For five months in 2014, I took a sabbatical in Iraq, the country of my birth. I went to attend and offer educational workshops and also to do charitable work, as I am president of a nonprofit organization that helps women and children in Iraq.
The moment I arrived, my entire purpose changed. I began encountering, first-hand, the magnitude of destruction caused by Daesh, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, beginning with the ancient city of Mosul in June 2014 and spreading to within 60 miles of Baghdad.
As they marched through Syria and Iraq, they trampled civilization. The Daesh demolished mosques, shrines, and churches up to 1,800 years old, beheaded governmental employees, committed genocide on Shiite Muslims and Yazidis, and enslaved Yazidi children. Christians who for two millennia, had lived peacefully, were given the unthinkable choice to leave their homeland, accept Islamic State’s perversion of Islam, or pay religious taxes and have their homes marked with “N” referring to Nasara, Arabic for Christians. The atrocities go on.
I visited refugee camps and met with imams, priests, government officials, tribal leaders and journalists trying to mobilize resources to help the 120,000 refugees in the area. Throughout our discussions, there was one prevalent fear: If Daesh is not defeated here, then they’ll become a global threat. Two-thirds of Daesh are foreign fighters from 50 countries, including the U.S., Canada and Russia. What would happen if they returned home?
When al-Qaida waged its 9/11 attack on the United States, bin Laden occupied no land and lacked oil-sale revenue and social-media skills. No khilafat, or centralized state, was declared and instead he was hiding in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan. Still he was able to launch devastating attacks on the United States. It isn’t difficult to foresee what Islamic State is capable of.
I returned home to Fresno in January 2015. Since then, I’ve spared no opportunity discussing the fact that President Obama’s administration needs to make fighting Islamic State the foremost item on its agenda.
Unfortunately, I, and most Muslims, have witnessed, in frustration, the crimes targeting dozens of countries. Muslims are outraged as these atrocities are being carried out erroneously in the name of their faith and fear of the consequences of backlash.
The frustration only grew as we heard politicians such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplay the dangers of the Islamic State and distract our attention from the real threat by magnifying the dangers of a phantom threat. They led us to believe that the global threat was insignificant compared to signing a nuclear treaty with Iran that eliminates its capability of developing a nuclear bomb. Netanyahu did a good job engaging our nation and Congress and keeping everyone distracted while Islamic State planned its attacks in Paris and elsewhere.
We cannot defeat the Islamic State unless a few issues are honestly tackled.
All the worlds’ powers must agree the Islamic State is enemy No. 1 for modern civilization. Secondly, they must be united in defeating Daesh. If even one country is not, then Islamic State will find a training playground. Look no further than YouTube to see convoys of militants roaming the lands. All of their vehicles – modified and equipped for warfare – are new, monochromatic and a singular brand. These vehicles didn’t arrive on the backs of camels but passed through international borders.
The Islamic State, a self-acclaimed state, exports $40 million to $60 million in oil through international borders each month. Who is buying?
The world will never eradicate Daesh and like-minded criminals unless we defeat the ideology of extremism by eliminating its causes in the Muslim world rooted in Wahhabism and its access to massive petro-wealth.
Extremism among Muslims was not born in the cosmopolitan cities of Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, Jakarta or Istanbul. It stemmed from the no-man’s land of the harshest desert in the world, in the Arabian Peninsula, in the 18th century and since has used oil wealth to export extremism throughout the world.
We need an aggressive campaign to rid our world of Wahhabism and other extremist ideologies. If we start the right ideological approach today, it will take us two decades or more to accomplish this, but we need to remain steadfast together.
Muslims, witnessing the horrors of Daesh firsthand, know best what it is to be targeted by terrorism. Therefore we stand in solidarity with all victims of violence – from Bangkok to Boston.
Seyed Ali Ghazvini is the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno (www.icfresno.org).