THE QUESTION OF ISIS, AND THE ARAB WORLD

1. The nation-states of the Arab world are in turmoil – many of these are
by now “Failed States”. This is having a direct effect on the demographic
composition of Europe, but especially so on Greece.

2. Who is to blame for their failure? Firstly, one cannot deny that one
underlying factor has been Western intervention and arbitrary
“nation-building”, dating back to the early-20th century (as
also the manipulative practices of present-day global powers).

3. But it is as important, secondly, to stress that the self-destructive
tendencies of the Arab world may also be put down to internal strife
independent of the West: above all, it is the Sunni-Shiite divide – which
is an ancient divide dating back to the pre-modern world – which is the
basic cause of current self-destruction. Such division has turned into a
power struggle between different religious groupings, clans and kinship
formations. Such conflicts are not merely struggles between Arab elites –
they are as much expressed in violent clashes at grassroots level across
the Arab world.

4. Thirdly, Islam is characterized by a “medievalism” that refuses to
“modernize” itself, thus generating internal conflicts between
“traditionalists” and Arab middle class “modernists” (who worship the
“bright lights” of the West, and especially Germany).

5. The so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011 unwittingly fused all these
contradictions – of the distant past and of the present conjuncture – into
a series of civil wars leading to the dissolution of major Arab
nation-states.

6. It is in such specific context that we need to understand the rise of
ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham of Syria), it being a power
fighting against all Shiites and against all Arab “modernists”. Its rise
and entrenchment in the Arab world has taken place precisely within a
situation characterized by an internal crisis of Islam: its religious
fanaticism is poised against the “Western dream” of many Arabs, as also
against the less dogmatic versions of Islam as expressed by Shiite
traditions.

7. Now, the Greek “Left”, having romanticized the Arab world at least since
the 1980’s, has tried to present ISIS as an isolated “organization” of mad
fanatics that is not at all “representative” of whatever sections of the
Arab world.

8. That, however, is a myth (encouraged by the mass media as a whole, and
for reasons which relate to the question of immigration, etc.) meant to
exonerate the Arab peoples – in this case the Sunni masses – of whatever
responsibilities for the crimes perpetrated by ISIS.

9. And yet, ISIS ideology has the popular support of Sunnis in major
regions of the Arab world – these include the heartland of Iraq and 50% of
Syria. Further, their Islamic grassroots influence stretches across regions
of Libya, Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco, Mali, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and
of course Saudi Arabia. This is no mere “organization”: it is what it says
it is – i.e. an organized State and its apparatuses.

10. But much more importantly, ISIS would not have survived the armed
attacks of various international powers if it had no such grassroots
consensus, at least in Iraq and Syria. The point is that the power of ISIS
has not merely been imposed on people through simple coercion. Rather, it
has combined a fine balance between coercion and consent (in the Gramscian
sense) amongst the Sunni people so as to establish its hegemony in regions
of the Arab world. As such, ISIS ideological hegemony among sections of the
Arab world may further expand in the future, whether or not its
organizational nucleus and State mechanisms are finally destroyed.

11. What are the implications for Europe? If such religious fanaticism is a
reality amongst sections of the Arab masses – and if such fanaticism
includes the beheading or killing of non-believers or “modernists” – then
one need pose the pertinent question: what does it mean to have elements of
such a fanatic religious culture settle as communities within Europe? What
effect could that have on the cultural values of the peoples of Europe? The
suggestion here is not that all Islamic communities are ‘en bloc’ fanatic –
but one need note that such communities may potentially come to constitute
hubs of Muslim radicalism, and which may themselves unwittingly harbor
terrorist cells (as has already occurred in the U.K., France, and
elsewhere).

12. In that sense, the fears recently expressed by Lech Walesa (on the
issue of possible “beheadings” taking place in Europe, etc.) need to be
considered very cautiously and definitely without a single iota of whatever
racism or supremacist bigotry.

13. In itself, “racism” appeals to the lower human instincts, and needs to
be rejected, at least as a tool of comprehension. On the other hand, one
need raise questions based on the material facts of present-day history.
Both Marx and Weber would have stood up to watch such flow of events, but
they would have done so “scientifically”. Both would have been as
“scientifically concerned” about possible mutations in European culture, it
being rooted in the Renaissance.

14. To conclude this brief note, we need point out that the positions we
express here are solidly founded on the more serious of current
bibliography on this matter. For instance, regarding the Sunni-Shiite
primordial division, cf. Vali Nasr, “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within
Islam Will Shape the Future”, New York, Norton, 2006.

15. As regards the grassroots support of the Islamic State, cf. www.reuters.com, 24.7.2015, which
states, inter alia, that “The Sunni Islamic State has drawn considerable
grassroots support in Iraq and Syria by milking longstanding Sunni-Shiite
Muslim sectarian enmities”. On the same issue, cf. Zack Beauchamp, in a
“Vox Topics” article (dated 18.6.2014), where he argues that “ISIS can’t
maintain its gains without deep support from Iraq’s Sunni population.”
Beauchamp’s investigations have also revealed that the neo-Baathists of
Iraq and other Islamists are cooperating with ISIS. Similarly, cf. www.dailysabah.com, 8.7.2015,
where it is argued that “ISIS could not have made such steady gains if it
did not have grassroots support.”

16. Concerning the exercise of both coercion and consent on the part of
ISIS, cf. Dr. Thanos Dokos (University of Cambridge, Director General of
ELIAMEP), Interview on ERT Radio, Sunday 27.9.2015, a.m. Dr. Dokos has
argued that ISIS could not have survived the military attacks it has
received unless it enjoyed the “consensus” of the Sunni masses.

Panagiotis Tourikis (“Nikos Vlachos”), 6.10.2015

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