The Modern World of ISIS

By: Lorraine Acevedo Franqui

No one is a stranger to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) nowadays. ISIS has been a constant topic and concern in international platforms since it rose from the ashes of al-Qaeda (AQI), nurtured by Iraq’s disastrous internal politics, strained relationships among native groups and the U.S.-led war of 2003 that left the country in chaos.[1] After its official split with AQI and its resurgence as ISIS in 2013,[2] the jihadist movement gained the momentum that, combined with the self-imposed exile from AQI territory led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in February 2014, burst into war for territory and idealist control of Syria.[3] The religious extremist group’s notoriety has been growing at an alarming rate since then, ushered in by its deliberately brutal tactic of calling attention to itself. With each new bold and bloody move in the pursuit to spread its radical and fanatical rhetoric, the group has succeeded in seizing the world’s notice. But it was not until 2015 that ISIS achieved something more than just attention; by resorting to international terrorism, ISIS became an enemy priority in all corners of the world.

With a history that includes the ruthless and systematic destruction of invaluable cultural legacies and patrimonies, and the decimation of communities, groups and individuals within their borders, -a death toll that is roughly estimated to be on the thousands-,[4] ISIS vowed to make its next targets international. November 12 and 13, 2015, proved the group intended to stay true to its words as it claimed responsibility for the attacks on Beirut and Paris. With a double suicide bombing in a residential area that claimed the lives of 43 people and left 200 wounded in Beirut,[5] and the six coordinated attacks on Paris that left 129 dead and 352 wounded,[6] ISIS took steps to spread its campaign of fear and brutality across the world and several nations have already responded accordingly.

Amidst the world’s collective outrage for the vile actions ISIS has perpetrated, there has been a renewed social concern for the steps that nations may or may not take in response to this conflict. Moreover, the social dialogue has spread over diverse facets of the conflict, and beyond just mere speculation over which action to take or encouragement for a swift international response. Groups have begun to question the overall difference in social and governmental responses to the atrocities ISIS has claimed responsibility for, especially the sudden interest in the terrorist organization only after the attacks on Paris and the different treatment previous attacks, particularly the one on Beirut,[7] the ongoing Muslim massacre[8] and the refugee crisis, have received by comparison. Questions of classism, xenophobia and racism have surfaced, wondering about its impact, not only on the population but also on the minds that control international actions.[9]

The use of force in another State’s territory is prohibited under the UN Charter and customary international law, with only five (5) exceptions: UN Security Council authorization; consent of the State where the operations are conducted; self-defense or collective self-defense; or overwhelming humanitarian necessity, which is the least recognized and accepted of the exceptions.[10] Syria has not consented to the U.S. air strike, nor has it formally requested the assistance of the U.S. or any other nation,[11] and under International Law, Syria’s consent was crucial to the use of force in their territory unless the U.S. can prove that the attack was undertaken in individual self-defense or the collective self-defense of Iraq and other countries affected by the conflict.[12] Due to complications with the control of the territory, especially considering how much of Syria’s territory has already fallen to ISIS, the self-defense argument could be used by neighboring countries, but they would be bound to strict law to be limited to only what is necessary to deal with an ongoing or imminent attack, the latter of which is also a necessity if the U.S. were to use the collective self-defense argument under Article 51 of the UN Charter.[13]

The intricacies of International Law are lost on the great section of the population that sits comfortably behind its computers and uses keyboards as loud speakers against what it perceives as international inaction. Syria’s silence, whether it is because it declines assistance or because its current circumstances have rendered it unable to consent, should not be taken as an implied acceptance of the kind of international response that could decimate whatever hold it may have at this point within its own territory. The panic provoked by the projection on the Paris victims most first-world countries like the U.S. have experienced in the past months should not fan the flames that could ignite a large scale international conflict of the type that gave birth to ISIS itself in the first place. In the wake of 9/11, rash decision-making and panic-fueled actions had an irrevocable effect on international relations, and while most people will not understand any justification for a delayed response, informed decisions made by a collective are the best chance the world has in its fight against ISIS’s campaign of blood and terror.

Photo: Charles Dawson


[1] Zack Beauchamp, ISIS, a history: how the world’s worst terror group came to be, Vox (November 19, 2015), http://www.vox.com/2015/11/19/9760284/isis-history.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Nick Wing and Carina Kolodny, 15 Shocking Numbers that will make you pay attention to what ISIS is doing in Iraq, The Huffington Post (August 11, 2014), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/11/isis-iraq-numbers_n_5659239.html.

[5] Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad, ISIS claims responsibility for blasts that killed dozens in Beirut, NY Times (November 12, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/13/world/middleeast/lebanon-explosions-southern-beirut-hezbollah.html?_r=0.

[6] Jethro Mullen, Don Melvin and Paul Armstrong, Terror in Paris: What we know so far, CNN (November 15, 2015), http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/13/europe/paris-attacks-at-a-glance/.

[7] Anne Barnard, Beirut, also the site of deadly attacks, feels forgotten, NY Times (November 15, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/16/world/middleeast/beirut-lebanon-attacks-paris.html.

[8] Dean Obeidallah, ISIS’s gruesome Muslim death toll, The Daily Beast (October 7, 2014), http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/07/isis-s-gruesome-muslim-death-toll.html.

[9] David A. Graham, The Empathy Gap Between Paris and Beirut, The Atlantic (November 16, 2015), http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/11/paris-beirut-terrorism-empathy-gap/416121/?utm_source=SFFB.

[10] Louise Arimatsu and Michael Schmitt, The legal basis for the war against ISIS remains contentious, The Guardian (October 6, 2015), http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/06/legal-basis-war-isis-syria-islamic-state.

[11] Marc Weller, Islamic State crisis: What force does international law allow?, BBC (September 25, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29283286.

[12] Kia Makarechi, Are the U.S. Strikes on Syria Legal Under International Law?, Vanity Fair (September 23, 2014), http://www.vanityfair.com/news/politics/2014/09/us-strikes-syria-international-law.

[13] Weller, supra note 11.

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