ISIS for the Well-Intentioned, Semi-Informed Layperson

Reading is hard sometimes. Reading about the news is even harder, given the fact that it’s usually soul-crushingly depressing.

Unfortunately that doesn’t make either any less important, so in a bold attempt to turn every well-intentioned, uninformed American into a mobilized, informed voter, I present to you: News For The Well-Intentioned, Semi-Informed Layperson


ISIS: The Group Too al-Qaeda for al-Qaeda

A Summary:

Heads up: ISIS, who has been making tons of headlines in the past few days for beheading missing American journalist James Foley and posting a video of it on YouTube, isn’t actually called ISIS anymore; they’re now technically the Islamic State. However, that new name hasn’t stopped them from being just as evil as anything you’ve probably seen on the comment section of various Facebook posts (reminder though: just because they have ‘Islam’ in their name doesn’t mean they are the same as anyone who practices Islam).

Some very quick background: The Islamic State (aka ISIS) is essentially a radical branch of al-Qaeda that was so extreme that al-Qaeda kicked them out in February of 2014. However, despite their vague, all-encompassing sounding name, they really are an extremist group that is very much still in the “jockeying for power” phase (they just have a great PR team).

And in case you’ve forgotten who hates who and why when it comes to that area of the Middle East, here’s a few quick bullet point reminders:

– Islam, like Christianity, has different subdivisions: Sunni and Shia

– Sunnis and Shias’ big disagreement all started over who assumed power after Muhammad’s death, his father-in law or his son-in law (and if you think this is stupid, remember Catholics and Protestants main disagreement is over whether wine is actually magic or not.)

– To give you a little perspective on numbers, 20% of all the Earth’s 1.5 billion Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa, the strong majority of those 20% are Sunni, however, there are strong Shia presences in Iraq and especially Iran (see map).

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– Saddam Hussein, the bad guy from Iraq (a mainly Shia country) was Sunni. When he was in power, he successfully spread propaganda that Sunnis were actually the majority, causing Sunnis to generally believe they were owed more than they got (the “Chip on the Shoulder” effect).

– When the US went into Iraq and kicked Saddam’s ass, they established a Shia government to reflect the true Shia majority of the country.

– That Shia-based government, of course, abused their power and ended up being huge assholes to Sunnis in the country (cough Israel-Palestine cough).

– Those Sunnis got tired of getting kicked around and began resenting their Shia government, making them susceptible to recruiting by extremist Sunni groups like ISIS who, despite their insane tactics, were well-organized, well-funded and promised “justice” (PS: This is how the Tea Party works).

– ISIS began amassing a strong following and thanks to some smart economic moves, they began getting more manpower, money, and momentum by the day.

– They eventually got so big for their britches that they clashed with their al-Qaeda leaders, causing a split.

– Since then ISIS has been internationally recognized as a dangerous terror-based organization, and its presence in Iraq, Iran, and Syria has caused an already turbulent situation to reach a critical point.

– Earlier this month, to help curb the ISIS expansion into the Kurdish section of Iraq, President Obama issued air strikes against them. HOWEVER, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t mean the US is fighting Iraq (again); we are launching air strikes on the Sunni rebel group that is trying to topple the Iraqi government, meaning we are fighting WITH Iraq, not against them.

A Summary of that Summary:

Islam is made up of Sunnis and Shias. Iraq, a country that is mostly Shia, has a Shia government that we the US helped set up post-Saddam Hussein (who was Sunni). ISIS is an extremist Sunni group that has capitalized on the sectarian strife that has occurred since the American occupation and is now trying to fight Iraq, Iran, and Syria in hopes of establishing a hardline Sunni Islamic state. ISIS is ruthless and extremist, but they are also strategic, well-funded, and know what they’re doing.

In One Tweet:

A Reasonable Opinion To Have:

There is no magic bullet, American or otherwise, that’s going to fix this ISIS problem, because despite the violence that is associated with them on the media, deep down this is a political issue not a military one (we could do some humanitarian aid but haha on that happening). However, the fact that they are universally recognized for what they are AND the fact that its more Iraq’s army sucking than ISIS’ army winning at this point should help temper any immediate fears and causes for hyperbole when discussing Iraq, Obama, Islam, etc.

What You Could Say To Sound Extra Smart:

Just like how there are an encyclopedia of B-level comic supervillains you’ve never heard of, there are tons of other extremist militant groups in that area. Take Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN), for example; they’re Sunni nationalists, many of whom are former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party.

ISIS are bad dudes, but we can’t just go focusing only on The Joker when Harvey Dent is still out there.

A More In-Depth Article That’s Still Easy To Understand:

Michael Luciano’s “Everything You Should Know About These Crazy ISIS F**kers
Originally posted on The Daily Banter on August 26, 2014