Deservedly Foreign Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, our Intelligence agencies and diplomats have earned praise for their handling of the Iraq crisis. Nurses from Kerala and a substantial number of workers have been brought back safely into the country. However an aspect of greater significance related to events has escaped attention. The nurses were well treated and allowed to exit safely. This is not how terrorists normally behave. This was more like the conduct of a disciplined army. This induces serious reappraisal of the ISIS movement and what it might foretell. Today ISIS presents mainly a territorial threat. But if it stabilizes into one Sunni state encompassing a part of Iraq and Syria, what might be the long term challenge it could present in the distant future? The ISIS leader looks like a long distance runner.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who heads ISIS reportedly hails from a family of preachers. He joined the Al Qaeda and served in several operations. When the formation of ISIS was announced in April 2013, al-Baghdadi sought the merger of the Syrian jihadist faction with ISIS. But the leader of that faction demurred. Al Qaeda’s effective leader Ayman al-Zawahiri opposed ISIS and ordered it to be disbanded. Thereupon Baghdadi revolted against Al Qaeda and took control of the Syrian outfit killing hundreds in the factional clashes.
In February 2014 Al-Qaeda formally severed relations with ISIS. Subsequently the fighting in Iraq has intensified and ISIS continues to make military gains. It is this outfit led by al-Baghdadi which uncharacteristically treated Indian nurses kindly and allowed them to leave. What does this tell us about al-Baghdadi and his movement?
Media analysts in India and abroad continue to describe ISIS in terms similar to what they used for Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Taliban jihadists. Could they be underestimating ISIS? On a TV discussion security analyst Major General Ashok Mehta stated that ISIS presented two challenges, one territorial and the other ideological. He considered the territorial challenge more serious but averred that hemmed in by other powers there was little military prospect of ISIS exercising control beyond Syria and northern Iraq. But what if the ideological challenge is more, much more, serious than the territorial challenge? A few aspects of al-Baghdadi’s approach merit attention and induce this writer to invite speculation about the potential of the long term ISIS challenge.
The ISIS handling of the Indian nurses crisis resulted in what may be described as a diplomatic gesture by al-Baghdadi. The most significant step by the ISIS leader has been to declare the revival of the Caliphate and of himself as the Caliph. The developments of the Iraq war suggest an emerging scenario in the region that will not be very different from what the US envisaged in 2006 when Secretary of State Rice talked about a New Middle East for which even a map of redrawn boundaries was prepared. Therefore if eventually a Sunni block and a Shiite bloc emerge in the Middle East, with al-Baghdadi ruling the Islamic state of Syria plus northern Iraq, how might the self appointed Caliph proceed subsequently? He may utilize the jihadi groups drawn to him in all parts of the world by deploying them to pressure governments and public opinion. The most immediate threat could be to Arab rulers. Their western contacts and permissive lifestyles could be targeted.
It seems unlikely that al-Baghdadi seriously contemplates physical conquest beyond the state he is presently trying to carve. As the Caliph he might attempt to spread Islamic values across the world through diplomatic and political measures. Former Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Talmiz Ahmed, wrote in a newspaper article: “Throughout the period of colonialism, there were sentimental references to the Caliphate as an office that would free the Muslims from western domination and give them the possibility of rejuvenation and victory, as it had done in Islam’s early history.” If al-Baghdadi as Caliph were to attempt propitiating this sentiment, what might he do?
Undoubtedly political events in the world today are influenced most decisively by big business finance capital with its tentacles spread across the globe. In recent years the permissive approach by big bankers to cut corners and their greed for profit plunged the world into crisis. The reputation and goodwill for bankers has never been lower. By assaulting their control an effective attack against the west would begin. How could al-Baghdadi attempt that? In the last century Hitler and the fascists attempted before the start of World War Two to challenge global finance capital by scrapping the gold standard and by entering into barter trade between nations. ISIS need not do that. Quite possibly it may take recourse to a more potent alternative.
A fundamental tenet of Islam is that taking interest is disallowed. Prophet Mohammed spoke against interest. What if from the billions of dollars at his disposal al-Baghdadi spends a portion to propagate Islamic banking across the world? No interest would be paid but only profits earned from investments made either by the depositor or by the bank would be earned. Given the present public disenchantment with big bankers and the fact that even Jesus, Guru Nanak and other spiritual leaders had spoken against acceptance of interest, might the idea spread? And if it does, how might it affect the power and control of the present finance capital czars over global economy and politics? Does this aspect not deserve the world’s attention?