As much of the Middle East sinks deeper into division between competing political camps, the terror outfit, Daesh, continues its unhindered march toward a twisted version of a Muslim caliphate. Thousands have lost their lives, some in the most torturous ways.
Violence meted out by IS or Daesh is hardly an anomaly, considering that the group was spawned in a predominantly violent environment. It is difficult to imagine, for example, that if the Syrian regime and its opposition had sought a political solution from the early days of the uprising, Daesh would have found a stable foothold for itself in Syria.
It was during the emergence of violence by the Syrian regime that Daesh, a dark force that neither believes in democracy, civil rights nor coexistence, appeared. The same scenario was repeated in Iraq and a host of other countries. In an article in the Independent newspaper, Patrick Cockburn highlighted seven countries where the influence of Daesh is great or growing. These are: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and northeastern Nigeria.
The group’s “successes have been possible because it is opposed by feeble, corrupt or non-existent governments and armies,” he wrote.
However, very little emphasis has been placed on the root cause of the problem and the resulting violence. Western governments and media are not the only ones guilty of discussing the brutality of Daesh outside proper political or socioeconomic contexts; Arab countries’ media also often misinterpret each crisis in the region.
Yemen, which has undergone several stages of political crises, is a case in point. Daesh bombs targeting mostly houses of worship are now another staple in Yemen’s bloody conflict.
This terror group thrives on conflicts and calamities that are rooted in poor, fragmented societies, where youth are disenchanted with their governments and where they have little or no hope for the future due to corruption and the protracted violence. Such embitterment is a perfect recruiting ground for Daesh which enjoys multiple revenue streams and a self-sufficient economy.
Of course, more violence is seldom the solution, as the ‘Arab Spring’ amply demonstrated. In fact, the ferocity and ruthlessness of the many conflicts currently under way in the region have achieved little, aside from setting the stage for extreme polarization in political, ideological and sectarian discourses.
While sectarianism in the region dates back many years, its current expressions are mostly political, with unambiguous agendas and goals. Initially, sectarianism distracted from the genuine push for reforms and meaningful political changes as sought by various Arab collectives.
Regardless of its ideological or religious claims, it is evident that the violent vision of Daesh, if allowed to endure, would constantly translate into greater death tolls from all sides — Sunni, Shiite, Christians and other minority groups.
With Turkey entering the fray now by bombing Daesh targets in Syria, in supposed retaliation for the militant group’s attack in the Kilis Province, the landscape of the war is stretching beyond its usual confines and methods, into whole new territories.
After resisting pressure to join the US-led coalition against the terror outfit, Turkey has now also agreed to allow the coalition access to its Incirlik Airbase. Meanwhile, Turkish F-16 continued to pound Daesh targets, while Turkish security reportedly rounded up hundreds of suspected militants, not only of Daesh supporters, but also Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other radical groups.
The local dimension in Turkey’s newly started war on Daesh should be of particular interest. While Daesh is a common denominator among various Middle East countries, each country seems to have a local component that serves as a native host for the terror group, as was the case in Libya following the NATO-led war, and of course, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere.
The Egyptian case is also telling. The chaos that preceded the Daesh entry into Sinai was mostly related to internal Egyptian affairs. The Sinai Peninsula is poor and neglected. For decades, it has been a testament to unfair distribution of wealth. The Bedouin tribes in Sinai, which were once at the forefront of the fight to liberate the Peninsula from Israel, grew rebellious over time. The desert became rife with drug and human trafficking. The celebrations in Sinai, following the Egyptian revolt in January 2011, were short-lived and were quickly replaced by an armed revolt, when hope turned into anger.
Until recently, the Sinai violence was largely a local affair. Although Egypt’s militant factions, such as ‘Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis’, resisted calls to join Al-Qaeda ranks, their need for alliances and support finally pushed them into the arms of Daesh, which now considers the war in Sinai, led by the ‘Sinai Province,’ another extension of its regional fight.
The countries where Daesh is moving in full force, flushing out Al-Qaeda influence and competing with local actors there, now also include Algeria, Mali, Somalia and some others besides Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and northeastern Nigeria.
Aside from Algeria, the same malaise of internal conflict, external meddling and intervention seems to unite the rest, which have either become — or teeter at the edge of being — failed states.
In other words, the success of Daesh has worked in tandem with the failures of regional governments to offer road maps out of security chaos, economic crises and chronic corruption. With access to massive funds, Daesh is able to latch on to local militant groups which were formed as a result of real grievances, buying leverage and loyalty, as they have done in Libya, Syria and Sinai.
Another weapon in the Daesh arsenal that also proved effective is the fact that there is not one single united fight aimed at eliminating or, at least, slowing down the progress of Daesh armies in the Middle East. While military camps of the terror group are reportedly targeted in Syria, other regional conflicts, especially in Yemen, are facilitating the expansion of Daesh.
The war on Daesh and other extremist groups cannot possibly be won if the region remains divided.
It is the lack of political prospects, and the smothering of any attempt at freedom and fair economic opportunity, that lead to extremist violence in the first place. As long as this reality remains intact, Daesh will tragically find new recruits, latch on to local militant groups, and continue to expand into new borders — and even darker horizons.