Brad’s Banter: ISIS and the Evolution of the Islamic State

I remember the first video I saw of a beheading. It was 2004, my junior year of high school. I was in class surfing yet-to-be-firewalled internet sites, blowing off a lesson about the proper way to set up an Excel spreadsheet.

My crush-of-the-semester, Christina, was sitting next to me playing solitaire. We often competed for the fastest time, and she had just gotten a solid thirty-five second victory when she leaned over to see my progress.

Her shriek burst every eardrum in the room.

The Internet was still young. The term “viral video” had yet to be coined; Facebook was just getting started at Harvard. News travelled almost exclusively through word of mouth back then, and by the end of the week almost the entire school had seen the video; or heard I chopped someone’s head off.

With the rise of social media and the virility of the internet, stories and videos now reach a wider population faster than ever before.

The Islamic State, also referred to as ISIL or ISIS, knows this and uses the internet as a tool to spread its message. New videos from the terror group are seen on mainstream media on almost a daily basis, castigating the West and showing the world how they deal with non-followers.

Amid an outpour of domestic and international pressure to intervene in the senseless slaughtering of thousands in Iraq and Syria, the United States along with a coalition of Arab nations launched an air-attack on Islamic State strongholds in mid-September aiming to take out supply lines, weapons caches, and training facilities.

Who exactly is the Islamic State though, and why do they keep changing names?

Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi led his militant organization, Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, from Jordan into Iraq to oppose coalition forces. Once there, al-Zarqawi teamed up with Al-Qaeda to form the AQI, Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

After years of fighting independently, the AQI absorbed a number of smaller militant groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council in 2006. Al-Zarqawi’s death shortly after threw the group out of order, until the organization was renamed the Islamic State of Iraq under the direction of Abu Ayyub al-Masri. Following al-Masri’s death in 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took control and continues to lead the group today.

In 2013 Al-Baghdadi attempted to align the Islamic State of Iraq with al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda backed militant group of Syrian rebels attempting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, to establish the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) against the wishes of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This led to a power struggle between the groups until al-Qaeda officially disavowed its relationship with al-Baghdadi in early 2014.

On his own, al-Baghdadi took his group, now named the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levenant (ISIL), to Kurdistan in northern Iraq to set up his stronghold.

In June 2014, ISIS/ISIL officially rebranded itself again as the Islamic State, with al-Baghdadi as caliph (leader).

Under al-Baghdadi’s direction, the Islamic State is now the most fearsome terrorist organization on the planet. Too hardcore for al-Qaeda and viewed as visionaries by the African terrorist group Boko Haram, the Islamic State’s numbers are estimated to be anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000 fighters strong. For months, they have traveled between Syria and Iraq raiding villages for supplies, and killing anyone who opposes their rule.

It is important to note, however, that though their name identifies them as Muslim, Muslims and Muslim leaders around the world harshly criticize the Islamic State’s actions. Indonesia, which hosts the world’s largest Muslim population, banned all Islamic State teachings.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation said the Islamic State has, “nothing to do with Islam,” and Arab League Chief Nabil al-Arabi said he, “strongly denounced the crimes, killings,(and) dispossession carried out by the terrorist (ISIS) against civilians and minorities in Iraq that have affected Christians in Mosul and Yazidis.”

It remains to be seen what more the United States and supporting countries will do to suppress the rise of the world’s latest evil. Coming out of an unpopular, extended war already, many American’s aren’t ready to see another $3 billion spent fighting terrorism.

Now, with the Islamic State’s rise, even more are asking what spending the first $3 billion accomplished.