Global leaders are once again under scrutiny in regards to their response to the new cancerous threat known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Their actions will determine whether the international community can effectively minimise security threats. Stemming from al-Qaeda, ISIS became independent in February 2014 and has gained momentum by employing sophisticated propaganda techniques. There has been a constant stream of negative stories regarding ISIS, however their presence has had several positive outcomes.

Whilst ISIS has become the new symbol of evil, the governments of the Western states should feel an obligation to inform their nations about the stark differences between the beliefs of ISIS and those of Muslims residing in the West. The emergence of fascist group provides an important turning point in the understanding of the general populous, and if used correctly ISIS can be a tool to inform those ignorant or merely confused over Islam’s complexity. Muslims around the world have abhorred ISIS’ brutality, in particular the beheadings, including those of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, which have been met with absolute condemnation. Muslim communities have been presented with a crucial chance that they should seize in order to demonstrate the difference between their beliefs and those of barbaric fundamentalists, thus continuing to help break down generalised statements against Islam and its followers.

The size of ISIS is minimal; the CIA estimates 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in comparison to Iraq which has an army of over 250,000 as well as armed police forces[1]. However, numbers can be misleading, the international community must mirror the unity shown by ISIS’ supporters if they are to combat the growing threat. Turkey’s decision to allow Kurds to assist in the fight against ISIS is a striking shift in stance; it further reiterates the consequent side effects of unity when an organisation threatens national security. The Kurds’ addition to the fight has enabled Turkey to solidify its position against ISIS. Having faced criticism due to its inaction over Kobani, Turkey’s decision to allow the Kurds to join the fight demonstrates it is committed to combat ISIS’ advance.

The Kurds have been repressed by Iraq, Turkey and Iran and continue to struggle for self-determination. In Turkey the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been engaged in conflict with the state since the 1980s. The international community, including NATO and the US, considers the PKK a terrorist organisation. There is an irony here. The increase in the stature of Kurdistan means states such as Turkey and the US are in effect relying on a non-state, previously considered to be terrorist, to help defeat another non-state, thus demonstrating how erratic and complex the nature of international relations is. Moreover, the air strikes in Syria led by the US on ISIS have widened an already complex situation, yet again. A year ago Syria was under threat of being bombed, yet a year later the US finds itself bombing Bashar al-Assad’s enemies. Whilst the Middle East remains an intricate region, in this instance Western leaders seem to be rightfully considering a policy of fighting the greater evil.

Furthermore, the rise of ISIS has forced the Iraqi government to recognise the Sunni population. The sectarian conflict between the Sunnis and the Shias is a fundamental reason for the growth of ISIS. Despite having a Shia majority in Iraq, the Sunni population was in political power during Saddam Hussein’s rule of the country. However, once he was removed, the Sunnis lost their political footing whilst the Shias took control of the country, which they considered to be rightfully theirs. Thus, ISIS is able to continue recruiting from the Sunnis in Iraq due to the ongoing conflict between the two sects. The Iraqi government has an advantage of manpower against ISIS, yet this is of no use unless the government organises itself and clarifies its aim, mainly to protect its citizens be they Sunnis, Shias or Kurds. Furthermore, the Shias need to set aside past grievances, especially with Sunnis and work together to prevent ISIS gathering supporters from their midst.

Although at first, any positive aspects of ISIS seems inconceivable; nonetheless the appearance of evil usually results in highlighting the presence of good. States like Turkey and Iraq have been forced to recognise minority groups struggling for rights within their borders; although there is no certainty of continued tolerance, it has been an important step towards equality for the Kurds and the Sunnis.

The international community has been presented with another chance to mitigate a serious threat to civilians in the Middle East, whilst civilians globally have a chance to readdress prejudiced notions against Muslims and Islam.





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