Islamic State appeals to the ‘discontent’

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

While government officials are still trying to bring home South Africans who recently fled Islamic State (IS) territories in Syria, locals are struggling to understand the allure of this global terror group.

Rami Khouri, a Beirut-based academic and writer currently in South Africa, will to this end unpack some of his own research on IS at a public talk in Johannesburg on Monday.

Khouri will be the guest speaker at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection’s fourth annual lecture at Wits University. His speech topic is ‘Will the guns ever fall silent in the Middle East? Prospects for peace, democracy and development’.

Beirut-based academic Rami Khouri, a guest locally of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, believes only military action can bring down Islamic State. He says mostly Arabs are drawn to it because they are dissatisfied with their social conditions. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Beirut-based academic Rami Khouri, a guest locally of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, believes only military action can bring down Islamic State. He says mostly Arabs are drawn to it because they are dissatisfied with their social conditions. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Khouri says IS has attracted mainly Arab citizens who are deeply discontented with their governments.

He says worldwide there are “different levels of interaction” with the IS though.

“Somebody can join and become a fighter or work in the bureaucracy. Somebody could also go and live there and be a baker or farmer,” says Khouri.

“There are a lot of people who look positively on IS. It is mainly for discontented Arabs. It has people from other countries, but these are very small numbers.

“And most of the people who go from overseas to live in IS are either young people who are typically not sure of what they want in life or have unhappy homes.

“They are confused about their identities. This is very typical of European countries where young Muslims feel they don’t belong.”

Khouri adds: “They have a problem in their life and they see this as an escape.”

IS has meanwhile sold itself to these people as a movement that aims to establish a version of Islam across parts of Iraq and Syria that relies on the religion’s early teachings.

Khouri argues, as have other Muslim leaders worldwide, that it is “not a real manifestation of Islam”.

“It is an extremist political movement which uses Islam. They are not a religions movement,” says Khouri.

“They are a reactionary movement to all the problems of the Arab world. And it was Arabs in Syria and Iraq mostly who created it. Later other people joined.”

Khouri says the Arab world is filled with “difficult social and political realities” from which people want to escape.

“IS for them is the immediate all-encompassing solution. If somebody goes to IS and embraces the whole philosophy, it offers them solutions,” says Khouri.

“It gives you a job, income and order where there is disorder. It gives you a purpose in life and immediate companionship. It gives you bread and electricity every day. Things you might not be getting.”

Weekend Argus has previously reported of IS propaganda methods to lure young woman with the promise of a spouse and jobs that would serve humanitarian causes.

Khouri says the promise is that people will “live in a more equitable and caring society”.

“People who go there don’t know how violent IS really is,” sayd Khouri.

When someone would discover its violent nature, Khouri says they would be told by IS of various “literal interpretations of the Qur’an to justifying their violence”.

“If you buy into the whole package then using these harsh methods, against other Muslims in most cases, then you see IS as using this hard set of actions to build a perfect Muslim society,” says Khouri.

“Therefore violence in the service of Gods’ will is seen as justified and compelling.”

Khouri adds: “The people who run IS are not learned theologians. They don’t know Islam very well. They are politicised and they use Islam.”

Gulf countries or wealthy people in these lands are apparently funding IS, according to Khouri, in a bid to hang on to power. IS is a means of squashing opposition in the Arab world, he says.

“They benefit from wealthy people or governments in Gulf states. They also have their own revenues from selling oil,” says Khouri.

“They seem to have enough money to run their state but they are getting into trouble now. They’re simply unable to keep raising the same income from selling oil.”

Khouri says military action is needed to bring them down though. He says Arab leaders are not united though and would not be able to take this step immediately.


A lawyer for the South Africans who returned earlier this month from Islamic State (IS) controlled parts of Syria says they are “normalising”.

Yousha Tayob says the families – 11 people in total – are in Gauteng and staying with relatives. They were out of the country for about five months, he said.

“It’s been a week since they are home and they are getting back into their lives. They are staying with family to regularise (sic),” said Tayob.

State security officials said the families had allegedly been part of IS, but Tayob said his clients had been working in Syria as aid workers.

State security officials interrogated them at OR Tambo International airport when they arrived back home on September 11.

“Other than the airport questioning, nobody has contacted them or me,” said Tayob.

He said he was still working on paperwork to ensure that five remaining South Africans who fled with this group return home too.


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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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