ISIL or DA’ISH, wasn’t born yesterday
During a joint press conference in Paris with French President François Hollande on Oct. 31, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the acronym DA’ISH, instead of ISIL to refer to the fundamentalist organization of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.
It is actually the Arabic way of abbreviating the name of the organization: “Ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fīl-ʻIraq wa ash-Shām,” DA’ISH.
The first one to call the organization DA’ISH instead of its acronym in English was French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. But Erdoğan’s use of the Arabic acronym was more than a good will gesture to his French host. Erdoğan is also uncomfortable with using the name of Islam in public to describe a new-generation terrorist organization. He has a point, but that is the name of the organization that justifies all of the violence that their members perform, from raping and enslaving girls to cutting throats in the name of an orthodox version of Sunni Islam.
So from a political-psychology perspective, it might be a safer way for world leaders to call it DA’ISH, in order to distance themselves from its abuse of Islam and avoid further antagonizing the believers of the religion.
But whether we call it ISIL or DA’ISH, the organization was not born yesterday.
It was not only an outburst reaction of obedient Sunni Muslims against the Shiite-origin oppressive Nouri al-Maliki rule in Iraq, neither did it only emerged out of the blue because of the chaos created by the civil war in Syria by the rebel forces against Bashar al-Assad, who were unable to find enough support from the West.
These are all factors contributing to the ISIL/DA’ISH nightmare that everyone faces nowadays, but they are not the only factors.
One has to look closer to see how radical Islamic movements found a cultivating ground thanks to the shortsighted policies of the governments of the Western alliance, including the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and yes, Turkey, which tried to utilize the so called “moderate” Islam against the radical versions over the decades.
Its original name was the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), or DA’I if you prefer, when it was first founded in 2004, a year after the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Its base was predominantly the Sunni al-Anbar region of Iraq, and soon it was accredited as “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” by Osama bin Laden, who was fighting a war against another U.S.-led coalition (Turkey, France and others were included) in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was experiencing its heyday after their 9/11 terrorist strikes in New York and Washington D.C.
Islamic fighters in Afghanistan were considered “good boys,” “moderate fighters” and the “moderate opposition” by the West, as long as they resisted the Soviet invasion there and served the military interests of the West. When the West understood that not all of those boys were good, after they started to turn upon Western targets after the withdrawal of Russian forces, it was too late.
In Syria, the presence of al-Qaeda was minimal up until the start of the uprising against al-Assad; the core and the main body of the rebel forces were members of the Muslim Brotherhood. They were the moderate ones then. But when the Brotherhood (why don’t we use its Arabic as well, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun), took power in Egypt following the Tahrir Revolution in 2012, the West suddenly understood that they were not so moderate, or not as moderate as they wanted to see.
At the same time, U.S. President Barack Obama had already turned down the insistent demands of Erdoğan to supply the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with more money and weapons. Turkey started to deal with the situation with its own way, which is the source of a terrible headache nowadays. But in that atmosphere, an al-Qaeda affiliate organization emerged in Syria: Al-Nusra. Many Ikhwan supporters started to join the al-Nusra Front, disappointed by the West and especially after the toppling of Ikhwan’s elected Egyptian President Mohamad Morsi by a Saudi Arabia-backed military coup.
And when al-Qaeda suggested that the ISI halt its fight in Iraq and mobilize all its forces to help al-Nusra against al-Assad, the Iraqis, who had already established links with the Baathists in Syria via the ex-Baathists in Iraq, renamed themselves ISIL, or DA’ISH, refuting the borders between Iraq and Syria as well as the authority of al-Qaeda.
The good news so far had been that DA’ISH and al-Nusra were fighting with each other, as well as with everyone else. But the latest reports suggest a rapprochement between the two factions.
That is why Hollande and Erdoğan agreed yesterday that the fight against DA’ISH is not limited to Kobane; it also involves Iraq, and the weakest link in Syria is Aleppo, not Kobane. It may well be too late, but we’ll see.