Al Qaeda is losing ground across the Muslim world not because of Washington’s drone army, but rather because its doctrine of governance is incompatible with modern society.
Right now, measurably less extreme Muslim militants in both Syria and Iraq’s Anbar are fighting tooth and nail to push these Al Qaeda militants, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS, out of Syria and Iraq.
A McClatchy post which describes a brutal ISIS counterattack makes clear why people want extremist militant Islam out of government:
ISIS’s bloody response to alleged transgressions of Islamic law, including beheadings for infractions ranging from smoking to supposed questioning of Islam, were a key reason for the revolt against it, which began last week after ISIS tortured and executed a doctor who worked with the Islamic Front.
The case of Dr. Hussein al-Suleiman‘s brutal torture perfect describes AQ’s governance problems. Suleiman, who doubled as an officer in the Islamic Front, was actually “meeting with an ISIS delegation in order to settle a dispute that arose in the village” when he was taken captive.
In other words, his attempt at legitimate diplomacy led to torture and death.
In neighbouring Iraq, summary executions and bombings in Baghdad have been felt by Muslims of every creed, so the movement against AQ was as much a response by the Shia-dominated government as it was from the local Sunni Anbari Tribals.
To get this straight, one thing the traditionally feuding Sunnis and Shias have agreed upon in Iraq is that Al Qaeda needs to be destroyed.
It’s not just Syria and Iraq, there are other extremist-inspired absurdities that have led to resistance: militants storm into Timbuktu, a city renowned for its music, and tell the people anyone caught playing music will be summarily executed. They even go so far as to confiscate cell phones with musical ring tones and force others to play ringtones featuring “Koranic verses.”
This type of doctrine isn’t just local, it’s the same with extremist affiliates in every region.
In Somalia, Al Shebaab tells people that Internet usage means death. In Afghanistan, the Taliban ride into otherwise peaceful Muslim villages shut down schools for girls and (in Pakistan) go so far as to shoot the ones who dare speak up.
Journalist and New York City-based artist Molly Crabapple recently wrote about how the people felt in Syria as the extremists took over:
The largely foreign fighters of ISIS have tried to force their interpretation of Islamic law on Syrians overnight. They banned barber shops (men should have beards) and women’s clothing stores (women should wear abayas). In a country where chain-smoking is a universal pleasure, they imposed a smoking ban at gunpoint. One refugee, Mohammed, said that even fitted trousers, like those of his lovingly-mended suit, were banned. According to Mohammed, ISIS fighters would place their hand on anything they wanted — a car, a house, a woman — and say “Allahu Akbar” three times. Then, it was theirs.
Certainly, President Bashar Al Assad has been oppressive, especially in his mercilessly brutal response to unrest, but it’s ludicrous to think Syria’s revolutionaries would accept Al Qaeda’s oppression as a replacement.
Al Qaeda are “worse than the Assad regime,” read a statement from 7 other militant organisations in Syria, who had decided to band together to destroy AQ-affiliated lSIS.
Andrew Exum, a former Army officer and expert on security in the Middle East, told Isaac Chotiner of The New Republic:
On the one hand, you can’t overcome a crazy ideology, which is always going to alienate people, whether you’re talking about the tribes of western Iraq or the urban middle class of Syria. On the other hand, Hezbollah certainly learned in the 1980s, when they first got to Southern Lebanon. They thought, you know, ban card playing and all sorts of stuff — backgammon — and they learned from their error. I would think that Al Qaeda might have learned from their experiences, too.
They are learning … kind of. Al Qaeda’s governance problem hasn’t been missed by its leadership.
“Try to win them over through the conveniences of life,” Yemen’s Nasser al-Wahishi wrote in a letter to his African cohorts, prior to the invasion of Mali. “It will make them sympathize with us and make them feel that their fate is tied to ours.”
The advice didn’t take. AQ cut a path of fire through Mali. If anything, that the militants didn’t follow their ranking officer’s (in the nebulous AQ-structure) advice shows the malignancy of a fractured, ideological militant AQ.
When Egypt’s Muhammed Morsi seemed bent on implementing Sharia Law, people rebelled against the government. There was a definite target to hit, a source of blame, and he was moderate by comparison.
Governance is not AQ’s forte; in fact, it plays against them.
“[ISIS] appears to have seized ground with the intention of seceding from Iraq,” Rand vice president and senior fellow Charles Ries told Business Insider. “[But] if you stick your head up and seize territory, then you’re much easier to defeat than otherwise,” Ries said, adding that he thought they’d get “pummelled” by Iraqi Security Forces.
He gave a word of warning though.
“Everybody should understand this, if the ISF prevail in Ramadi and Fallujah and do chase out ISIS, it’s likely that afterwards, there will be a new and quite brutal bombing campaign in Baghdad in Shia neighborhoods,” Ries said.
Indeed, rather than taking and holding ground, governing people, Al Qaeda is in multitudes more effective when they simply aim to watch it all burn.
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