By Sammy Ketz ,AFP
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The meteoric rise of the Islamic State group and its ability to recruit Western jihadists reflect the extent to which religious radicalism has come to dominate global conflict. After decades of dictatorship interrupted by three years of revolt, the Middle East saw fresh upheaval in 2014 as IS fighters swept across Syria and Iraq and the Gaza Strip was devastated by its third conflict in six years. Endemic corruption, poor economic development, the failure of Arab nationalism and frustration over the Palestinian cause have all contributed to the rise of Islamism as an alternative for the region, the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions. According to Raphael Lefevre, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, the turning point came in 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq. The attack ��exacerbated the sectarian fault lines in the region … and facilitated the rise of Iran as an active strategic player in the Arab world,�� Lefevre told AFP. ��It also gave rise to a sense of Sunni vulnerability among populations across the Levant,�� he added. In Syria, the Alawite-dominated regime was aided by Shiite Iran in its suppression of a revolt by majority Sunnis. In Iraq, the Shiite leadership was accused of discriminating against Sunnis. ��It’s through the lenses of this short history that the rise of (the Islamic State, the Al-Nusra Front) and other Sunni extremist groups can be perceived,�� said Lefevre.
Failure of Arab Nationalism The rise of Islamism was also spurred by the failure of Arab nationalism, whose aim was to transcend religion, but which was too intrinsically linked to secular, despotic regimes. The failure to defeat Israel, as well as a disastrous economic situation, also fanned the religious fervor. The 1993 Oslo peace accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization ��caused a shock because they meant one could no longer fight for the Palestinian cause,�� said Nayla Tabbara, who teaches religious studies at Beirut’s Saint Joseph University. ��There was no cause any more, and this explains Islamism’s magnetism,�� she added.