For those who have been joining ISIS, and we know many have done so from nearly every part of the world, the driving force is nothing but the lack of leadership in the Islamic world.  

Ambiguity shrouds much of what has been said about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Right-leaning writers have termed it a US supported western agenda designed to annihilate the Muslims and the Middle East, the seat of Islamic civilization. Others blamed its rise on the skewed policies in Syria of the US and its allies from both the Middle East and Europe. To a few, it is the call of Allah to finally avenge the non-Muslims who had perpetrated heinous crimes against the Muslims in Palestine and other parts of the world.

The favorable treatment meted out to Israel has led to most of the violent adventures in the Middle East by the non-state actors. The Palestinians have been the target of Israel’s aggression without eliciting any response from the international community. One strike from Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based militant group that defies Israel's rule with a support from Syria and Iran, triggers an intense response from Tel Aviv that would kill hundreds of innocent women children and men in Gaza. Today Israel enjoys the status of the strongest military power in the Middle East. Nuclear weapons and superior conventional military force give Israel arbitrary power in the region that no one possesses. Almost all of the Arab countries have now signed peace treaties with Tel Aviv. 

Every state in the Middle East is looking for its advantage without providing support to one another against the common conspirator or aggressor. The result is that in spite of substantial military buildup, the region is busting at its seams because of infightings.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Institute, the Middle Eastern countries are increasing their military expenditure on an annual basis. Among the top ten countries spending highest on weapons, 8 belong to the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia spent 80.8 billion in 2014 compared to 62.8 billion in 2013 – a 17 percent increase. Analysts attribute this rise to the growing conflict and instability across the region and its surrounding countries. 

The radical Islamist groups’ resistance is not only against the US-led western intervention in the Middle East or Israel’s aggression, they have on their target the Arab regimes as well. These regimes either have joined hands with the US to mow down insurgencies rising against the latter or have sought US intervention to clamp down homegrown insurgencies as it happened in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Osama bin Laden moved into Sudan or Afghanistan to build a force against Saudi Arabia, which had provided military support to the US and its allies during the Gulf War. He and other radicals have used violence as a motivational tool to overcome any military disadvantage, to overthrow regimes, destroy Israel, even to defeat the US.  Osama had inadvertently taken up the leadership role. It is the same story today, with a new leader named Baghdadi, reining the empty throne of Islamic leadership. 

The irony is that while Europe has opened its arms to the fleeing refugees from Syria, the Muslim world within the Middle East has turned its eyes away from the crisis. In fact for the Saudis, defeating Shiite Iran and its influence in Yemen and elsewhere is more important. The recent initiative by Saudi Arabia to make the 34-nation Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism is just another attempt to prevent Iran’s growing influence in the region in the face of US’s change of heart towards Iran.

Another coalition was not needed to address the crisis in the Middle East. The challenge was to open up communication on issues besetting the Muslim world, among the stakeholders, so that a shared vision and solution could be arrived at for reformation. The military alliance is not an answer. There has been need for an ideological leadership that could see beyond the military paradigm to restore the dysfunctional thoughts, ideas, and judgments plaguing the Muslims.

ISIS could be the violent face of Islam; they might be painting the worst image of Muslim community; however, they provide the galvanizing force, the focus to attract large swathes of people to its ranks. No one could support ISIS, but its presence and growing influence shows that the Muslims community’s thirst for a unifying leadership has parched it to the extent that it has lost the sense of right and wrong. We need to wake up to this rising demand or this annihilation would usurp the Muslims of their faith, ideology, and perhaps existence.