ISIS have been beheading Muslims in Syria for the last few years, curtailing and reversing the efforts of the resistance movements against Bashar al-Assad in Syria and al-Maliki in Iraq, before beheading the independent American journalist James Foley and more recently Steven Sotloff. All indications appear that Foley was a genuine journalist whose only goal was to report on the events in those regions. His parents have said that he sympathised with the Syrian people against the Assad regime. The initial reaction of many were that the reports were a hoax until mainstream media outlets unanimously started covering the story showing intermittent snippets of the video.
Dr Claire Hardaker, a linguistics experts at Lancaster University, told several media outlets that the man’s vowels marked him out as likely from the south-east of England, but most likely from London . The new video of the execution of Sotloff entitled “A second message to America” seems to be as a result of the continued air strikes against ISIS in North Western Iraq. In the earlier video, which depicted the execution of Foley, ISIS had paraded Sotloff and threatened to kill him unless President Obama called off air strikes against the group’s fighters in Iraq. Days later, Obama ordered the air strikes to be stepped up. In the video, a masked man claiming to be the same ISIS fighter who appeared in the Foley video stands beside Sotloff, brandishing a knife and addressing the US President directly, saying, in a distinct English accent, “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State.”
He goes on: “Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.” The video of Sotloff shows him kneeling in an identical manner to Foley, wearing an orange jumpsuit and reading a prepared text, in a desert location similar to where Foley was executed . Some have questioned the authenticity of the first video, stating that it is highly likely that the execution didn’t take place as it appeared in the video, and that camera trickery and slick post-production techniques appear to have been used. A forensic analyst told The Times, “After enhancements, the knife can be seen to be drawn across the upper neck at least six times, with no blood evidence to the point the picture fades to black,” 
Furthermore, they noted that “sounds allegedly made by Foley do not appear consistent with what may be expected.” During Foley’s speech, there appears to be a blip which could indicate the journalist had to repeat a line. One expert commissioned to examine the footage was reported as saying: “I think it has been staged. My feeling is that the execution may have happened after the camera was stopped.”  The second video appears to have been filmed at a later date showing Sotloff’s hair and stubble to have grown longer and may well have been staged in a similar manner for dramatic purposes.
Within hours of the first video showing the execution of James Foley being released, President Barack Obama made an official statement condemning this act whilst Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his family holiday to hold emergency meetings about the situation in Iraq and Syria. It goes without saying that the killing of innocent civilians should be met with utter contempt, but the advocacy group CAGE righty stated the following when writing to the editors of several newspapers:
“The targeting of journalists like James Foley in conflict zones should be unequivocally condemned. While the videoed beheading of Mr Foley is visually graphic and gruesome, had ISIS used a predator drone to kill Mr Foley, would it have been any less “shocking and depraved” to quote Mr Cameron? In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, two American surface to air missiles hit Aljazeera’s office in Baghdad killing Palestinian reporter Tareq Ayyoub. Later that year, a US army tank fired into the 15th floor of the Palestine hotel in Baghdad where nearly all foreign journalists were based, killing Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk. The US also bombed Aljazeera’s Kabul bureau during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. During that war, the US apprehended Aljazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj and detained and tortured him for six years in Guantanamo Bay before releasing him without charge. The world is today rightfully condemning the killing of a US journalist but let us not forget that in the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Arab journalists were not spared. But the world remained silent. Their deaths were equally “shocking and depraved” .”
Western Muslim scholars and religious leaders have been unanimous in warning their communities about ISIS’ ideology for some time now, but the question remains: why are some Muslims supporting them and how have they emerged?
Putting aside theories regarding their original formation, many analysts have stated that the main reason ISIS have gained prominence is due to a backlash against Western intervention in Muslim majority lands and their sponsored support for dictatorships arming despotic regimes who serve their foreign interests. Iraq is a prime example. If “the West” had not got involved in Iraq in 2003 and handed over a majority Sunni population to a vengeful, extreme sectarian Shi’ite administration, half of the problem may have never existed.
The crimes committed at the behest of al-Maliki the former PM of Iraq has been a travesty. Under his tenure, Shi’ite governmental officers were given cart blanche to humiliate Sunnis daily at checkpoints throughout the country, often physically and sexually abusing children and women to provoke a reaction so that they could imprison, torture and kill the men in the family; private, citizen-level Shi’ite militia gangs had been allowed to kidnap and murder loved ones and friends with impunity, demanding huge ransoms in return . It isn’t any surprise that such an experience could radicalise some locals to welcome and even join ISIS. However despite this, it is still said that the local Iraqi tribes that revolted against al-Maliki realise that ISIS is a scourge and state that they will be dealt with once their common enemy—al-Maliki’s administration—is fully removed. It is these people who are still holders of power for the most part, despite ISIS’ slick media propaganda and largely complicit media corporations that paint them out to be in control of the region.
The case in Syria was not very different. Bashar al-Assad’s position as a dictatorial President had remained unchallenged for years. He has for years committed unspeakable atrocities upon his own civilian population. Many Muslim groups took up arms as a form of legitimate resistance. With each group respectively serving their own agenda, there seemed to be a great deal of cooperation earlier on as the mutual enemy was Bashar al-Assad and his regime. This was until ISIS burst onto the scene, who although claiming to share the same enemy, unfortunately view anyone not adhering to their misguided ideology as heretics and therefore worthy of exterminating.
