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Who is ISIS ? -with Professor Lenore Martin

The most talked about group in the Middle East as of late is by far the terror group ISIS. Dr. Lenore Martin, Professor of Political Science, who specializes in the Middle East, gave background on the group as well as speculations about how they will continue to impact the global community.

Taken from Image shows ISIS controlled areas as well as areas that support ISIS and areas of air strikes by the U.S.

Taken from Image shows ISIS controlled areas as well as areas that support ISIS and areas of air strikes by the U.S.

The Islamic State in Syria and the Levant, more commonly know as ISIS or ISIL, is a radical group from the Middle East. They developed out of  al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was a major part of the insurgency against the US during the war in Iraq.

According to Martin, in order to defeat them, the U.S. joined with Sunni tribal leaders to form Awakening Groups. Thus, Iraqi Sunni tribesmen, aided by the U.S., fought radical al-Qaeda affiliated Sunnis.

After the U.S. left Iraq, Martin says, the then Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki did not continue to support the Awakening Groups. This caused a lot of anger with the tribal leaders, who turned to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) for support against the central government.

Meanwhile AQI had joined with other radical Sunni groups to form the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). When the civil war in Syria began, ISI went to fight alongside another al-Qaeda affiliated group, al Nusra. Over time there was a split between al Nusra and ISI.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISI then formed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also known as the Islamic Sate of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Al Baghdadi, Martin says, instituted a radical Islamist program and has been employing extremely violent methods wherever ISIS has taken control. They have been denounced for their brutality by the United Nations and many states in the West and Arab world.

Baghdadi and ISIS want to unify all Muslims into one state under the traditional historical Muslim leader called a caliph. Baghdadi has announced himself caliph not only for ISIS, but for the entire Muslim world.

IS command structure

Taken from image depicts the hierarchy of ISIS command

ISIS, according to Martin, demands that “people of the book,” those who are Jewish or Christian, pay a fee for protection and not be killed. Muslims do not need to pay for this protection, so long as they abide by Islamic law set forth by ISIS. If ISIS considers you to be an apostate, like the Shia, you will be punished. This includes those who do not practice Islam in the traditional Sunni way that ISIS does. Actions such as these threaten not only other religious groups in the area, but the political powers that be and the social ways of life.

Martin also commented on recent beheading videos that ISIS has released. The two most recent videos depict journalist James Foley and aid worker Peter Kassig, both of whom are American. There may be two reasons why these videos are released, she says. One possibility is that the videos are a recruitment tool for bringing more people to the cause.

“If you’re anti-West and you come with us, you support us, you fight with us, because look what we’re doing to these Westerners, these non-believers…So we’re the people to fight with against the West,” Martin said.

These kinds of videos are spread across the globe to potential supporters and joiners of ISIS.

“To us, that doesn’t seem possible. It’s so anti the way we think.”

The second reason, Martin thinks, is to try and draw the West into the guerrilla war that she says the U.S. is trying so hard to avoid.

Martin reiterates that our leaders here in the U.S. are very concerned about people who go to ISIS and get educated or “brain washed” to think as this group thinks and then return to their respective countries.

Countries that border ISIS territory and are U.S. allies may also be threatened by ISIS, thus bringing the U.S. further into the conflict. There is also the concern that ISIS will try to destabilize the Middle East, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states where their governments do not enforce as strict of a lifestyle as the Islamic State would like.

While the recent bombings of ISIS targets has helped to weaken the group, Martin says that much like al-Qaeda, there will be no way to fully disband the Islamic State. It will always exist in some size or another as it has for so long, the only thing that we can do is weaken them.

Abbi Matheson ’17 is a Staff Writer for The Hub. E-mail her at and follow her on Twitter @abbimathy

Posted by on December 1, 2014. Filed under Around Campus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.