After prayers in the Jordanian city of Ma’an last Friday, around 20 to 30 people took to the streets holding banners saluting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and announcing that they support the “Islamic state.”
Of course, the fact there were only a few dozen protesters shows there was not really much support, especially when compared with past protests during major political events. But there may be more supporters who are hiding their true sentiments out of fear of being monitored and seen as a threat for their support of a terrorist organization.
Mohammed Shalabi, a leader of the Jordanian jihadist movement, disowned the pro-ISIS protest and its goals. He even disowned some of the movement’s younger members, saying they had been deceived and that ISIS neither serves his movement nor represents it.
If the small number of people who turned out in Ma’an were not enough to cause alarm, then the large numbers of people taking to Twitter to support and sympathize with ISIS must certainly provoke some response. We have not seen anything similar since the days of Al-Qaeda. Back then, Arabic media marketed Al-Qaeda as a group that was supporting Islam and defending the oppressed. It was only after most of Al-Qaeda’s leadership were killed off that any hope the organization would be buried at sea like Bin Laden could be expressed. Back then, we could still have hope that Muslims would turn the page on extremism.
The current reality has shattered these hopes. Extremist ideology has been revived once more because of the Syrian war, which brought ISIS infamy as the Syrian president committed crimes against millions of his own defenseless people. Iraq is now going down the same path, and Iraqis in embattled areas are saying they need someone to save them from the government—and in many cases, that someone is ISIS, although they haven’t yet seen ISIS’s dark side.
I fear that ISIS, which has proven itself more brutal than even Al-Qaeda, its ideological parent, has made it into the hearts and minds of the youth. We can see that support in a woman who tries to sneak from Saudi Arabia to Yemen along with her kids to go to Syria and work with the jihadists. We can see it perhaps even more clearly in the number of Western Muslims joining the war in Syria. Examples such as these show us that ISIS has capabilities, it has means to recruit members, and it has supporters beyond just a few on the fringes who are unusually enthusiastic about the Syrian cause.
No doubt, ISIS’s victories in Iraq will be even better advertising. The sectarian war will mobilize more fighters on both sides, and so these factors make it incumbent on everyone in the world to think about the repercussions of what’s happening in these two wars. Without genuine concern, useful intervention, and work toward political solutions, the situations in Syria and Iraq will head inescapably toward outright disaster.