ISIS has been the name many of us have come to use over the summer as this terrorist group has come to prominence. The group is also referred to as IS or ISIL, by many government leaders.

But why discuss it at all?  Should it matter what an extremist group calls itself? Shouldn’t people be focusing on what means they are using to achieve their ends?

According to Jonah Blank, a former staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the militant organization is waging a propaganda war—and what name it goes by is part of that war.”

This group seeks to reestablish a caliphate, a mecca for Sunni Muslims all over the world run by a supreme religious and political leader. The calphi are older societies, the last of which died out with the Ottoman Empire. They are seen as the Golden Age of Islam. Muslims were at the cutting edge of art and technology. They also controlled vast amounts of political and economic power at this time.

The current attempt of reestablishment has taken place in western Iraq, eastern Syria, parts of Jordan and Turkey. This location has caused the name ISIS to become the front runner. It stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the “Syria” they refer to is Greater Syria. Greater Syria is referred to by many as al-Sham in Arabic.

Al-Sham “is the classical Arabic term for Damascus and its hinterlands, and over time, it came to denote the area between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, south of the Taurus Mountains and north of Arabian desert.”

The Obama Administration has translated the al-Sham differently to mean “the Levant” hence the president’s use of ISIL. It doesn’t have the lengthy explanation of greater Syria, but, more importantly, it also weakens the credibility of the terrorist group in a time when they are trying to recruit supporters.

As The New York Times explains again, the term Levant is “a once-common term that now has something of an antique whiff about it, like ‘the Orient.’ Many Arab nationalists and Islamist radicals disdain it.”

It seems that the President’s administration has come to agree with Jonah Blank. He looks to discredit them openly, causing confusion in the Middle East. This confusion seems to be taking effect.  Many Muslims have already turned their back on the idea of a caliphate, as many have well an established mufti, who is the highest legal authority, giving rulings on practice for the state.

Its name is become confusing, and ISIL cannot seem to decide what to call itself. Islamic scholar Juan Cole says ISISL has no real support beyond their own followers and has no real prospect of gaining the respect of the greater Sunni Muslim community. It seems that its fall might come from internal factors that the U.S. can observe and comment on from afar.

– Frederick Wood II

Sources: NPR 1, NPR 2, NPR 3, New York Times, Juan Cole
Photo: The Christian Post

Churches and mosques alike have been burned in Nigeria’s most religiously segregated city, Jos. The key city in Nigeria’s middle belt, Jos splits the predominantly Muslim north from the primarily Christian south. Christian tribes receive preferred access to public education, government jobs and other benefits, even though Muslim tribes (deemed “settlers” to their Christian counterpoints, who are viewed as the state’s indigenous people) hold the same obligations, including paying tax and upholding state laws.

While discrimination across Nigeria takes another form in states where Christians are controlled by Muslims, the fight for religious dominance in Jos has quickly escalated. In 1994, a Hausa (a group of Muslim “settlers”) was appointed as Jos North local government chairman, catalyzing the religious conflict in Nigeria between the indigene, who were upset at a settlers’ appointment to office. Nearly 4,000 people have been killed since 2001 in the conflict.

Twenty years ago, Hajiya Badamasi, a practicing Christian, married her Muslim husband in the central city of Jos, where she later converted to Islam. Badamasi claims that, prior to Jos’ evolution as the epicenter of religious strife in Nigeria, religious identification hardly mattered. Now, as the fighting continues to increase between the indigene and settlers in what Human Rights Watch has described as “horrific internecine violence,” many agree Jos remains at a violent standstill.

Some attribute increasing conflict in Nigeria to the country’s wealth gap. In fact, violence and religious conflict in the country is not unique to the city of Jos alone. While Southern Nigerian states boast economic growth through multinational corporations, Northern states suffer extreme cases of poverty. Poverty in the North is perhaps exactly what makes the territory so susceptible to widespread attacks – most recently those perpetrated by Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group.

Around 1,505 Nigerian Christians have been killed so far this year by the extremist group Boko Haram. While the group kills Christians for their religious beliefs, their approach with Muslims is a bit different; according to claims, Muslims are killed for a “reason,” such as working for the government or refusing to pay the group extortion taxes. The group has killed almost as many Christians in seven months as were killed in all of last year.

While most claim these religious problems will not fully disappear until the constitution grants settling tribes equal rights, some Muslim leaders have voiced optimism toward the religious conflict. “I’m an optimist,” said Mohammed Hashir Saidu, a state government official. “People are getting more enlightened.”

Still, older Nigerian couples remember a time when Jos was home to acceptance of inter-religious families and people. “When my parents went to visit my wife’s parents, they were received wholeheartedly,” said Alhaji Abdulaziz Haruna, a 59-year-old Muslim who is married to a Christian. Now, just four decades later, the fate of similar couples seems much more bleak.

Nick Magnanti

Sources: IBI Times, Yahoo News, Naharnet, BP News
Photo: Naharnet

One of the poorest nations in the world, the Central African Republic (CAR,) sees 90 percent of its citizens survive on just one meal per day. Sectarian and religious violence, primarily targeting the minority Muslim population, only makes matters worse.

Most food trade in the capital city of Bangui is reliant on the imports of wholesale vendors, which are resold by small traders in the marketplace. Muslims, however, own and control these wholesalers, in addition to a large proportion of the agricultural sector as well. And the Muslims are fleeing.

About 40 large wholesalers participated in the market before Muslim leader Michel Djotodia seized power in a coup in March 2013. Less than a year later, only 10 remain. It should not be terribly shocking that Muslims, who live in constant fear for their lives amid ever-increasing violence, are embarking on a massive exodus out of the CAR and into neighboring countries such as Chad and Cameroon.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM,) over 60,000 people have already fled since December 5, 2013, when Christian militias and soldiers exploded into violence.

The Muslim exodus has left farmers without access to seeds, prevented food trucks from crossing the border due to fear of attack and risks an incredible rise in prices as food supplies dry up. If security does not improve soon, the 10 remaining wholesalers claim they will leave as well. Even if they were to stay, profits would be minimal. Over the past two months, sales dropped 90 percent among wholesalers because people can no longer afford to buy the food they need.

Philippe Conraud, Oxfam country director, argues that the combination of people being forced out of the country and the inability for food to come in risks turning the situation into something analogous to a siege. French and African troops, sent to the CAR by the United Nations Security Council, have proven unable to halt the atrocious violence thus far.

In addition to the tumultuous effects fleeing traders have on the country of their origin, neighboring countries must prepare for the economic outcomes of the present circumstances. With at least 30,000 refugees in Chad and 10,000 so far in Cameroon, these neighboring countries have their hands full with the conflict’s humanitarian crisis.

Giovanni Cassani, emergency coordinator for the IOM, touches on the enormity of the problem. 50,000 people can make up a small town. Unless the situation in the CAR improves soon, neighboring countries will have to deal with the long-term economic transformations of a Muslim exodus.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: BBC, Global Post, Washington Post
Photo: Oxfam International