Monday, May 25, 2015

ISIS is calling

THE notion that the Islamic State (ISIS), or Da’ish, would not extend its reach to South Africa has proved a false one. ISIS, which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria, has persuaded thousands of gullible youths from all over the Muslim world to migrate to its self-declared Caliphate.

This breakaway group from Al-Qa’idah has turned Islamic extremism on its head. Unlike Al-Qa’idah, which has focused on a “distant enemy” from caves and compounds, ISIS controls actual territory and has an active militia.

And whilst Sunni scholars world-wide have condemned ISIS for its heartless parody of Shari’ah, or Sacred Law, and its notion of an “Islamic State”, it has not prevented it from becoming an ideological reality bolstered by extensive social media support.

Its online magazine, Dabiq, presents a glowing depiction of jihadist utopia. But the gloss disappears when the Caliph urges Muslims to rise up and kill “crusaders” (Christians and Jews).

Essentially, ISIS’ message is that Islam is under threat everywhere; the world is a Dar ul-Harb, a place of hostility, and ISIS offers the only Dar us-Salam, or refuge. “If you don’t agree with us, you’re against us” is the gist of the worldview, which means that as a Muslim if you disagree with ISIS you become a kafir – an unbeliever whose blood, in their eyes, it is permissible to spill.

ISIS also promotes an apocalyptic vision of Syria, and claims that it is waiting for the end days and the final Islamic Armageddon when a leader, the Imam Mahdi, will appear.

ISIS rose after 2003 – and the US invasion of Iraq – as an Al-Qa’idah affiliate led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. He was a Jordanian jihadist with a criminal record, who refused to swear allegiance to Usama Bin Laden, and whose brutality even stunned Al-Qa’idah.

The rot was started by the Bush administration when Paul Bremer, the US presidential aide in Iraq, fired 250, 000 civil servants and government forces. Bush’s incompetence in then imprisoning many Iraqi officials created a political sinkhole into which the whole region collapsed as Iraq disintegrated.

Interestingly, General David Petraeus – who was sent to Iraq in 2007 as “Mr Fixit” – told the Assad regime that its sponsorship of a Salafi insurgency to undermine the US would come back to haunt it. Nouri al-Maliki’s government (2006-14) caused further resentment when he condoned Shi’ah sectarian patronage and allowed political neglect of the Sunnis.

It is more than anecdotal, reports the German magazine Der Spiegel, that the structure of ISIS was developed by a bitter, unemployed ex-Baathist intelligence officer, Colonel Samir al-Khlifawi.  Like so many Iraqis, he’d been quietly waiting to seize the day.

However, post-analysis does not serve present realities in South Africa. This is because although ISIS does have a decidedly limited appeal here, a few South Africans have been seduced by its propaganda and have travelled to Syria either to fight with it, or to migrate permanently.

In recent months, swirling speculation and rumour has coalesced into fact. In South Africa, ISIS is calling.

The first instance was earlier this year when the Daily Maverick interviewed via social media an “Abu Hurayra” from Gauteng, who claimed to be fighting with ISIS, saying that another South African “Abu Baraa” was with him.

Last month a teenage girl from Kenwyn was apprehended at Cape Town International airport whilst en-route to Syria. Hailing from a middle-class home, it emerged that she had been active vis-a-vis ISIS in social media. Someone who knew the family described her as intelligent, focused and difficult to dissuade.

With the family closing ranks, it has been a tough lead to follow. In addition, state security has either been unable – or unwilling – to explain to the media who gave the girl, a minor, guardian’s consent to board the plane. It is a missing link in the narrative. The question is: who was her handler?

A Spanish journalist following the story, Jaime Velazquez, believes that part of the answer might lie at school, but that doors have closed there too on the possibility of an educator playing a role.

In May the Roshnee community near Johannesburg was rocked by the revelation that more than 20 of its members had left for Syria. Eleven were arrested by the Turkish authorities and deported, but the rest reportedly got through.

A meeting expressing public concern was attended by over a thousand people at a Roshnee mosque and was addressed by local scholars, who explained to the congregants the theological pitfalls of the Caliphate.

Shortly afterwards, the Lenasia-based radio station Channel Islam International (Cii) received a letter, allegedly penned by South Africans with ISIS, criticising the scholars and telling them “to see for themselves” and not to believe the western media.

Close on the heels of the first letter, Cii published on its website an e-mail from a Rashid Moosagie, believed to have been from Port Elizabeth, and a member of another group that had reportedly migrated to Syria and the “promised land”.

In a rambling diatribe against what he perceived as reprehensible, polytheistic Indo-Pak Islamic culturalism, the author claimed that South African Muslims were apologetic capitulators, and that most local groups – including the spiritually inclined Sufis and the “Tablighis” who propagate faith to fellow Muslims – were practising unbelief.

At the time of writing, various role players in the community were scrambling to formulate a united and coherent response to South Africans being recruited by ISIS, one of the most brutal, the most unforgiving and the most distressing versions of extremism to ever hit our shores.


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