Although the message evoked mixed responses, they clearly revealed a schism in Salafist and Islamist circles, especially in Al Qaeda’s orbit of Salafi-jihadists, and demonstrated the rise of the Islamic State as the new flagship of jihadists. Significantly, Al Qaeda-affiliated organizations from North Africa to the Levant, such as Ansar al-Shari’a, Al Qaeda in Maghreb led by Abu Abdullah Othman al-Assimi, and the Army of the Companions of the Prophet in Greater Syria, rushed to pledge their allegiance to Emir al-Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful) Caliph Ibrahim. No less significant, both the establishment of the Islamic State and the message also demonstrated an attempt by a younger generation of jihadi intellectuals to move away from the ideological jihadi realm of Al Qaeda, as propagated by al-Zawahiri, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdissi and Abu Qatada al-Falastini. In fact, the renowned, young jihadi intellectual Turki al-Bin’ali, formerly known by his pseudonym, Abu Hamam Bakr bin Abd al-Aziz al-Athari, had ideologically portended the establishment of the Islamic State and preordained al-Baghdadi as the Muslim Caliph. Interestingly, al-Bina’li had been a student of al-Maqdissi, who appointed him as a member of the Shari’a council on al-Maqdissi’s Minbar al-Tawhid wal-Jihad website. Notably, al-Bina’li, since 2013, has been a fervent supporter of al-Baghdadi, calling on Salafi-jihadists to pledge their fealty to the Emir. Al-Bina’li has emphatically written on the suitable qualities of al-Baghdadi as a Caliph. Among the qualities he cites are his courage, lineage from Prophet Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe, and his scholarly Islamic credentials.
Parallel to this ideological attempt to “sanctify” the Islamic State and its leader, sociopolitical processes in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Syria have helped the Islamic State to extend its influence there. Whereas al-Maliki’s policies in Iraq alienated Sunnis there, the sectarian war in Syria enhanced the communal solidarity among Sunnis on the basis of Salafist ideological principles asserting authentic Islam and avowing support to Sunnis. No less significant, the Islamization of some tribes in Jordan, Iraq and Syria as a result of both governmental neglect and appeal of Salafism has enabled the Islamic State to lure tribes into pledging their allegiance in exchange for economic and political benefits. Reportedly, the Islamic State, which controls most oil refineries in Syria, has given concessions to tribal chiefs to buy a barrel of oil for only twelve dollars. On the other hand, Salafi-jihadism has been growing in Jordan and Lebanon since the 1990s. It is no coincidence, for example, that the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq al-Zarqawi hailed from the Salafist stronghold of al-Zarqa in Jordan. Al-Zarqawi early on relied on his tribal connections both in Jordan and Iraq to develop Al Qaeda in Iraq. His family belongs to the Bedouin tribe of Bani Hassan, which has tribal affiliations with the Hamada and Hedwan tribes, all of which have extensive presence in Iraq and Jordan. Most importantly, many of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan are leaning towards supporting the Islamic State, egged on no less by the appeal of “authentic” Islam and violent activism embraced by Salafi-jihadists than by the dismal regional and international support of their dire condition.
In sum, neither United States nor the international community should be surprised or shocked if the Islamic State further expanded its control of more territories in Syria and Iraq and moved to create chaos in Lebanon and Jordan. If the Islamic State’s history is any indication, then one should be concerned about it deepening political polarization and sectarianism in both Lebanon and Jordan, let alone trying to further its appeal by carrying out spectacular acts of violence in the Middle East or the West. The international community should internalize the fact that the Islamic State is theologically driven to apply Salafist ideology in belief and manifest action by way of jihad in the path of Allah against idolatrous regimes and unbelievers to expand “God’s realm” on earth. Each day the Islamic State goes unchecked, the harder it becomes to defeat it. Therefore, the international community, led by United States, should pursue all means at their disposal to curb the power and expansion of this jihadi group, irrespective of any regional and/or international concerted political effort, which at the moment, seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Robert G. Rabil is a professor of political science and the LLS distinguished professor of current affairs at Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of the forthcoming Salafism in Lebanon: From Apoliticism to Transnational Jihadism (Georgetown University Press, 2014).
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