The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, more commonly known as ISIS, ISIL, IS, or Daesh, is a terrorist group believed to have begun operating in 1999, whose actions escalated after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. ISIS split off from another radical group, Al Qaeda, in 2014, and the two groups have competed for territory ever since; ISIS has quickly risen to prominence as a world threat.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself the caliph of ISIS after the U.S. and Iraq killed the group’s previous leaders in 2010. He has a group of advisors, which includes two deputies, a war minister, and several other high-ranking commanders of ISIS.
Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield, explained that “[Al-Baghdadi is] a charismatic, motivational religious leader at the helm of [ISIS],” and that “there’s no more fertile ground for these really terrible ideas than young men who are unemployed.”
ISIS has taken control of much of Syria and Iraq over the last several years and is continuously seizing more territory. ISIS took advantage of the chaos that emerged in 2011, during the start of Syria’s civil war, to advance its initiative and gain more land. Because ISIS now controls the oil-rich area of Syria, its financing primarily comes from the oil trade. According to CNN in February
2015, through smuggling and then selling Syrian oil, the group now earns more than $1.2 million per day. ISIS also earns money through ransoms after kidnappings and through extortion, “taxing” citizens who live under its control. The group also steals money, and in June 2014 gained about $500 million by robbing banks in Mosul, Iraq.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for several recent terrorist attacks, such as those in Brussels, Paris, Jakarta, Egypt, Yemen, and Bangladesh. In addition, the husband and wife who shot 14 people in San Bernadino, California on December 2, 2015 were inspired by ISIS rhetoric. The San Bernadino shooting is one of many examples of ISIS-inspired violence around the world.
An article in The Wall Street Journal explained that although Tunisia has the reputation of being one of the most secure and democratic Arab countries, more recruits for ISIS have come from the country than from any other. Estimates are that 6,000–7,000 Tunisians are fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and 15,000 others are being monitored within Tunisia for potential ISIS sympathy. Many of these young Tunisians don’t have jobs at home and are hoping for a more meaningful life by joining ISIS. Mr. Flaska emphasized that the best way to combat ISIS recruiting “is to provide jobs and education” so young people don’t feel that joining ISIS is necessary.
President Obama has called for the U.S. to “continue to take on [ISIS] leadership, their financial networks, [and] their infrastructure.” Yet Obama also commented, “over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.” Obama explains how ISIS controls people, stating, “They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.”
Just as it has been in the Oval Office, combating ISIS has also been a big discussion in the 2016 presidential debate. In November, Hillary Clinton stated, “Our strategy should have three main elements. One, defeat ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; two, disrupt and dismantle the growing terrorist infrastructure that facilitates the flow of fighters, financing arms and propaganda around the world; three, harden our defenses and those of our allies against external and homegrown threats.”
Bernie Sanders argued, “We do not destroy [ISIS] by doing what we did in Iraq and getting into perpetual warfare… What we do, as King Abdullah of Jordan has told us, is we work to put together a very effective coalition of Muslim nations who lead the effort on the ground, supported by the United States, the U.K., France, and other major powers in the air and through training.”
While the Republican presidential candidates have been quick to criticize Obama’s plan for fighting ISIS, many news experts have pointed out the ambiguity and lack of depth of the Republican candidates’ own plans. Trump believes in having a strong presence of “boots on the ground” in Syria and Iraq, yet wants other countries to send their troops instead of the U.S.: “I want to get other people to put troops on the ground and we’ll back them up 100 percent…Let Russia do it. Let ‘em get rid of ISIS. What the hell do we care?” After the Easter bombing in Pakistan, he said on Twitter that he “alone can solve [the problem of ISIS].” He also supports bombing the families of ISIS recruits, and believes that there should be a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Ted Cruz also supports completely blocking immigration from Muslim countries, arguing, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” He is also a supporter of “carpet bombings” – bombings that indiscriminately target an area, not selected people – to take out ISIS. Military experts argue that carpet bombs would kill many innocent people while only killing a handful of ISIS sympathizers, and are inconsistent with American values.
John Kasich supports having ground troops to fight ISIS. He also believes in a no-fly zone and wants to steer clear of the Syrian civil war.
While ISIS poses a global threat, these radical extremists are a tiny minority of Muslims. Mr. Flaska explained that in people’s minds, “an event becomes a paradigm.” In this case, events such as 9/11, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and the 2015 San Bernadino shooting have become synonymous with Islam—but such a premise is inaccurate at best and dangerous at worst.