Avoiding the Rise of the Next Monstrous Incarnation of ISIS in Iraq May Require a Strong Socio-Economic Focus on Sunni Youth both there and Elsewhere in the Muslim World
By Martin Accad
Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the Sunni community there has been undergoing a crisis of identity and leadership—as signaled by a recent analysis of the Carnegie Middle East Center. The Sunni community of Iraq has been experiencing strong internal tensions since its gradual disempowerment, resulting from the increasingly Shiite-controlled central government. This has resulted in an onslaught of Salafi influence, particularly on the youth.
Although Iraqi Salafism has traditionally been of the more quietist type, the disempowerment of Sunni youth is leaving a void that is gradually being filled by a more Jihadi brand of Salafism. The more Sufi—or mystic—form of Islam, traditionally preferred by the community there, seems to be of little help and consolation to these marginalized communities.
Alarmingly, the US Department of State last month issued a press release offering a reward of $1 Million to anyone who will provide it with “information leading to the identification or location in any country of al-Qa’ida (AQ) key leader Hamza bin Laden.” This initiative is an important indicator that the intelligence community views Osama’s son from his favorite wife, Khairiah, as a notable threat to national and international security.
As ISIS has been slipping into the shadows, security analysts are considering that 29-year old Hamza may be emerging as the favorite icon of Islamist Jihadism and is being propped up as the new symbol of Al-Qaeda by aging 67-year old ideological leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Before he had reached his teen years, Hamza bin Laden already appeared in propaganda videos next to his father and preached fiery sermons calling to Jihad against the west. In the past decade, he has renewed his late father’s rhetoric against the west, and particularly against the United States, whom he accuses of “occupying” the Arabian Peninsula and “stealing” the wealth of Muslim lands. Everything about him makes him into a rallying figure for jihadists everywhere, from Iraq and Syria, to North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and significantly to growing numbers of potential jihadists in the west.
Violence breeds violence! There was no question regarding the truth and power of this principle in Jesus’ mind when he sharply rebuked Peter, who had unsheathed his sword to defend him in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Put your sword back in its place (…) for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). The breach of this principle has been playing out with disastrous consequences, as a worse manifestation of Islamist violence has been following each previous one, beginning with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the post-colonial twentieth-century MENA region, to the rise of Al-Qaeda in the late twentieth and early twenty-first, to the emergence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” in 2014, and now the signs of growing labor pangs that might well give birth to the latest incarnation of a rejuvenated Al-Qaeda under the leadership of Hamza bin Laden.
For followers of Jesus, violence was never an option. And whenever violent men have borne the sword under the banner of Christianity, this has been to the detriment of the Church and in rash contradiction with the teaching of our Lord, who taught us to love not only our neighbors, but also our enemies.
But the church is not merely called to persevere in peaceful living through the adoption of a quietist stance in wait for the return of its Savior. We have been called out of the ways of the world and into a life of activism for the redemption of our societies, both spiritually and physically. Jesus’ supreme mandate was encapsulated in his citation from the prophet Isaiah at the synagogue of Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Those who want to counter the rise of the next incarnation of lethal jihadism will need to turn their attention to disgruntled Sunni communities where youths are struggling socio-economically. The Sunni communities of Iraq today represent a breeding ground for militant Islamism. Their situation calls for an aggressive socio-economic response on the part of the international community, and no less for churches worldwide who have a desire to work for the peace of our communities and the redemption of our world.