The Islamic State (ISIS) is in sharp decline, but there are important lessons and threats in its course. This applies to the four countries of Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, which form a microcosm of the identity, trajectory and changing assets of ISIS. These countries have two undesirable claims that they are famous: as a significant group of foreign ISIS fighters and, in the case of Libya, as the site of the first successful conquest of territory by ISIS outside Iraq and Syria.
Tunisia is as well known for its relatively successful democratic transition as for the fact that it has the highest per capita quota of people who have joined IS to fight outside their country. This dubious distinction has made head scratching as ISIS has less chance of recruiting foreign fighters in neighboring countries. As the International Crisis Group’s report on ISIS, Exploiting Disorder, points out, the reasons for ISIS’s success in some areas and the failure in others contradict generic explanations.
‘Jihadist’ is used in this report to refer to movements such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, and their affiliates (see International Crisis Group, 2016: 2). Most jihadists support Salafi jihadism, a doctrine that rejects the nation state as an affront to the sovereignty of God, considers the rulers of states throughout the Muslim world apostate, and seeks a purely Islamic caliphate government through revolutionary violence. Militants refer to themselves as juwae or fighters, a word that implies the concept of jihad. ISIS and al-Qaeda have sometimes managed to unite with nationalist armed groups pursuing local agendas and exploited conflicts for their own purposes, even within the borders of capable states.
ISIS could conquer territories in Iraq and Syria and, to a lesser extent, other parts of the Muslim world, mainly thanks to the exploitation of war and chaos. But the success of attracting and inspiring supporters from Europe and other places that are neither ungoverned nor chaotic is based on very different and locally specific conditions.
On the other hand, in a study by Frédéric Volpi and Ewan Stein, the inconsistency between the Egyptian and Tunisian brotherhoods was underlined by comparing the different Islamic groups in the post-Arab spring landscape. They argue that the results of the groups are due to ‘the choices made during the aftermath of the uprisings’ and ‘longer term path dependencies’ (see Volpi and Stein, 2015: 285). In their opinion, Ennahda may have played a stabilizing role in Tunisia and contributed to the strengthening of democracy after the revolution. In contrast, such words can not be said by the Egyptian Brotherhood, as their actions together with those of the military and former government members are routine the multi-party and electoral policies prevented (see Volpi and Stein, 2015: 286).
Nadje al Ali addresses the question of how feminism should look at sexual violence and ISIS. She asks why there is suddenly a focus on sexual violence when it is done by the IS (see Al-Ali, 2018: 1). These two questions caught my attention. It is equally relevant in response to articles that continue to call for ‘sexual liberation’ in the Middle East without contextualizing and historicizing sexual violence. The idea that women in the Third World must consciously fight on two fronts is widely recognized. The idea is that on the one hand there is a fight against patriarchy, which is often considered ‘local’. On the other hand, there is imperialism and racism – the most visible form in our present moment is Islamophobia – which is understood as coming from the construction of the Western Empire.
These two struggles have positioned women as vulnerable to various forms of oppression and constant navigation in various structures. I read Al Alia’s concern not to emphasize the neo-colonial power or the International too much at the expense of the citizen. I found that feminists positioned in the West do not pay enough attention to local forms of patriarchy. I wanted to testify that although there are several layers in history, these layers are not easy-to-divide causes or ways of understanding gender relations; On the contrary, they show exactly how race, gender, class and other social categories constitute each other and thus establish gender relations. In other words, while we seem to create a split between international power structures and national power structures, I wonder if this has always been so.
However, these are always contextualized – they are always to be understood as the result of processes that are neither national nor international. It’s more complex than that – it’s about the dialectics between the two. In a way, I think Nadje al Ali brilliantly answers her own question by pointing out that understanding sexual violence in the Middle East always requires a contextualization and historicization of the event. In this sense, it is not about obsessively focusing on sex or sexual violence; Nor is it about ignoring the fact that there is sexual violence and sex in the Middle East. It’s about talking about it differently – and maybe we have to look at the feminists of the past.