By Kashaf Ali
Dr. Hassan Abbas is a professor and chair of the Department of Regional and Analytical Studies at National Defense University in Washington, DC and also a senior adviser at the Asia Society. Furthermore, Dr. Abbas is an adept analyst who also regularly appears on international media and writes pieces for international newspapers and academic publications. His latest book, The Taliban Revival, based on first hand research on post 2001 Taliban extremism is worth reading. In addition to this, his field study in Iraq makes him an expert on the topic.
With the western world embroiling with Islamophobia in the aftermath of Paris attacks, it becomes essential to dwell on the origin of ISIS in this new political arena and find the best response mechanism for it. So in order to offer greater insight on this issue, Humanities and Social Sciences department of LUMS organised a seminar on the ‘Rise of IS’ on Friday, the 27thof November 2015.
The seminar, filled with interesting anecdotes and political analysis, turned out to be really thought-provoking and informative for the entire LUMS community. Dr. Hassan Abbas presented his case categorically by discussing the historical, political and religious aspects of the discussion in a systematic order; while simultaneously also providing detailed review on several response mechanisms to cope with the threat of ISIS.
He started off by offering his insight on the diverse views on the origin of ISIS: some associate it with the US, while others believe it to be a natural offshoot of Al-Qaeda; whereas it is also associated with the fall of Arab Ba’athist Party. Furthermore, Dr. Abbas emphasized on use of violence by ISIS and Al-Qaeda as a means to create space and how the notion of an Islamic state, based on equality and justice, is employed as a great marketing strategy by such groups.
While focusing on the political aspects of the rise of ISIS, he discussed the role played by Shia revivalist and Prime Minister Maliki. He further identified the five different kinds of political systems employed in Islam and emphasized on the ways in which political organisation in Iraq may promote ISIS. He also encouraged students to google ‘oil pipelines and ISIS’ to evaluate yet another interesting hypothesis themselves. While talking on the religious side of the discussion, Dr. Hassan described the way in which ideas of Islam: justice and togetherness, along with the pride in taking part in the final battle, play a great role in inspiring and forming identities of young Muslims.
Lastly, he also discussed the role of US and the reluctance of its government to involve itself in any more wars. However, according to him, there yet remain potent signs of hope and the development of Iraq into a federation that promotes sectarian harmony can resolve this grave issue.
This in-depth analysis was followed by a stimulating question answer session by the students. Dr. Abbas was asked to speculate on ISIS making grounds in Pakistan and he commented that there are ‘little prospects of ISIS in Pakistan’ due to little space for ISIS amongst the multitude of identities already present in Pakistan. He also emphasized that currently there is a large general anti-ISIS consensus in Pakistan, but considering historical facts i.e. the hierarchy of ISIS and the game play in Pakistan – the picture may change. Hopefully not!
Furthermore, when questioned about the shelf life of ISIS, Dr. Abbas responded that he sees it as ‘short’ but he is worried about what will come next. A tit for tat approach is not the best way and unless the issues of sectarianism and violence are dealt with, this situation may remain unresolved.
Therefore, it is important to understand the hybrid nature of ISIS as a state as well as non-state actor and the use of civil law enforcement and counter narratives such as the “Amman Message” in countering it. This seminar proved to be a revealing experience for LUMINITES who wished to gain a deeper understanding of ISIS and its role in the contemporary world.
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