The perceived IS threat to Britain centres on the estimated 500 citizens, mostly young men, who left to fight for IS. There are concerns that these individuals will attempt to return to Britain, bringing attacks on civilians to the streets of Britain, motivated by our actions in the region, and relationship with America.
Recently, Abdel-Majed Bary, a popular rapper from West London known as L Jinny, posted a photo online of himself in Iraq holding a severed head. A week later a video was released of an Islamic State (IS) militant, with a British accent, beheading James Foley, a U.S. journalist. The video went on to show a second U.S. hostage and a threat to murder him if America continues to interfere in the region. There are dozens of journalists and aid workers being held hostage in Iraq and Syria, the majority have not been made public.
IS is a group of Sunni extremists who are well organised, well funded and whose numbers are swelling with recruits from all over the world. With an estimated 30,000-50,000 militants fighting, IS has a shocking approximate wealth of $2,000,000,000 increasing by an estimated $3,000,000 each day. The initial funding for ISIS appears to have come from individual donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. However, the majority of their funds have come from looting hundreds of millions of dollars from the banks of overrun cities. IS wield modern U.S. weapons taken from fleeing Iraqi forces, and even publishes an annual report called Al-Naba ‘The Report’, which at over 400 pages long, includes attack statistics and shows a sophisticated military command structure driven by metrics.
President Obama had earlier announced U.S. military strikes in Iraq in order to limit IS advances, who had taken the Mosul Dam. The dam could have been damaged simply by not performing maintenance procedures, and structural failure would have sent a 65ft high wall of water hurtling towards Mosul, which houses around 660,000 people. U.S. support has allowed government forces to retake the dam, but fighting continues. Britain is sending £13m in aid to region, along with providing non-combat Tornados, Hercules transporters, Chinook helicopters and surveillance aircraft to the Iraqi government. David Cameron has refused to “put boots on the ground” in Iraq, and clearly stated Britain will not be drawn into another war.
At least 500 members of the Yazidi religious minority have been slaughtered and at least 300 Yazidi women taken as slaves, around 40,000 were forced to flee into the mountains; under siege, and trapped without food or water.
In June 1,922 people were killed in Iraq alone, and another 2,610 injured; the majority of them civilians. But what has been most shocking are the brutal images and videos of beheadings, indiscriminate shooting of civilians in the street, and mass slaughter by firing squads which have appeared online, amid reports of women and children being buried alive. All of this aims to establish a brutal reputation, and strike fear into opponents of IS. Under IS rule, all civilians must convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death.
IS wants to establish a totalitarian state under Sharia law, which they call the caliphate, in theory this will expand its borders until they rule over the entire earth. However, the term caliphate divides opinion in Islam, to some it is an individual leader, to some a government, and to some a state of mind which allows Muslims to become closer to God.
In a debate between young Muslims for the BBC, Omar Mehteb, a Sunni Muslim (in theory the same sect of Islam that IS represents) stated the following:
“The caliphate means a leader, who should unify the concept of Ummah, between Muslims and non-Muslims alike. If there is any persecution of anyone else outside of what they consider to be Muslim or outside of the Ummah then they are not the true caliphate because what Islam stands for, what it should stand for, is for the unification of everyone”.
“When the concept of the caliph first came about, after the prophet had died, why is it the case that this was the thing that caused division between the Ummah? [Referring to the split of Islam into various sects] We are looking for something, where all of us, with differing opinions and sects, can get together and unify. Now if the very thing that we look for in the very beginning is flawed and caused such division, how can we look to it now? Especially in the modern day where there are so many different sects and opinions.”
Clearly the vast majority of Muslims condemn the killing of innocent civilians in order to establish an Islamic state, but there is a minority here in the UK. In the last few weeks pro-IS leaflets were being distributed on Oxford Street by a group of British students. Many British Muslims have expressed their reluctance to call supporters of ISIS Muslims at all.
For many, a great deal of power lies with the quiet majority of British Muslims, who can promote peaceful teachings from their religion, showing the young and impressionable that IS does not represent them. As with any extremist religious group, ISIS shows little resemblance to true followers of faith; after all, many interpret modern Islam to stand for unification of everyone, not just Muslims. The answer is certainly not to subjectively brand Muslims as terrorists, and for the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to suggest our university societies are conveyor belts for terrorism is extremely damaging, along with those who try to intellectualise a fear of Islam. Persecution and accusation levelled at what is an innocent majority will only lead to resentment, and adds further ammunition for those who wish to radicalise young people.