The rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has prompted worldwide outrage, specifically in relation to the use of the word ‘Islam’ in the terrorist organization’s name. “ISIL” is known around the world for its brutality-beheading westerners, killing religious minorities, and enslaving women. Their aim is to ultimately create an Islamic State throughout the region that would operate under strict Sharia law. The Islamist militant group now controls large amounts of land stretching from northern Syria to central Iraq.
In terms of ISIL’s goals, the possibility of expanding its power to Jordan is not surprising. According to senior “ISIL” affiliated officials, Jordan might be the next target for the group. Sources state that the group has started to fund a $3 million ‘recruitment scheme’ in the nation, which might indicate the next step for the militant group. The success of this scheme would be detrimental to the region and the world in general. Jordan has been known for its relative stability in the region and its intimate ties with the West, in particularly the US. However, the group has demonstrated its capability to overtake even the stable regimes in the Middle East. With ease, ISIL militants overtook parts of Syria and Iraq, overrunning both the Iraqi security forces and army effectively. The fighters also seized the main border crossing between Iraq and Jordan.
So the question is why aren’t the group stopped? There are currently attempts made by the international community to reduce the group’s threats to the region. More than 60 countries have joined the international air-strikes coalition, including the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, to fight ISIL. The one aspect that they focus on is deteriorating the group’s economic abilities by cutting down their sources of funding. The airstrikes have destroyed ISIL-controlled oil refineries. The US Treasury Department estimated that the group makes millions of dollars each month by smuggling millions of barrels of oil into the Southern part of Turkey. Smuggled oil is cheap, and is a valued commodity in Turkey, where oil prices have risen extraordinarily in recent years. But the solution is not as simple as bombing the oil refineries, as oil smuggling is just one of many financial resources ISIL has at its disposal.
Other sources include donations from wealthy sympathizers in Qatar and Kuwait. Besides money from the outside, ISIL has been recognized as the most well financed terrorist group for its regulations in taxes. Even though the international community has cut down its outside resources, the group is still able to support itself by collecting taxes from the swaths of land that it has seized. The group started out as a crime enterprise in the shattered Iraqi state. With US troops gone, ISIL was created in a power vacuum. The group gained momentum in lawlessness and the lack of competent forces to repel them. They robbed banks and began taxing populations in the areas they controlled. If you wanted to drive through an ISIL-controlled area, you paid a tax. If you wanted to take money out of your bank account in an ISIL-controlled area, you paid a tax. These collected taxes provided huge revenues for the group, which were used to fund their wars and arms stockpiles almost independently.
ISIL has a one distinct feature from other traditional terrorist groups. Other terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban reside in the mountains, which forces these organizations to rely on outside sources for support. However, ISIL controls cities, which provides them with opportunities that other terrorist groups cannot access. This is why airstrikes are not a sufficient solution to destroy the self-financing ISIL.
The recent rise of ISIL has reignited the question, “Is Islam encouraging violence?” With reports of brutal atrocities by the terrorists flooding the news, an increasing portion of the non-Muslim public believes the lie that Islam encourages violence. According to the Pew Research poll, 50 percent of the American public believes that Islam encourages violence more than other religions, which has risen from 43 percent in July and 38 percent in February. Islamophobia has become more common since 2002, right after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Fortunately, other media outlets are attempting to disprove this erroneous belief. Another poll indicates that majority of the Muslim find the extremists’ acts abhorrent. The truth is that many Muslim leaders and believers condemn the atrocious acts taken by the terrorists. And there are numerous examples of peaceful protestors such the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai or the townspeople of Budrus. As the Western media fails to portray the full picture of the religion (and of the region), it has created negative framings for the 1.5 billion Muslims who do not commit acts of terror. If the media only chooses to cover the terror and the violence in relation to the religion, this will further trigger anti-Islamic, anti-American and anti-Western sentiments. Mis-characterization and over-generalization of Islam in the media has provided the foundation for the creation of terrorist groups, causing ordinary people to turn to violent alternatives. To quote American scientist Peter Seng, “Culture is created through the telling of stories. We tell each other stories, and then later forget that they were stories, they then become our realities.”