THE LEVANT – By Ishaan Tharoor – The forces of the Sunni extremist Islamic State now control a stretch of territory bigger than quite a few European countries, with a population of some 6 million Iraqis and Syrians living under its watch. Their sustained advance, buoyed by funds gleaned from recently captured oil fields, is a symptom of a frightening new reality in the Middle East. “The birth of the new state,” writes journalist Patrick Cockburn in the London Review of Books, “is the most radical change to the political geography of the Middle East” since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
In the crosshairs of the jihadist group are religious and ethnic minorities — Christians, Kurds, Turkmen, Yazidis — who now face a terrible battle in lands they have long called home. The Islamic State’s declaration of a Caliphate was a statement of world-historic intent and, despite its obvious delusions, laid down a challenge to all Muslims elsewhere who were now in theory subject to it.
The hubris of the extremists has angered many Muslims. In the face of the Islamic State’s onslaught, Shiites elsewhere in the world have watched as some of the holiest shrines in their brand of Islam risk coming under attack from emboldened Sunni jihadists. In recent weeks in India, which is home to some 30 million to 50 million Shiites, thousands of Shiites have reportedly signed up with a Delhi-based Shiite organization, pledging to protect the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala, cities that receive millions of Shiite pilgrims every year.
The group, Anjuman-e-Haideri, which serves as custodian to Delhi’s own “Karbala” shrine complex, said in June that it had some 25,000 Indian Shiites already signed up to volunteer their services in Iraq and aid the myriad Shiite militias already mobilized there. “We will go to Iraq come what may to defend our holy shrines, protect civilians from the [Islamic State] brutes and treat the wounded. This is purely a humanitarian effort,” one of the organization’s leaders told Al Jazeera.
Sources – Washington Post