Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Guerrilla warfare has been used as a tactic by rebels in Latin America and Africa. There are quite possibly many theories as to why a collective group of people would decide to launch an attack on another. Whether the attack derives from a minority that seeks to bring down the rule of the majority or a strategy used by the majority to control the minority. Each and every case is single handedly reviewed differently.
In the Middle East, the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda are placed under the umbrella of terrorism.
The power vacuum, Arab Spring and extreme Islamist ideologies are among the many reasons given to explain the rise of such a phenomenon.
To many, 9/11 has been the starting point to explain why and how such a catastrophe took place. Bush’s war on terrorism swept Iraq and Afghanistan to rubble with no solution in sight. What was supposed to be a temporary war ended up being a permanent aching backbone to every Western politician that has no clue on how to deal with one terror group’s rise after another.
What was once a region of authoritarian dictators has sweepingly become a breeding ground for terrorist groups once the dictators have been toppled down.
9/11 and other horrific tragic terrorist events have made a mark on the 21st century. Statistics, election results and a shift to the right-wing bloc in the Western democratic countries only provide evidence of the instigated fear and suspicion the Western public now has towards Arab-speaking immigrants. Leaving a chilling and indifferent feeling over how the Muslim population at large may feel from this prosecution and unwelcome treatment in the West and the senseless, endless debates about veils. It became everyone’s mission to the save the Middle East with no real understanding of the diverse ethnic minorities that exist in the Middle East or the wide range of dialects that differ from one place to the next. Many are quick to blame Islam, or even worse, do not even understand the vital difference between these terrorist groups and why a comparison between them and every Muslim should not be made.
Who is Islamic State and Why they are not Al-Qaeda?
There was an incomprehensible understanding amongst Western leaders on the word ‘terrorism’ and how to define it or let alone how to battle against it. American missions to Iraq and Afghanistan left hundreds dead for no clear cause. No Western country could understand if they were losing or winning. It was even worse explaining these missions to the media and the public back home who could not understand why some of their soldiers never came back, who it is they are fighting against and why they should be involved in wars in a chaotic region in the first place.
Many assumed that traveling to the Middle East to defeat Al-Qaeda would put an end to terrorism. The Arab Spring brought hope to many that finally a change was happening in the region: no more Qadafi in Libya or Hussein in Iraq and next would be Asad in Syria. However, the Syrian civil war dragged on, Islamic State exploited the situation in Iraq and Syria to make its debut and Iran-backed Houtis popped up in Yemen. It seemed that the term terrorism was not getting any simpler. Many began making the mistake that Al-Qaeda is Islamic State and vice versa, labeling every terrorist group under one banner.
In order to understand this phenomenon that has gripped the modern century, one must understand the difference between Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. With no careful explanation as to why and in what ways both groups differ, we will not be able to understand how to counter them.
The Clash of the Titans:
Many are unaware that Islamic State and Al-Qaeda do not just differ in strategy and ideology, but are in fact each other’s nemesis.
A large number of scholarly work went into explaining the rise of Al-Qaeda. Such explanations include the terrorist group’s hatred for Western interference in the Middle East, modernisation that might interfere with their perception of Islam and their yearning for a return to the days of the Islamic empire.
Al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal is to overthrow the dictatorship regimes that are an indignant part of the Middle East and establish Islamic governments instead. They value a more far off strategy rather than a regional one. Al-Qaeda believes that the core support for the Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes comes from the United States. By targeting America, they believe they can cut off American support to the Middle Eastern dictatorship regimes and will allow them to gain momentum in the region, making the United States their number one enemy.
Al-Qaeda seeks to unite all Muslims together in attack or jihad against the West. The primary differences between Sunni and Shi’ites does not really concern them. 9/11 was an example of a tragic and horrific event to punish the United States and to convince it to back out of Middle Eastern soil. Al-Qaeda targeted symbolic and meaningful sites in order to dramatise their attacks. Al-Qaeda has never shown ambition to conquering land. Rather, it sought Muslim support from the region first, and the control in the territory because it believed those were the initial steps to establish an Islamic state.
Islamic State (IS, ISIS, or ISIL) is headed by Baghdadi who was originally part of Al-Qaeda. His collusion course with the group resulted in a split and the formation of Islamic State. Baghdadi had a different ideology and strategy for Al-Qaeda which is now the basis of Islamic State. The Islamic State believes in a regional strategy. They want to build an Islamic State in which they can create one government in the region for all Muslims to abide by its same laws.
Islamic State believes that in order to spread worldwide they must first abolish or ‘beat clean’ the authoritarian or Islamic regimes in the Middle East. Their primary enemies are regimes such as in Abadi’s Iraq and Asad’s Syria and not the the United States. This purification of the regional Middle Eastern regimes is not exclusively devoted to Iraq and Syria but rather a plethora of other minorities and regimes that the Islamic State disapproves of. This could be seen in their ruthless acts of beheading and killing not only Christian minorities in the region but also Muslims that are identified as not following what they believe as the ‘true’ religion of Islam. These include Shi’ites, Kurds, Hizbollah and rival oppositions in Syria.
Islamic State uses methods of extreme violence to terrorise and get attention to their group and also includes destroying ancient ruins in Syria and Iraq and anyone that dares to fight back.
Let the Titans Clash:
The different ideologies have made both terrorist groups enemies. Of course, the rise of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media has given Islamic State a stronger grip than the days of the rise of Al-Qaeda when there were no forms of social media.
Islamic State is moving at a pace that is outmatching Al-Qaeda. Social media have given Islamic State a bigger platform to appeal to the younger generation as opposed to Zwahari’s outdated methods with Al-Qaeda.
If the United States and other Western countries play their cards right, they could exploit the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda feud to their advantage in order to diminish them for good. As support for Al-Qaeda has been dwindling and the same has probably happened to the Islamic State (the more they produce disgusting images of beheading and rape), now is the time to take advantage of their rivalry and allow both groups to play off against each other to finally pull the brakes on their operations.
Western countries will need to cooperate with regional allies in order to ensure their security against Islamic State and Al-Qaeda as well.