Whenever the United States declares war on an enemy, officially or unofficially, the world knows something big is going on.
We never lose, and we don’t always win, either, but generally, our enemies understand the meaning of American might. The War on Terror, in contrast, has taken a sharp turn in the opposite direction of where we were expecting it to go. When this whole mess started, we knew that the war effort would take a very long time, but we did not expect our enemy to evolve and strengthen.
What we see today is the natural evolution of terrorism. Fourteen years ago, the major antagonists were Al Qaeda and the Taliban, two groups with extremely ambitious goals, but who were derided as mere fanatics (with 9/11 seen as a lucky shot). These men were not soldiers; they were farmers or villagers or intellectuals or brainwashed children. Their methods were brutal, cowardly and destructive, yes, but they were not regarded as monstrous or genocidal (well, one might argue that they were, but we did not think they had the means to become that monstrous and genocidal).
When Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011, the United States thought that it had won a major victory against Islamic extremism. We thought that its end was near, and in the case of Al Qaeda, maybe that was true. But in the past few months, we have found that this War on Terror was merely dormant. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are no longer major players in this war (outside of certain sects of Al Qaeda such as the Al Nusra front). Our war is now against ISIS/ISIL/IS (I’ll refer to it as ISIS), a terror group that came seemingly out of the blue. ISIS is terrifying for several reasons:
1. Its brutality has no bounds, whether it is decapitating children, committing genocide against entire ethnic groups, or sexually abusing entire populations of women. The only other modern equivalent of its brutality would be Sudanese Janjaweed militias.
2. ISIS is better supported than Al Qaeda. It has been reported that over one hundred British citizens have already joined the ISIS cause, and an untold number of American citizens and other European citizens have signed up as well.
3. ISIS is capable of operating as a conventional military force and as an insurgency group, sort of like a worm that can split up into many thousands of different pieces if attacked and regenerate itself to fight back. This aspect was what made Al Qaeda so troublesome; the difference is that Al Qaeda never had the resources or capabilities to take over entire nations or fight conventional military battles.
4. Islamic extremist terror groups usually have one big goal: to establish a global caliphate (at least in their area of interest) and to set up Sharia law. ISIS is no different, but it’s actually accomplishing this goal. The large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq that it has taken over have become literal hellholes of brutality (think rape camps and public executions administered by child soldiers).
5. A large number of ISIS thugs have passports. Religious fanatics who have no qualms about suicide bombings, murder, or brutality are, when dispersed into the global community, the world’s worst nightmare.
6. Despite all of this, President Obama compared ISIS to a “Junior Varsity” terror group only a couple months ago. If you want to play with metaphors, I’d at least make them Varsity team.
To put it simply, ISIS is very much unprecedentedly evil.
You know a terror group is bad when even Al Qaeda becomes self-conscious enough to try to market itself more “efficiently” in order to keep itself fashionable. ISIS is an example for other terror groups and is now gaining support exponentially. If things go on any longer, I have no doubt that established terror groups and affiliates of Al Qaeda such as Al Shabaab, Al Nusra Front, Boko Haram, and AQIM will be itching to gain membership with ISIS.
It is the duty of not only America, but also the entire world, to wipe ISIS out. In this bleak state of affairs, there is one shining light. ISIS is too brutal for the main Al Qaeda leadership, it is an existential threat to every Arab country, and it is a strike against freedom, safety, and democracy for the entire Western World. Our leadership against this threat has been shaky at best, ineffective at worst. As an American, and as a supporter of humankind in general, I demand that the government take ISIS down.
There is no excuse for sitting idly by while these monsters continue their brutal actions. It is not a political issue. It is a moral issue. We are obligated to do more against ISIS. In my next column, I will expand on this introduction to ISIS and explain what we have been doing against them, why it’s not enough, and what we should be doing instead.
Ghosh is a member of the class of 2018.