Extremism still rampant after 9/11
Islamic State threat presenting international community with old dilemmas.

Thursday is the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the U.S. by al-Qaeda; now the international community faces a threat from the extremist Islamic State group but has yet to produce a coordinated strategy.

The September 11, 2001 attacks saw al-Qaeda operatives hijack and crash airliners filled with civilian passengers in New York City and Washington D.C. The deadly mission killed almost 3,000 people as the planes struck targets like the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Saudi Arabia is currently hosting a two-day international conference on fighting Islamist extremism in the region. Although the conference is being attended by representatives from Gulf countries as well as the U.S., Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, some observers are skeptical that the international community has learned any lessons from the 9/11 events.

The conference will not prove to be a landmark one in curbing the strength of IS and other extremist organizations, according to Professor Serhat Erkmen, who teaches international relations at Turkey's Ahi Evran University.

"Only military strategies will be discussed in the meeting; there is no civil strategy foreseen by any actor. And those military measures will inevitably continue [the] fast transformation of balances in the region, and no effective results will appear in erasing the extremist groups’ existence in the long-term," Erkmen says.

IS, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is currently controlling parts of northern Syria and Iraq.

The militia captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June and then surged across the north of the country, taking control of a number of predominantly Sunni cities.

Armed groups linked to IS have forced millions of Iraqi civilians to flee; the group has targeted Shiite Muslims from Turkmen and Arab communities, Christians and Ezidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious group.

This is the second rise of the IS in Iraq; the first one being during the eight-year U.S. invasion which, to a large extent, severed relations between the majority Shiite and minority Sunni population.

IS is an offshoot of al-Qaeda, which is reportedly based in Pakistan and transformed into a different movement out of disagreements with Afghan rebel groups in 1980s.

Afghan mujahedeen groups were supported by the U.S. and Afghan and Pakistani authorities towards the end of the Cold War to step up an anti-Soviet war in the country. Al-Qaeda focused on struggling with Shiite Muslims in the Middle East and chose Iran and affiliated republics and groups as their main target.

Bill Park, senior lecturer in Defense Studies at King's College in London, says the rise of IS is connected to more than one factor in Iraq, both in domestic and external terms.

Claiming the radicalization in Iraq to an important extent owes itself to policies carried out by Shiite-leaning ex-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, Park notes that "the violence of the conflict in Syria which turned into a sectarian conflict" also has something to do with the reflection of sectarian divisions in neighboring Iraq.

The attraction of IS to many young Muslims in countries throughout the world is its success in presenting themselves in the media and successful networking, creating a glamorous image, according to Park.

Erkmen however claims that "the differentiation of the IS from the al-Qaeda is primarily related to [the] Iraqi invasion by the U.S.", which he says has had a role in deepening sectarian fault lines between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiite Muslims.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was one of two wars following the 9/11 attacks – the other was in Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy al-Qaeda bases in the country.

Radicalism in the Middle East turned most visible with the 9/11 attacks but this radicalism was not a new phenomenon. Political Islam became a common alternative as long-standing authoritarian Middle East regimes tried to deal with the social transformations following the Cold War.

Many Western countries fully supported these authoritarian regimes to keep the status quo in the region so as to not harm their consolidated interests, Erkmen claims.

"The Middle East countries [were] failing to adapt themselves to the new world order with the end of the Cold War and so, in trying to deal with their problems through pressure on the people, tried to reinforce their rule with external support from Western countries.

"This effort to consolidate their power through Western support led to the blossoming of radicalist groups not being able to find a space for political struggle and their quest for ways of extra-political struggle," Erkmen says.

Mohammed Ayoob, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University, says: "IS is, to a considerable extent, the product of U.S. policy."

"By destroying the civilian and military institutions of the Iraqi state following the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. created a geographic and political vacuum into which the jihadists moved in," Ayoob claims.

"One should not forget that Saddam Hussein was a bulwark against jihadist infiltration of Iraq and had nothing to do with the 9/11 destruction of the twin towers."

Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations in St Anthony's College, agrees with Ayoob, saying the rise of the IS is directly linked to the disbanding of the Baath Party and Iraqi army after the 2003 U.S. military invasion.

"The result [of the invasion] was chaos which made Iraq the breeding ground for Islamic terrorist groups," says Shlaim.

Last Modified: 2014-09-12 09:31:30
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