London, March 12, 2015—A remote piece of Bosnia-Herzegovina reminds us how and why ISIS has spread.
It is the small village of Gornja Maoca near the city of Brcko in the far north. Last month, police raided Gornja after reports that the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Shams had been displayed on windows throughout the hamlet. Last September, police arrested a preacher from Gornja, for recruiting people to commit terrorist acts and he went on trial this week.
An ISIS sign in Gornja Maoca, Bosnia
It wasn’t the first time police raided. Gornja had long been known as the home of followers of Wahhabism, the strict sect that believes Islam has been sullied by outside influences and must return to the norms and practices of the time of Muhammed and his followers. Osama bin Laden was a Wahhabi and his al-Qaeda organization preaches essential Wahhabi doctrine. So does ISIS, which was once allied with al-Qaeda. It is also the official religion of Saudi Arabia, which over the years has supported armed radical groups, broadcast Wahhabi dogma on satellite television across the Middle East and built mosques worldwide. Saudi Arabia currently opposes ISIS because ISIS wants to oust the Saudi royal family from power.
The local appeal of Wahhabism in Bosnia dates from the long civil war. There was little attention paid to foreign fighters who joined the Bosnian separatist cause against Serbia and Croatia in the former Yugoslavia. These fighters helped plant seeds of jihad, Islamic holy war, in Bosnia. Some took root in remote areas of Bosnia. In 2011, a Wahhabi tried to shoot up a mosque in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. He was driven off by worshippers.
What’s ISIS attraction in this corner of Europe? Probably the same as it is for armed groups, big and small, in more than a dozen other countries that have pledged allegiance to ISIS in recent months: However brutal, ISIS is seen as a winner.
In a recent interview, Patrick Cockburn, the veteran and dogged reporter on Iraq for The Independent who has also written a book on the rise of ISIS, explains the group’s allure in Iraq:
“ISIS has a number of different kinds of support. It has support of the alienated Sunni community in Iraq and also in Syria. That at least they are victors, after all these people have been defeated – they were defeated in ’91 by the Americans, they were defeated again in 2003, they were marginalized, persecuted -– so victory is important to them. I think also they appeal to jobless young men, I mean sometimes referred to as the underclass, but actually just the poor, poor young men.”
The description might also fit numerous armed movements elsewhere who feel defeated by corruption, by dictatorships, by poverty and warfare. It also is buttressed by Wahhabi ideology that takes jihad beyond the quest for the purely concrete.
Affiliates can be found in Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Yemen as well as the Philippines, India, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, and Nigeria, home of the vicious killer of civilians, Boko Haram. Affiliation might not mean much concretely, but it does serve as a recruiting tool. It represents an association with a triumphant brand. And governments, certainly not in Iraq and Syria, as well as the West, have not come up with a competing product.
Here is Cockburn’s interview with CounterPunch.
And this is a map that shows ISIS’ affiliates, via IntelCenter.