Hunter Johnson, Managing Editor
To keep the local population in line, a Kurdish peshmerga fighter is hauled out into a public square in Iraq and beheaded. It is videoed from different angles to give the tape a more dramatic, frightening effect. A few minutes earlier in the recording, he and other members of the Kurdish fighting forces had been pardoned by their captors. That pardoned man’s blood now stains the soil in front of one of the main mosques in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.
A few decades ago, an action like this would not have been considered shocking or unusual in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As the former dictator of Iraq, his government regularly persecuted and killed Kurds in the northern portion of Iraq. This execution, however, was not ordered by that ruthless dictator, and it did not occur decades ago. This was just a few days ago, in a portion of the now democratic Iraq that is completely overrun by Islamic militants.
The goal of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Sunni-Muslim terrorist organization, is to create a new, extreme, Islamic caliphate that adheres to Sharia Law and covers vast swaths of Iraq and Syria. What makes this group different, and perhaps even more threatening than al-Qaeda, is that this caliphate effectively exists today. After rising to prominence over the past year fighting the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, the organization essentially shoved more moderate rebels out of the picture. With a large portion of Syria under its control, ISIL invaded northern Iraq and took control of a third of the country. Iraqi forces, trained by Americans not even a few years ago, fled all the way to the capital of Baghdad itself.
That not-so-strategic retreat resulted in ISIL acquiring many of the modern American weapons the Iraqi forces left behind. So not only is ISIL, for all practical purposes, a governing caliphate; it’s also a bold and fairly well-armed caliphate.
With its newfoundpower, ISIL has begun to exert its influence in its new territories with an iron fist. This is perhaps felt most strongly in the Kurdish portions of Iraq. Before the invasion, the Kurds were known for their moderate practices, western lifestyle and tolerance of other faiths. In the Kurdish capital of Irbil, one may go to western-styled malls and see Christians mingle freely with Muslims and people of other faiths. None of this is tolerated by ISIL, whose influence is now within thirty miles of Irbil. Under ISIL’s rule, women must cover up their entire bodies, western practices are shunned and thousands of non-Sunni people find themselves under persecution.
Christians and non-Muslims in particular now face extreme circumstances trying to survive in Syria and Iraq. Executions are common, and the Yadizis, a group which ISIL views as a cult of devil worshippers, was nearly eradicated during a mountaintop siege. That near-genocide was avoided with the arrival of United States bombings and aid drops, but the threat to religious minorities under ISIL is far from removed.
The world now faces a monstrosity that could have easily been avoided a year ago. If the West had striven harder to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad, more moderate rebels would have had a better opportunity to seize control in Syria. ISIL would not have been able to waltz over the moderates so easily to claim vast regions of the country as its own, which would have made its Iraqi invasion less feasible. Now, religious minorities, once relatively secure under the rule of moderate Syrian rebels and the Kurdish/Iraqi government, are being slaughtered.
Western inaction created a foe far more threatening to American interests than Assad ever was. ISIL is a terrorist group with two countries cowering under it, and the resources within them at its disposal. If the West fails to dislodge the group from its perch, what’s to stop it from turning its attention to Europe and the United States? It certainly has the manpower to secure its own borders while fostering terrorists in other countries, ideologically and materially. The United Kingdom has already raised its terror threat status, and the U.S. is cracking down on potential ISIL supporters at home.
But such measures will hardly be enough to secure the West from ISIL’s threat, and they certainly won’t save the Christians and other minorities being killed right now. Pope Francis himself supports efforts to defend these religious minorities from ISIL’s clutches. When asked about ISIL attacks on Christian groups that have existed for thousands of years, he said, “Where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.”
Americans are already dying as well; journalist James Foley, a Catholic American, was executed in response to U.S. bombings of ISIL positions. Those bombings are a step in the right direction to defeating ISIL, but alone they won’t be enough to end its threat.
The West must prioritize the destruction of ISIL as a terrorist power. Otherwise, the blood of more Kurdish men will flow in front of mosques, more religious minorities will be hunted down, and more innocent American lives may be lost.