How much support does ISIS enjoy?

In the Jordanian city of Ma’an and following last Friday’s prayers, around 20 to 30 people took out to the streets holding banners saluting the terrorist organization of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS) and announcing that their city supports what they called the state of Islam.

Of course, the number of these men shows a small support for the organization - compared with old protests during major political events. But the story may be deeper than it appears to be, because sympathizers will tend to hide their feelings out of fear of being monitored due to the terrorist nature of the group, which is being pursued and viewed as a threat that cannot be tolerated by the government.

Even political extremists reflect this worry. Abu Sayyaf, a leader of the Jordanian jihadi movement, disowned the protest and what it was calling for. He even disowned some of the movement’s young members saying they were deceived and that ISIS neither serves his movement nor represents it.

When the number of Western Muslims who joined the fighting in Syria reaches the hundreds, then we are practically talking about the success of ISIS

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

If what happened in Ma’an is too small trigger warnings, Twitter is crowded with people who support and sympathize with ISIS and who are interested in following it. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen nothing like since al-Qaeda attacks. Back then, Arabic media marketed al-Qaeda as a group that supports Islam and defends the persecuted. When most al-Qaeda leaders were either arrested or killed and when particularly leader Osama Bin Laden was killed, there were hopes that the concept and the organization were buried with Bin Laden in the sea and that Muslims will begin a new chapter.

Shattered hopes

But this new reality has shattered these hopes. The reason that terrorist intellect has been revived is due to the Syrian war which greatly advertised the isolated group as a result of leaving the Assad regime commit crimes against millions of people without anyone doing anything to protect them. Iraq is following the same footsteps and the Iraqis in the areas where there’s fighting are saying the same thing. They see ISIS as their savior and they haven’t yet seen the group’s hideous face.

How popular is ISIS, which is more brutal than al-Qaeda itself? I think it’s unlikely that anyone has realized the truth yet, and I fear that ISIS has made it to the youth’s heart and minds by exploiting sectarian causes and the persecution committed in the Syrian war.

When a woman tries to sneak from Saudi Arabia to Yemen along with her kids in order to go to Syria and work with the jihadists, then such an act represents ISIS’ capability to mobilize support. It also means that ISIS has agents that recruit members for it. When the number of Western Muslims who joined the fighting in Syria reaches the hundreds, then we are practically talking about the success of ISIS, the global organization and not just a group enthusiastic to the Syrian cause.

The advertisement will doubly increase with ISIS victories in Iraq, and the sectarian war on both sides will mobilize more fighters. This makes us call on the international society to think well about the repercussions of what’s happening and of the threats resulting from these two wars. Without real concern and insistence to politically intervene and impose political solutions, we are heading towards a disaster that’s dangerous on everyone.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 23, 2014.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:43 - GMT 06:43
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