Rise of ISIS: a historical perspective by Abdul Q Kundi

Rise of ISIS: a historical perspective by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi


The rise of ISIS with its brutal methods of expanding their hold on vast piece of land and resources remind people of other brutal conquests like Vikings of Europe and Mongols of Central Asia. The response from Europe is one of fear and nervousness. The source of this nervousness is rooted in the history of Middle East, North Aftica and its struggle for dominance with Europe. This is a book level subject but allow me to dare to present a perspective in 1200 words with the hope that some scholar will pick it up for a more extensive work.


Humans have existed on the earth for well over 7 million years but we only have a recorded history of 5000 years. This is a very short time span to fully appreciate the power struggle between various civilizations evolving around the globe. The recorded history provide us a glimpse of struggle for power between various distinct cultures. First effort for a world order was initiated by Alexander the Great (circa 325 BCE) when he embarked on a world conquest. He conquered most of North Africa, Middle East, Persia, and Punjab at the border of India. He was a reclusive man and had a keen interest in learning and recording the animals, insects and plants of the places he conquered. The Roman Empire (30 BCE to 475 CE) that emerged after him controlled all of Europe, Turkey, Syria, and North Africa.


The fall of Romans gave rise to many small states that fought with each other for land, resources and power. Industrialization of Europe extended the reach of European monarchies who colonized much of Africa, Asia, South America, Australia and New Zealand. Notable of these powers were Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, British, French, and Italian. At one point they controlled all of India and large part of Eastern China.


In classical era Egyptian civilization controlled large part of central Africa and demanded allegiance from other monarchies in its periphery. Despite their power Romans could not extend their rule beyond North Africa and had to accommodate an understanding with Egypt for large part of their history. It was near the appearance of Prophet Essa (AS) that the Roman Empire were able to occupy Egypt. We all are familiar with the love story of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra who carried a child of Julius Caesar before he was murdered by his senators. A feature that I want to emphasize here is that Egyptian civilization never went beyond Africa and remained largely an African power unlike Romans who were international in their reach.


Chinese civilization, in Asia, emerged as unified country under the Qing dynasty (221-206 BCE) when six warring states were unified through conquest. Qing was followed by Han dynasty that lasted for over 400 years. Since then that has been the trend that a dynasty will rule China for a long time before disintegrating and giving way to the next one. Average tenure of these dynasties was well over 200 years. Current dynasty in China is the Communist Party of China (CPC) which has so far ruled the country for almost 65 years. Throughout its history China has been content with itself and had no desire to colonize any other area beyond its borders. It did require allegiance and acceptance of its authority over its periphery that most notably include Laos, Vietnam, Korea, and Thailand. Despite a long shore line China never developed a strong navy as it never felt there was a sea threat to its existence and it was not interested in colonizing others in far off places.


Indian civilization was similar in its behavior as China and did not extended its rule over Persia and Central Asia. Ashoka the great (304-232 BCE) was probably the only Indian Emperor who made Kabul its capital after renouncing bloodshed and converting to Buddhism. It was during his time that all of India came under one ruler which has rarely been the case except for Mughals and then British colonial rule. The desire to remain focused inwards was part of the Hindu religion which prohibited traveling abroad and considered attachment to ones land as a sacred duty.


At the advent of Islam in 610 CE a new civilization rose in the Middle East. Islam united the warring tribes of Arabs and converted them into a formidable force. Arabs were traditionally merchants using land and sea routes to carry merchandize from China, India, and Africa to different market places. Within 60 years of appearance of Islam, Arabs controlled all of Middle East, Syria, and North Africa. They continued extending their reach and occupied current day Turkey by defeating the Byzantine Empire. From Morocco they crossed the Mediterranean and conquered most of current day Spain. By the time of Ottoman Empire (1299-1923 CE), one of the longest running dynasty spanning over 650 years, they were threatening to attach and capture Venice, Austria. Apart from Ottomans, Muslim dynasties appeared in Central Asia, Persia, South Asia, South East Asia most of them pledging their allegiance to the Ottoman Caliph. Like Romans, Empire of Islam was an international entity with colonies spread around the world.


South American civilizations, like Incas, were also limited to their own continent and never aspired to extend its reach. In contemporary times, Russian Empire challenged European hegemony but remained limited to its own periphery. Its most extended influence was in the formation of Soviet Union.


The point that I am trying to make from the above discussion is that there have been only two empires in the recorded history that had international ambitions and influence i.e. West (Europe & USA) and Islam. That is where the anxiety lies in the rise of ISIS which is claiming to establish a global caliphate. The presence of European fighters in the ranks of ISIS is raising fears in Western capitals that the war is going to knock on their doors soon through non-state actors and suicide bombers that is the preferred weapon of choice by outfits like ISIS. This is not about religion but politics and power. Europe has to be blamed itself for rise of this phenomena as they first trained these religiously indoctrinated militants in Afghanistan and later in Syria. Now these militants want to extend their reach and take the war to the forces that wanted to exploit them for their own purposes.


In the recorded history twice Europe crossed Mediterranean to enter Middle East and North Africa. First during Roman times and second time in 18th century to create colonies. Similarly North Africans and Middle Eastern crossed Mediterranean twice. First when Hannibal entered Europe from current day Morocco to attack the Roman Empire and almost eliminated it. Second time after the advent of Islam. It seems now ISIS is preparing the ground for the third conquest of Europe from Middle East. And that is what makes the Europeans nervous as they know their history well. They also know it is not a religious war although it might be used as a tool to get recruits and global sympathy from Muslims.


Although I am an anti-war person, but to me it seems we are entering a new era of wars and conquests. Humans have not evolved in last 5000 years. Greed and ambition still drives them crazy.

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