Who is ISIS and Why Should You (Still) Care?

(Photo curtesy of VICE News)

By Kevin Lata, guest columnist

(Photo curtesy of VICE News)
(Photo curtesy of VICE News)

Thousands of foreigners from around the world, including the United States, have flocked from their homelands to join an ambitious terrorist group named Islamic State that seeks to sweep the entire world and establish an Islamic caliphate.

Executions, crucifixions, rape, and genocide are all part of the brutal tactics used by IS to establish their dominance over captured land and to frighten local populations into submission. Their actions are so atrocious that even Al-Qaeda’s General Command headed by Ayman al- Zawahiri sharply condemned and distanced itself from the group in a statement in February.

Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, called ISIS “the greatest threat since 9/11,” at a press briefing in late August.

Despite the recent public outrage from the media and the Obama administration, this group has been around for a while.

A member of the Afghan Mujadhideen during the Afghan-Soviet war, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, established a terrorist group called Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999.

In 2004 they joined forces with Al-Qaeda and changed their name to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. In a letter addressed to Zarqawi in 2005, Zawahiri expressed his misgivings towards the group’s practice of killing Shia Muslims, blowing up Shia mosques, and sadistically murdering hostages.

His criticisms weren’t grounded in moral or religious concerns as he recognized the eradication of infidels would occur later. In the name of garnering public support and not alienating the Muslim population, he suggested Zarqawi refrain from such things until a full caliphate could be established.

The group split from Al-Qaeda in 2006. After a couple other name changes, AQI eventually settled on the Islamic State in Iraq. Even though the organizations split they remained in correspondence with one another, often sharing resources.

In April 2013, the current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, issued a statement that said ISI was extending their efforts into Syria and would bring the Nusra Front, one of the many rebel group fighting against Assad’s forces, under their umbrella. Even though Baghdadi help start this group in August 2011, their leader, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, publicly affirmed his allegiance towards Al-Qaeda later that month.

They reached out into Syria anyways and have steadily been gaining steam, becoming one of the greatest threats to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Again, last month they changed their name, shortening it to Islamic State to reflect their greater global ambitions. They have money too; a claim made by The Guardian states that IS now holds approximately $2 billion dollars in cash and assets. Money like that can buy a lot of terror. In late August, a laptop belonging to a Tunisian IS fighter was found containing a long document describing how to create biological weapons and how to launch and spread bubonic plague, effectively turning it into a weapon.


Our government’s leadership seems to have started taking notice. On September 10th, Obama said that the US would “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL (same group, alternative acronym).”

To put it simply, these guys are crazy as fuck. They want to take over the world and they’re loaded with cash. There ranks are filled with educated scientists and engineers. They have the capability to do quite a bit of damage. To underestimate the threat this group poses, allowing them to continue to grow and bolster their operations would foster a danger so great it would be inconceivable to the US and the rest of the world

So good let’s go to Iraq. Let’s go to Syria. Let’s squash these crazy assholes.

But as the argument goes, you can’t destroy an ideology, much less a religion. However, as Obama said in his Presidential Address on September 10th, this is not a Muslim group.

As the Arab Spring that swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 showed, what Muslims really want is Democracy. They want peace and freedom.

This group does not represent Muslim interests and what Muslims want.

We should not be so risk-adverse to putting American boots on the ground in combat roles. This is obviously more of a political debate than a logical one with congressional seats and a presidential vacancy at stake, but this is what the military exists for. This is why we have the most powerful military the world has ever seen. To protect not only US citizens, but to take actions to help ensure peace for all human beings around the world. At an individual level, that is the sacrifice you make when you join the military: to fight. One can only hope that the lessons learned from our blunders earlier in Iraq can be applied moving forward in dealing with this enemy.

Destroying IS is not the end. Undoubtedly there will be future challenges that hinder solidarity and peace in this war-torn land, but potential future roadblocks can’t act as a bludgeon to the current war effort.

Terrorism experts and even Obama himself have noted this won’t be a quick campaign. The US and its allies will be battling this organization for the next several years. It’s impossible to avoid sounding like a propagandist here, but so what.