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World

Opinion: The 'Islamic State' genie is out of the bottle

The Arab League will discuss a unified force to intervene against Islamic State. But that alone would not be enough to contain the spread of the terrorist militia, which DW’s Kersten Knipp says is a homemade problem.

A rapid intervention force to confront Islamic State (IS) - that's what Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi has been demanding for weeks. Representatives of the league's 22 member states will gather in Cairo this weekend to discuss the proposal.

If they succeed in establishing a force, equipping soldiers with the necessary weapons, and having a unified command, it will likely be a much more effective means of counteracting IS and other terrorist groups than current measures. The indecisive operations being conducted by the Iraqi military in its fight against IS are again making it clear just how powerful an enemy IS has become.

To a large extent, this power comes from the immense pull IS exerts. The organization currently has more than 31,000 fighters. Its sympathizers number in the hundreds of thousands - drawn by the group's chauvinistic and brutal ideology. That will prove difficult to overcome militarily.

But the fight against IS is difficult for other reasons as well. The terrorist militia's popularity is based on political and social ills that some Arab League member states not only permitted, but in part also brought about.

Confessional divisions

Take Iraq as an example. The 2003 US invasion plunged the country - already weakened by wars and years of sanctions - into chaos that it has yet to find its way out of. Neither the hastily enacted constitution nor the system of proportional representation according to confession was enough to prevent the growing division of society along religious lines. Both Sunnis and Shiites created militias convinced that the safety of their wards could only be guaranteed by the complete destruction of their opponents.

Deutsche Welle Kersten Knipp

DW's Kersten Knipp

Iraq's darkest years began when Nouri al-Maliki took control of the government in 2006. The Shiite prime minister abused his political and military power to crack down rigorously on the Sunni population. Many Sunnis turned to IS for protection, and became radicalized.

Numerous Shiite militias are taking part in the campaign against the jihadists that began a few weeks ago - and they are just as brutal as the IS fighters. They are using the war as an excuse to push Sunnis out of their ancestral territory. Maliki's successor, Haider al-Abadi, has so far not been successful in disciplining the militias and integrating them in the regular Iraqi army.

Religious authoritarianism

Then there is Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has made Wahhabism - a particularly austere form of Sunni Islam - its state religion. And it's done very little in the way of reforming it. Rather, private institutions are spreading Wahhabism across the globe.

For many, its particular brand of fundamentalism is a gateway to jihadism. The case of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, shows just how severe the kingdom treats people who think differently.

The judge in Badawi's trial accused him of "insulting Islam" and "apostasy," or the conscious abandonment of Islam. In Saudi Arabia, that is punishable by death. And that barely makes its leaders any different from the jihadists.

The people on al-Qaeda's most-wanted list published on the Internet mainly stand accused of one thing: crimes against Islam. It would be difficult for Saudi Arabia to deny that it has provided the very ideological breeding ground for the people it now wants to fight.

Judicial despotism

In Egypt, the government under Abdul Fattah el-Sissi relentlessly pursues both religious and secular dissidents. Last spring, the government sentenced Mohammed Badie, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, to death. The following autumn, his sentence was commuted to life in prison.

At the end of February of this year, a court sentenced civil rights activist Alaa Abdel Fatah to five years in prison for taking part in a forbidden demonstration. Others at the demonstration received sentences of up to 15 years. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Egyptian courts have sentenced hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members to death. There are massive restrictions on press freedom, and the country's military courts also pursue civilians. An atmosphere of violence and brutality has evolved; jihadist terrorism is moving from the Sinai Peninsula further into the rest of the country.

These are just three countries where such tendencies can be observed, but the list goes on. The members of the Arab League are facing a host of problems that they, for a very long time, seemed uninterested in solving. Their fight against jihadism won't make things any easier.

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