ISIS: A threat to ideology or humanity?

By: Gowtham Asokan, ENG ’19

On the 13th of November 2015 simultaneous bomb blasts and shootings were carried out across Paris by seven perpetrators [6]. This attack followed a series of ISIS perpetrated attacks, such as the market bombing in Beirut, and the shooting of a Russian passenger jet over Sinai [1]. Western powers led by the United States formed a coalition against ISIS on 10th of September 2014 to deal with ISIS’ growing power in Iraq and Syria [2]. But now the question is whether this coalition’s strategy of air strikes and empowering rebels has worked.

Many in the region often see ISIS as an immediate threat as they have indulged in ethnic cleansing, destruction of historical artifacts, and terrorized local citizens. America sees ISIS as an ideological threat to liberty and democracy rather than as a direct military threat to America. However, opinions are now shifting after ISIS’ attack on the carrier of the ‘cross’ in Europe.

ISIS has been terrorizing innocent lives in Syria and Iraq, causing millions to be displaced and many to live in constant fear of being attacked. They were able to fill in the power vacuum left by a disorganized rebel movement in Syria .It started when ISIS seized Mosul, the second most populous city in Iraq. They then proceeded to persecute the Yazidis, a Christian minority on Iraq, whom were specifically targeted for their beliefs [3]. This represents the core of ISIS’ beliefs, they are firm believers in their ideology of radical Wahhabism – an interpretation of Sunni Islam used by the Saudi Arabian government – and will stop at no lives to further their goal of anarchy and dominance. Western powers responded by further empowering local rebels and more air strikes and the aforementioned coalition. However, empowering rebels is not the way forward since every group has their own interests in mind. The Kurds want to form a sovereign state; each rebel group has varying amounts of radicalism and goals. It only makes the situation more complicated when members of the coalition have their own interests in mind.

Although accepting of refugees, Turkey wants to combat the Kurds in the region rather than ISIS. This stems from Turkey’s long embittered battle with the PKK (Kurdish worker’s party); they see this as an opportunity to use the chaos to further their own needs. Similarly, Russia has its own interests independent of those in the coalition, they want to support Assad’s regime. Iran too wants the Assad regime to stay in power as both governments are in favor of the Shiites. This creates a huge problem in furthering the goal of “dismantling the ISIS” in Obama’s words. On the other hand, France has been at the forefront of combatting ISIS, which includes intensive air strikes. This could be seen as one of the reasons that ISIS chose Paris as the target.

In contrast, ISIS also represents a new ideological movement that can be seen as a threat on many western ideals such as liberty and democracy [4]. ISIS is the best funded and organized terrorist group in history, using social media very effectively to recruit people from around the world. This often includes people from Western countries such as the UK, France, and Germany. This brings them in direct conflict with the ideologies’ of those countries because they have managed to convince citizens to accept hate based violence and religious intolerance. The root cause for this is the helplessness or hate that people feel in their own countries as a Muslim or otherwise. Some join ISIS as they feel victimized, believing that ISIS will provide a more accepting place. Others join just to participate in senseless violence and persecution.

The attacks in Paris further signify ISIS’ fierce anti-western ideology. However, it’s important to note that over the past few months ISIS is steadily losing territory. Even though ISIS may call the Paris attacks to be an assault on western ideals such as liberty and democracy, this move comes in desperation. In August 2014 ISIS lost Sinjar – a crucial border town on the Turkish border – to Kurdish and allied forces [7]. Previously, ISIS was known to demand a ransom from the families of the people it kidnapped. All these tactics were used to strike fear in foreign governments and possible force them to go to war that in turn supports their anti-western rhetoric. This would only get them more supporters in the region, who are often lacking basic needs that ISIS is willing to provide.

Hence, ISIS is only a threat to the humans of the region, though they represent a broader ideological threat that transcends borders and often strikes in the heart of other nations.


Image Credit: European Pressphoto Agency


[1]”WATCH: First Look at Smouldering Russian Plane Crash Scene Filmed Just Hours after Tragedy.” Express. Daily and Sunday Express, 4 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <>.

[2]Cooper, Helene. “Obama Enlists 9 Allies to Help in the Battle Against ISIS.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 Sept. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <>.

[3]Jalabi, Raya. “Who Are the Yazidis and Why Is Isis Hunting Them?” The Guardian. The Guardian, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <>.

[4]Wood, Graeme. “What ISIS Really Wants.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 15 Feb. 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <>.

[5]”Syria Iraq: The Islamic State Militant Group – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC, 2 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <>.

[6]McLaughlin, Eliott C., and Jethro Mullen. “Paris Attacks: What You Need to Know –” CNN. Cable News Network, 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <>.

[7]”ISIS Loses Grip on Sinjar, Dealt Blow in Syria.” The Daily Star Newspaper. The Daily Star Newspaper, 14 Nov. 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <>.