The Genealogy of Daesh-ISIS
Yassin al-Haj Saleh,
Even though the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or Da’esh) emerged in Syria in 2013, its structure can be traced back to three historical layers across three geographies and influences, the earliest one being rooted in Afghanistan, followed by Iraq, and most recently, Syria.
These layers should be interpreted in accordance with George Balandier’s Political Anthropology, whereby the more recent events, practices and conditions do not substitute prior ones, but rather create new, additional layers. In his History of Religious Ideas, Mircea Eliade states that among the elements which comprise religious social phenomena, the earliest ones are the deepest in its formation. Thus, the more recent among said elements is that which is to be observed, and with which the phenomenon interacts in its concurrent environment.
The Afghani Layer
From its formative experience in Afghanistan, Da’esh learned an early method of globalised networking. Arab and Islamic “jihad” in Afghanistan during the 1980s is the earliest example of such globalisation, before the concept became ubiquitous in the 1990s. At the time, Afghanistan was under Soviet occupation, and in the final year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the CIA, advised by Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzenzinski, had sponsored the establishment of an Islamist resistance movement (Islamic movement in resistance to the soviets).
The Afghani jihad was primarily funded by the Saudis while the Americans provided arms. The Saudi, Pakistani and Egyptian intelligence services were also involved in its facilitation and organization. At the time, their governments consented to these actions; coercion and conspiracy were absent. It is imperative to keep in mind who were the first sponsors of contemporary jihadists, with the United States at its helm. While jihad against the Russians was a military campaign by nascent groups, they consulted with intelligence and interaction with these groups occurred at the levels of intelligence and military officials, rather than heads of state or foreign ministers.
The Afghani jihad movement comprised of Afghans, as well as large numbers of Arabs from Saudi Arabia and Egypt; Syrians, emergent from the Muslim Brotherhood’s final defeat in their struggle against Hafez al-Assad’s regime during the late 1970s and early 1980s; Algerians, Islamist Palestinians in the context of PLO’s departure from Beirut in 1982, and from many other Arab countries. From this group of recruits and volunteers, the phenomenon of “Arab Afghans,” – or the “mujahideen” – emerged.
But the establishment of an Islamist network to launch a jihad against the Soviet Union, as opposed to a secular national emancipation movement, did not emerge from thin air. The Soviet Union’s position, circumscribed by an Islamic arc or “Green Belt”, was very present in American thinking during the Cold War. The Islamist nexus has been utilized by the Americans since the 1960s via Saudi sponsorship, and American direction against Arab nationalism, and communism, since the 1960s. The Islamisation of Afghanistan gave Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, then under the leadership of General Zia-ul-Haq, a prominent role in the formation of the jihadist movement. It is now common knowledge that the Wahhabi monarchy has long been a trusted ally of the United States, and that it controls the production and global price of oil. At the time, the Americans had no fears or concerns regarding the financially rich, militarily weak and politically aligned Saudi kingdom. Furthermore, it became evident after the Iranian Revolution and the emergence of Islamists in many Arab countries that the latter could be used as a categorical opponent of Soviet Communism, seen in Afghanistan as an occupying force, but also in the USSR’s own regional imperial sphere, such as in the case of Islamic republics in Anatolia. The same attitude was held within the internal context of each Arab leaders held similar views of state. Anwar al-Sadat, for instance, had encouraged the emergence of Islamism in Egypt to challenge the Egyptian left, and to consolidate his rule, characterized by a departure from Nasserism and its policies.
At the ideological level, Afghanistan served as the laboratory in which Saudi Wahhabism encountered Egyptian Qutbism – an encounter that was at once political, personal and intellectual. Politically, Saudi Arabia and Sadat’s Egypt, as well as Pakistan, were the most enthusiastic parties within the framework of the United States endeavor to counter the Soviets, and the most eager to facilitate the rendering of occupied Afghanistan as a base for Islamic Jihad against it. Interpersonally, a substantial proportion of the “Mujahideen” hailed from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Afghanistan. Intellectually, Saudis adhered to the Wahabbist doctrine, which in 1979, the same year Afghanistan was occupied, inspired the occupation of the Grand Mosque of Mecca by Juhaiman al-Outaibi and his Salafist group. That year also witnessed the toppling of Iran’s Shah and the victory of the Iranian revolution, and the Aleppo Artillery School massacre by the Muslim Brotherhood vanguards. In Egypt, during the final years of Nasser’s rule and during Sadat’s era, Qutbism emerged and took root, with jihadist inclinations surfacing among its ranks.
While it is true that al-Qaeda, as we know it, was to see its genesis was established after the fall of the Soviet Union and in the aftermath of its defeat in Afghanistan, but the Afghani jihad was its the incubating experience, or the foundational prehistory of al-Qaeda. The “victory” in the battle for Afghanistan was the “victory” which granted legitimacy to groups, which had been rendered adrift, struggling to find a raison d’etre after the fall of the USSR, and the United States turning its back on a shattered Afghanistan.
The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan contributed in a major way to the collapse of the USSR as a global pole, and was, in turn, for the Americans, the loss of a worthy communist adversary. At the time, Islamists conducted no significant action against western interests (Arab violence conducted by Arabs against western interests between the 1950s and early 1980s was practiced under the banner of Palestinian nationalist, left, Arab nationalism and at a later stage, during the 1980s, under a banner of Shi’ism). Americans turned to Islamic terrorism as an alternative foe, and the “War on Terror” narrative as a grand narrative at the time of the “collapse of the grand narrative” in as expressed by Jean-Francois Lyotard’s formulation. It may well be the case that Osama bin Laden’s objection to American troops entering Saudi Arabia in 1990 in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, played a role in this developing American attitude.
In any case, the war on terrorism turned out to be a huge favor to Sunni jihadism which, contrary to its Shi’ite counterpart, lacked a state as a reference point, and which has conversely established an Empire of an alternate network, Al-Qaeda. In this context, the “new world order” or the unipolar international system professed “Islamic Terrorism” to be its arch enemy, and defined itself in contrast to it. At the time, and especially after September 11, 2001, it was not uncommon to claim that the world still comprised of two distinct poles, albeit they had come to be the United States and Islamic Terrorism. Al-Qaeda could not have dreamt to come up with better publicity/propaganda..
The Iraqi Layer
The second Above the first, and elder, layer in al-Qaeda’s emergence is the Iraqi one, following the American occupation of Iraq…..
This article was posted by Al-Jumhurya on November 17, 2016