The phenomenon of "Islamic State" (Daesh) has surfaced once again following sensational the media reporting of the arrest of four South African Muslims under their country's anti-terror laws; there is an obvious attempts to instil a climate of fear in our communities. Just as Al-Qaeda was used to scare populations worldwide and provide governments with the excuse to deprive their citizens of civil liberties, frequent warnings by the USA and its allies of imminent attacks by Daesh/"Islamic State" seek to create paranoia and unease.
There is little doubt that Daesh is an infinitely more potent force than Al-Qaeda ever was. It emerged after the US-led invasion, occupation and devastation of Iraq, wherein a sectarian government was installed after Saddam Hussein's ouster. The Americans used a classic divide and rule ploy, pitting Sunni against Shia in fratricide previously non-existent in Iraq.
The dissolution of the ruling Baath Party led to a million unemployed Sunnis, amongst whom were 400,000 highly-trained military personnel. Joining forces with Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a powerful insurgency developed, attacking both the occupation forces and the government.
Many regional and global powers got embroiled in the ensuing anarchy by financing, training and arming militias ready to do their bidding. Battles were fought between the different militias under various pretexts, usually based upon the sectarian divide and manipulated by their paymasters in foreign capitals.
Under the leadership of Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi, AQI linked up with the Syrian insurgents to form the so-called "Islamic State" — Daesh — controlling an area covering nearly half of Syria and a third of Iraq. The group took over oil and gas fields, giving it access to an income of $3 million per day.
Daesh also captured advanced weaponry — including artillery, rockets, tanks and armoured vehicles — in their battlefield victories against Syrian and Iraqi government forces. The extremists turned into a renegade, independent entity.
This entity has formed a government with its own currency, police and intelligence agencies, radio and television stations, newspapers and magazines. From a movement ostensibly established to confront an imperial invasion, Daesh has metamorphosed into a cult-like deviant sect with fanatical followers creating a climate of fear.
With Russia and Iran entering the fray on the side of Syria's Bashar Assad, in opposition to the Turkish, Saudi Arabian, Israeli and Western alliance, a quick resolution to the conflict looks impossible. Hundreds of proxy militias have created a conundrum for their regional backers. Israel remains the only unscathed regional entity to-date, and its occupation of Palestine fuels the conflicts burning across the Middle East.
Whilst the US may not have actually created Daesh, it bears the major responsibility for the toxic combination of a bitter population and sectarianism. The AQI transformed into Daesh, which is now more or less a gang of mercenaries brutalising, butchering and annihilating Shia, Sunnis and Christians alike.
Daesh uses its skill with information technology to rule the 9 million people within the territory it controls by fear; Muslims around the world are lured to the deviant cause it espouses. It has broadcast gruesome images of beheadings, the burning alive of captives in cages and other medieval punishments, terrifying both its adversaries and ideological opponents.
However, as revealed by veteran journalist Abdel Bari Atwan, Daesh has also used social media expertly to recruit thousands of adherents to "spread its ideology and literature to more than a billion and a half Muslims around the world by using these media in recruitment and terrorising enemies."
Furthermore, there are specialised units producing documentaries and propaganda produced and disseminated by an electronic army both within and beyond the "Islamic State". Daesh is alleged to control more than 50,000 accounts on twitter issuing more than 100,000 messages every; there are also believed to be tens of thousands of accounts on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media.
Such an orchestrated media blitz to recruit volunteers is bound to find some fertile ground given the remorseless onslaught by the West and Israel, and their invasion, occupation and destabilisation of Muslim lands from Palestine to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Mali and Syria. That list is not exhaustive.
Muslims have been the victims of oppression, humiliation, torture, starvation, murder and gross abuse of human rights for decades by the West and Western-backed despots, tyrants and illegitimate leaders. The Muslim world is frustrated at its inability to protect innocent and defenceless women and children who are pulverised almost daily under indiscriminate attacks by Israelis, Americans and Europeans or their proxies.
In the midst of the current mayhem and anarchy created by the West — which has killed community leaders, engineered coups and entrenched a sectarian divide — the opportunities are many for bogus outfits such as "Islamic State" to emerge and claim to be confronting the occupiers.
Daesh has been clever enough to dress up its rhetoric and video clips with Arabic phrases such as jihad, caliphate, Islam and so on, thus appealing to and ensnaring Muslims agonising over the pathetic plight of too many of their co-religionists. When some of those Muslims seek to provide humanitarian aid to their fellows in desperate need, it is unfair and just plain wrong to call them "terrorists".
Daesh has been a disaster for the image of Islam and Muslims around the world, and a boon for the Islamophobes. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of reasonable people are fully aware that the self-styled "Islamic State" is merely a group of deviant mercenaries, whose victims are mainly Muslims and whose actions violate the fundamental tenets of Islam.
Dr Firoz Osman is an executive member of the Media Review Network in South Africa.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.