Ryan Hendrickson, Staff Writer
The United States, as well as forty other countries, is now engaged in yet another war in the Middle East. Over the past two weeks, the skies over Syria and Iraq have been filled with American warplanes, which have conducted well over 200 airstrikes against the Islamic State, a group many now consider to be the greatest threat to regional stability. This terrorist organization, which has beheaded several western journalists and has killed thousands more, controls roughly 50,000 square miles of territory. Its fighters are well organized and have access to hundreds of millions of dollars, and now the U.S. has plans to destroy the group, a daunting task expected to take years. The one headline that has surprised many in recent days came after the European Union’s chief counter terrorism expert held a press conference regarding the Islamic State. At this press conference it was revealed that over 3,000 Europeans are currently fighting alongside the terrorist organization. On top of this, the US Department of State believes that around 100 Americans are involved with the group.
This revelation has troubled many policy makers. One reason for this concern is that the Islamic State has been estimated by the CIA to have about 30,000 soldiers. Therefore, roughly one in every 10 Islamic State militants is a westerner. The primary reason the presence of Europeans and Americans within the ranks of the Islamic State has gained attention is because it means the group’s reach has spread beyond the Middle East. It is not necessarily surprising that many Arabs have been attracted to the Islamic State’s message. The region has undergone nearly a century of subjugation and exploitation by countries such as Great Britain, France, the U.S. and its allies, which has in turn spawned the group’s anti-western stance and given young men the chance to fight back. But those who live in the West have not experienced this unjust treatment, confusing many as to why they decided to join.
Instead, one reason westerners flock to the Islamic State is because of one of the core beliefs of the Islamic Faith: the idea of the Umma. The Arabic word “Umma” roughly translates into the English word “community.” The Umma is the whole of the Muslim world, in which every single follower is connected and shares an identity with one another. Historically, and for the most part this is still true today, the idea of the Umma has been a unifying and peaceful force, vastly reducing conflict between neighbors. However, radical groups such as the Islamic State distort the idea of the Umma, as they do with all of the teachings of a generally peaceful religion. The Islamic State calls upon Muslims to fight for the group in the name of defending their fellow Muslims, their Umma. And while many look at western meddling in the Middle East as having been committed for economic reasons, the Islamic State’s message paints this interference as the West’s attempt to destroy Islam. As a result of this belief, coupled with the idea of the Umma, disillusioned Muslims, whether from Saudi Arabia or the United States, have now joined the ranks of the Islamic State. If Western countries wish to change this, then they must begin to work toward eliminating the widely held view that they seek to subjugate or even destroy the Islamic faith.