition in the Arab world.
  • Engaging affected Sunni communities must be a priority of policymakers wishing to stop the spread of Daesh’s ideologies. Daesh is not the only violent armed group in the region – there are others which ascribe to a hardline or sectarian ideology. Yet, they are often overlooked and even supported by regional and international actors. Until the Sunni community’s calls for freedom, equality and dignity cease to be stamped out by internationally-backed despots, extremism and oppression will continue to be a structural component of state and non-state actors in the MENA region.

Concluding remark

This dossier has served as an in-depth plunge into deciphering the Islamic State’s origins, impact and future. This is simply the beginning of understanding violent groups in the MENA region. Future work must focus on feasible solutions to facing violence without creating more violence, and creating alternatives which do not further punish and repress innocent civilian populations.
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(*)The terms Daesh, the Islamic State and IS have become common ways to refer to the group and were thus used interchangeably throughout the dossier.

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