Almost nobody in the Western world understands ISIS. Throughout the Middle East, ISIS is easy to understand.
ISIS – known, in turn, as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and, more recently, just Islamic State – means power. The power to murder and the power to pay. ISIS has the power to challenge the status quo. To challenge local leadership, national leadership and even world leadership. ISIS makes people act and react. And many young people want to be part of that movement. ISIS can pay their members more than they will receive anywhere else. So young people from around the globe pick up and leave their homelands to join the cause. ISIS promises to restore the glory, the honor, the pride, the power and the prestige of the great Islamic past.
How large a movement is ISIS right now? The CIA concludes that they now have as many as 31,500 fighters, up from 10,000 three months ago.
How does ISIS get the money to pay their burgeoning number of recruits? Aside from stealing $1.2 billion from the banks when they entered the city of Mosul in Iraq, ISIS has other means. ISIS makes use of a tax called a “zakat” which is, supposedly, alms for the poor – but in their case, the tax goes to salaries. Zakat is one of the pillars of Islam and is best translated as charity. ISIS goes to every store and demands the tax. They set up roadblocks on the highways and call them toll stations. They demand the zakat at gunpoint.
ISIS has much, much better funding than Al Qaeda.
ISIS also has oil. They have at least four oil fields in Iraq and Syria. Each field has 40-70 wells. The fields and wells are operated by locals who worked for the oil companies. ISIS is pumping 25,000 barrels per day. They are selling locally. They are selling at severely below market value, at cut-rates up to 75 percent off. Oil production brings in a staggering $625,000 to $1.5 million per day.
ISIS pays very well. And that, forget ideology, is the magnet that draws recruits from all over the world. There is no question that at this stage ISIS has much, much, more money and better funding than Al Qaeda.
And Al Qaeda is feeling the sting. In Algeria, the group formerly known as Al Qaeda of Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM) split away and joined ISIS. They now call themselves The Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria. The group is only another in a long line of rebel and extremist organizations abandoning their once-beloved mentors in Al Qaeda for the tantalizing force of ISIS.
Money, recruits, barbaric acts: ISIS is now the focal point of attention for the West, which only enhances its panache. That’s another reason ISIS is such an attractive place to hang your hat if you are a member of the extremist sector in the Middle East.
ISIS understands Western ideology. And it disagrees with everything we hold dear. Now the West needs to understand ISIS.