June 29 marked the first anniversary of the Islamic state. It is an indictment of the international community that an entity so monstrous should move into its second year without showing any significant signs of recession. Instead, its recruitment drive is increasingly sophisticated and successful, the envy of other terror groups.
While the ISIS prompts many conspiracy theories, it has not yet sufficiently unsettled Arabs to launch an assault on it as decisive as in the case of impoverished Yemen, for instance. No joint Arab force was mooted to battle the Islamic state. Differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran take precedence over joint efforts against it.
Whatever air power has been used has been done sporadically, more as revenge, and sometimes to deflect attention away from internal deficiencies. This is how Jordan, the UAE, Qatar, Morocco have launched attacks. Western military initiatives led by the US have also been limited and also resented in the region. More resources have been poured into Syrian rebels battling the Assad government, which looks almost angelic compared to the IS.
Shiite militias, Kurdish peshmerga, the weak Iraqi army are fighting the ISIS in what are more localised knee-jerk reactions.
Arab commentators and analysts continue to see Assad and Iran as bigger threats.
But like the proverbial Frankenstein’s monster, the ISIL is now threatening the bastions of power in the region – the Gulf monarchies, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself, seen in the recent attack in a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, and earlier attacks inside Saudi Arabia.
The ninth issue of the Islamic State’s Dabiq magazine focusses on dismantling of the legitimacy of the Arab governments. The Caliphate will aim to control of the holiest of the Muslim lands.
An analysis of four recent polls surveying Arab public opinion towards the Islamic State reveals that the ISIS has up to 42 million supporters in the Arab world, where support ranges from somewhat to strong. Meanwhile, the seventh annual Asda’a Bursin-Marstellar Arab youth poll in April this year found that most Arab youth had lost faith in democracy.
The ISIS holds up a mirror to this dysfunctional world. A despondent demoralised population looks to ISIS to shore up pride and self-confidence. Hence, the antidote is to be found in these very societies.
The Arab world must seize the moment. Not only long overdue internal reforms have to be urgently pursued, as indeed some like Egypt have already begun – revising the curriculum by Al Azhar university – the bastion of Islamic learning and ruling. A report released in April this year by UNICEF and UNESCO said that more than 21 million children and young adolescents across the Arab world are either out of school or at risk of dropping out, mainly because of poor education standards and low-quality school environment.
Simultaneously, the military offensive also must also be led by Arab states. A Sunni Arab coalition of the willing must lead the military action against the Islamic States. Many other states will willingly join in, but Arab states have to play the lead role, just as they have done in Yemen. The US-led intervention has not stemmed the flow of recruits to the IS. Any victory won by Iran or any non-Muslim country can be greatly counter-productive. The key to defeating the Islamic State lies in Arab hands.
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