The damage ISIS have caused to the overall resistance in Syria by fighting other resistance groups has been a major blow and has worked to the advantage of Bashar al-Assad, with talk now shifting outrageously from ousting Assad to eliminating ISIS in Syria with the help of Assad ! Their propaganda videos and outward religiosity have hoodwinked many naive western Muslims into joining them in their fight against anyone who opposes them which has caused a massive problem in Syria. There is also wide evidence that most of the Syrian rebels themselves don’t want Western Muslims coming out there to fight who know nothing about the local conditions and the complexity of this war.
David Cameron had already warned us about the so-called threat of ISIS-inspired attacks on British soil , and announced new anti-terror powers that would be introduced to tackle Islamic extremism involving proposed cross-party based legislation to give the police statutory powers to confiscate the passports of suspected terrorists at UK borders; but how realistic is this actual threat? Both he and Home Secretary Teresa May have told us that the UK terror threat level has been raised from “substantial” to “severe” after advice from The Joint Terrorism Action Centre’s (JTAC) and there may be a place for military intervention.
However, doesn’t the likelihood of any threat surely increase with military intervention?  Is this threat being overplayed to provide an excuse to increase surveillance and reduce civil liberties at home while preserving Western oil interests in the north-western Iraqi city of Erbil? American shelling in this area under the guise of a humanitarian rescue mission in aid of the Kurdish Yazidis whilst neglecting the atrocities elsewhere does suggest something to do with protecting imperialist interests . It was after all, as a direct consequence of the recent shelling that ISIS claimed to have executed James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
The executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff were not only a crude means of propaganda and a deplorable act, it also raises the concern of how ISIS is likely to concern us as British citizens. Another pertinent question that needs answering is what would lead a British citizen to conduct such an act?
In reality, the main cause and solution to terrorist attacks against the UK has always been that of foreign policy under the guise on the ‘War on Terror’ and ‘spreading democracy around the world’. Any genuine terrorist ideology would have zero traction where no such political grievances exist. As CAGE righty stated, a look into their videos should give us a brief insight into the political grievances held by ISIS. The orange jumpsuit, the condemnation of America for their latest intervention in Iraq, the appearance of a British citizen – these are all reminders that Western occupation and human rights abuses are at the heart of what is taking place in that country now . Baroness Manningham-Buller, who was director-general of MI5 from October 2002 until her retirement in April 2007, told the Radio Times that pre 2003: “Iraq did not present a threat to the UK” and “The service advised that it was likely to increase the domestic threat” of terrorism . Furthermore, the video message of 7/7 bomber, Mohammad Sidique Khan , and Michael Adebolajo’s  speech after murdering British soldier Lee Rigby, are a testimony that foreign policy is the main cause and catalyst of terrorism in the UK.
The recent executions have made the question of intervention in Iraq even more poignant than it already was. Ignoring ISIS allows them to continue with their brutality. Attacking them runs the risk of creating even more contempt with the possibility of a negative counter reaction back here in the UK.
As the media storm continues and public opinion is inevitably controlled by it, discussions around the prevalence of religious “extremism” and how to curb it are likely to resurface once again. There seems an even greater likelihood of tightening domestic policies against Muslims being the sole agenda just like it was last December with the Government Task Force report on tackling so-called “Islamic Extremism” .
The government-proposed measures to tackle “Islamic Extremism” back then failed to engage in any meaningful way with the plethora of voices within the Muslim community. It failed miserably in defining “Islamic extremism”, conflating it with religious conservatism. The report made Muslims feel like a suspect community, further alienated them and caused a great deal of mistrust in the process . Surely such a method of disengagement is likely to backfire and cause many Muslims to become disenfranchised, disempowered and resent the government . In order to have any meaningful discussion on “Islamic Extremism”, the government needs to attain a genuinely nuanced understanding of Islam and the make-up of the many different Muslim communities that reside Britain. It is only then we will be able to disseminate our views to policy makers.
This would require the government to work with a range of Muslim organisations to achieve an overall goal that is shared. In order for this to work, the prerequisite step of British Muslim scholars and academics coming together to discuss what constitutes extremism needs to take place as opposed to funding ‘independent’ think tanks to conduct research on the causes and threat of terror. To the majority, it does seem that the government officials in Whitehall are only keen to listen to the opinions which agree with their ideas about Islam and Muslims. Many of these organisations have no standing in Muslim community whatsoever and were specifically set up as “Counter Terrorism” or “Counter Extremism” to receive government funding. This alone should raise suspicion since these organisations solely rely on government funding for their continual existence and thus likely doctor up or exaggerate their findings in order to a create climate of fear.
Away from home, with US aeroplanes already striking sites in Iraq, while David Cameron has not ruled out pledging his support to helping too, early indications point to yet another campaign of vengeance and retribution that will inevitably create even more enemies. Just like in 2003, the British public are overwhelmingly against any military intervention in the UK , but unless the US and our own government are able to take a step-back and resist rampaging through the country and think of more constructive ways to deal with this threat, their actions will only breed more violent enemies and ones which are more formidable than ISIS.
With the different variables considered, the government need to decide what is more important to them; serving an imperialist hegemony by continuing to support brutal dictators, arming despotic regimes, and engaging in military operations in the Muslim, or a genuine concern for greater security at home and abroad.
Ghulam is an experienced Prescribing Pharmacist and currently splits his time professionally as a clinician in primary care and as a healthcare development consultant. He is active in da’wah, new Muslim support and community affairs in his city – Manchester. He is a founder and a trustee at the Myriad Foundation and works with a number of key stakeholders and institutions in Manchester.