The Bigger, Better Enemy
The last words of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines were not their own. Men who devoted their lives to humanitarian efforts and to helping others died in the way that they least deserved.
In war – which is, presumably, what one could call the United States’ latest conflict in the Middle East – perhaps this kind of brutality is unremarkable. Hundreds die in war and many die in heroic and brutal ways, but those hundreds of deaths have not amassed as much media attention as these three have. My heart goes out to the families of those who have died for their country, no matter their beliefs, religion, or background. However, the assassinations of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines signal a sinister new chapter in terrorism. We once thought of al-Qaeda as the pinnacle of evil. The terrorist attacks of September 11th still bring fear and sadness to our hearts, even more than a decade onwards. But a new bad guy is in town, and he is worse than our last opponent.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (a.k.a. ISIL) is a Sunni jihadist group dedicated to creating a caliphate (an Islamic state governed by a Muslim ruler) in the Iraq-Syria region (also referred to as the Levant). A fairly new addition to the world’s roster of terrorist organizations, ISIL was once known by a different name: “al-Qaeda in Iraq.” However, over time, ISIL’s fanaticism and violence so astonished the members of al-Qaeda that, in February, the group denounced the Islamic State for their unruliness and disobedience. Such is ISIL, a group that has set out to accomplish what al-Qaeda never could.
Unlike al-Qaeda, which preached waging a war of attrition against the western world, ISIL has gone forward and carved out their own nation dominated by a perverse ideology. Though ISIL’s gains can be measured by the fear it has struck in the hearts of people around the world and the land it has conquered, a better criteria of ISIL’s success is the composition of the coalition of friends and foes that have united to stand against them: ISIL has proved there was an entity more evil to the U.S. and Iran than each other.
However, perhaps ISIL’s crowning achievement is not the violence that it has perpetuated, but the fear that it has created. The executioner of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines was a man with a British accent, stoking fears of homegrown terrorism like never before. A new breed of jihadists is forming. Indeed, hopeful, younger, more zealous terrorists are answering ISIL’s call and feeding the monster. Gone are the days that jihadists were born and bred to hate Western culture in the developing world – they are now born in any nation, on any socioeconomic level, and as any ethnicity. The disenfranchisement of so many should be a warning sign to the West that ISIL’s reach – and ambitions – reach far beyond the Levant.
- Kathy Dimaya