Although it appears to the general public that there is not much difference between Al Qaeda and ISIS, two organizations that are committed to terrorism in the Middle East and beyond, there are certain differences between the two groups in regards to strategy and organization. Al Qaeda and its affiliates continue to pose a threat to the United States homeland, but the Islamic State’s danger is actually more of a threat to the stability of the Middle East and the United States interests overseas (Byman, 2015.) The groups remain rivals involving competing for affiliates, and both groups are attempting to spread their model; in the case of Al Qaeda, the group seems determined to ensure its relevance from an operational perspective. Currently, ISIS concentrate its efforts on Iraq and Syria and to a lesser extent on Muslims in the Middle East, in particular Libya. In the US and Europe ISIS may encourage lone wolf attacks, but it is not spending its resources towards attacks by these individuals. Al Qaeda tends to be less powerful and less dynamic than ISIS, but remains extremely focused on attacking the US and its allies in the Western Hemisphere.
Al Qaeda’s ultimate goal is to overthrow the “apostate” regimes in the Middle East which they view as corrupt, and replace them with true Islamic governments; their main enemy is the US, because it believes that this country is the main cause of the problems in the Middle East. They think that when they target the United States, the US will eventually end support for Muslim governments and leave the region altogether, leaving those regimes vulnerable to attacks from within (Byman, 2015.) ISIS does not agree with the strategy of Al Qaeda involving enemies that are far away, and prefers to focus on “near enemies” in the region. As a result, the main target of ISIS is not the US but rather, the “apostate” regimes in the Middle East Arab world, specifically the regimes in Syria and in Iraq. The head of ISIS wants to purify the Islamic community by attacking religious minorities in addition to jihadist groups that are their rivals. They have a long list of enemies.
The United States has clearly played an important role in creating the conditions for ISIS to emerge. Members of the group have spent years of fighting in Iraq, waging war against American troops who were well armed and extremely motivated to respond to the 9/11 attackers. The US occupation of Iraq included detaining tens of thousands of Iraqis without allowing them to be brought to trial, frequently for years. The prisons, notably Guantánamo Bay, were fertile locations for the radicalization of the prisoners, and many of the younger man who were held there were motivated to join ISIS after they were released (Rogers, 2014.) Saudi Arabia has played a significant role in the rise of ISIS because it is a strong supporter of Islamic extremism and has unlimited resources to fund such terrorist groups. In addition, in certain ways the Saudi kingdom has supported ISIS because it views the goals of ISIS as supporting Sunni radicalism, which they support (Roy, 2014.)
Several scholars and climatologists believe that the Syrian civil war was at least partially the result of climate change. One of the main reasons for the horrific fighting in the country has been a drought that has gone on for more than five or six years (Hulme, 2015.) Experts have been saying for several years that climate change is having a tremendous effect on conflict as well as terrorism. The heating of the earth has resulted in scarce water supplies in many countries in the world, Syria being one of them, as it has an impact on the food supply through crop stagnation and public health as well because of the lack of clean water and sanitation.
The goals of ISIS attacks on Western countries is meant to create a backlash that turns non-Muslim Westerners against the Muslim populations in those countries. The purpose is to support the claim that the West is waging a war against Islam. ISIS hopes that the xenophobic citizens of right wing conservatives in Europe and the United States will actually become stronger during this process, and that the people who will be victimized in the long-term will be those middle Easterners who have been escaping this type of terror that has occurred in the Middle East (Kingsbury, 2015.) In addition, the attacks appear to be designed to demonstrate that the terrorists are not to be ignored and that as a result, Westerners will turn upon themselves and ultimately become weakened and divided because of all the confusion that characterizes their responses.
Islamophobia helps to advance the goals of the Islamic State, because it helps to reinforce the notion that the West is in a war against Muslims. Followers of Islam who are extremely devoted to the religion believe that they are fighting to defend their faith against nonbelievers and enemies who would choose to eliminate that religion. In this way, Muslims may be more easily recruited to fight for the cause because they believe that hatred of their population will motivate the West to attack them and eliminate their ability to engage in their religious practices.
It is difficult to make the decision about whether or not to put boots on the ground in Syria, because in many ways, the last thing the United States needs is to become involved in another long, drawnout, unwinnable battle in the Middle East. There has been tremendous losses of resources in the form of deaths, money, and credibility because of our recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and most people appear to consider that the price that was paid was not worth it. If the US decides to put soldiers in Syria, it would likely be another prescription for disaster on many levels. Not doing anything, however, makes the United States appear to be hypocritical because after all, this country claims to stand for liberty and equality and human rights which are clearly not available to the Syrian people. Nevertheless, I believe that the price of entering the war in Syria using soldiers from the US would be catastrophic.
- Byman, D. (2015, November 16). Comparing Al Qaeda and ISIS: different goals, different targets. Retrieved from The Brookings Institution: http://www.brookings.edu
- Hulme, M., & Selby, J. (2015, November 29). Is climate change really to blame for Syria’s civil war? Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com
- Kingsbury, D. (2015, November 16). Paris attacks: what Islamic state is trying to achieve. Retrieved from ABC.net: http://www.abc.net.au
- Rogers, P. (2014, September 5). Islamic state: From the inside. Retrieved from Open Democracy.net: https://www.opendemocracy.net/
- Roy, O. (2015, November 16). The attacks in Paris reveal the strategic limits of ISIS. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com