By Sal Bommarito
The turmoil created by ISIS represents a momentous change within the Sunni sect and will have a lasting impact on the Middle East.
For some time, people have been puzzled by the support of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni monarchies afforded to the U.S. coalition. The initial assessment of their response to ISIS was that these regimes considered the terrorists an existential threat. This is true, but it is exacerbated by a great schism among Sunnis.
For years, Sunnis have battled with Shiites. This feud has been well documented, and frankly, the differences between the two groups have blurred over time. It principally relates back to the original leadership of Islam centuries ago. Nevertheless, the blood lust created by this division of Islam has been responsible for untold violence and political instability. Basically, Sunni nations are badgered by Shiite insurgency and vise versa.
But now, the situation has become more intriguing. The Sunni sect has divided into two groups. The extent that each resorts to violence separates them. The “more peaceful” group recognizes that it must find ways to live with other nations, cultures and religions. Be sure, this group is controlled by serious ideology and customs, mistrustful of outsiders and degrading to women. But, the more peaceful group sees growing violence as a threat to Islam. The latter is so aggressive and emboldened that it stirs the concerns of nations outside the region.
Many of the more aggressive Sunnis (ISIS) have mustered in Iraq and Syria. They are blood-thirsty fighters who want to kill, not just convert, all those who do not worship God the same way they do. The source of ISIS discontent and aggression is the Wahhabi tradition that must “[purify] the community of the faithful,” as the New York Times has described it. This differentiates the ISIS crowd from the also violent Al Qaeda. “For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an [end], for ISIS, it is an end to itself.”
The result was that Al Qaeda disassociated itself from ISIS because it is too violent. Keep in mind Al Qaeda executed the 9/11 attacks and was the home of Osama bin Laden.
Now, less radical Sunnis from the region have joined the U.S. coalition to fight ISIS. In fact, Sunnis are piloting planes that are dropping bombs on other Sunni Arabs.
It is noteworthy to point out that Sunnis are fighting against other Sunnis in alliance with the U.S. Iran is on the sidelines opposing ISIS along with moderate Sunnis and the U.S. Moderate Sunnis and the U.S. oppose Assad of Syria, while Iran supports him.
The scorecard is difficult to follow. But one thing is sure, ISIS represents the most violent arm of the most violent group on earth (Al Qaeda). The mission to destroy it is noble, wise and critically important to western nations and to Arab regimes. All countries in the region are at risk because recruitment and funding have been expedited by social media as part of a continuing Arab Spring.