Last Wednesday, President Obama announced his new “strategy” for dealing with the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
For the past year, ISIS has been cutting a swath of destruction through eastern Syria and northern Iraq, pausing only to cut the heads off the occasional Western journalist. The group’s stated purpose is to establish an old-fashioned “caliphate” (Islamic empire) throughout the entire Middle East, sweeping away all the nasty trappings of the Information Age, the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment and the Renaissance so as to return all of Arabia to those Wonder Years of 700-800 A.D.
What distinguishes ISIS from their sister terror group, al Qaeda, is that ISIS has taken on the trappings of an actual state, including having a functioning bureaucracy. While this may strike some as unusually ambitious — if not premature — there are precedents for such reverse Hulk-like transformations. In fact, the last 200 years is rife with examples of terrorist groups that have gone legit, their victories as violent outlaw organizations forcing them to take on the more difficult, and often mundane, responsibilities of actual government.
As we wait for the Hellfire missiles to rain blazing death upon the West’s enemies de jour, here’s a Friday Fun Facts look at 10 terror groups that achieved political legitimacy.
1. Irgun and Hagganah. These were the largest of the Zionist militias that attacked Palestinian Arab and then British targets during the first half of the 20th century. Irgun’s most famous attack was arguably the 1946 bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel — then the headquarters of occupying British military and civilization forces in Palestine –in which 91 people died. When the State of Israel was founded in 1948, many former Irgun and Hagganah leaders — men who had previously held the status of wanted criminals — assumed key positions in the new government.
2. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Israel’s establishment led to the formation of numerous pro-Arab terror groups that were determined to destroy the fledgling state from within. In 1964, many of these groups were brought together under the umbrella of the PLO and its charismatic leader, Yassar Arafat, who had formed the paramilitary Fatah party in 1959. In the decades that followed, the PLO and its component groups were implicated in dozens of bombings and suicide attacks against Israeli and Western targets. The Oslo Accords of 1993 established self-rule for the Palestinians in portions of the West Bank and Gaza, and it was the PLO that became their primary civilian authority.
3. Viet Minh. Formed in 1941, the Viet Minh was a “national liberation” organization committed first to driving the Japanese and, after World War II, the French out of Indochina. During WWII, the terror group received significant funding from the United States as well as the Soviet Union and China. After WWII, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, the group spent 10 years blasting away at the colonial government until the French finally said “C’est la guerre” and “au revoir.” Seeing that the newly liberated Vietnam was about to go Communist (D’oh!), the U.S. arranged for the country to be split in half, with Minh given control of the North and more Western-friendly, pro-capitalist puppets having reign over the South. That arrangement lasted about 20 years, give or take about $950 billion (in 2011 dollars) and a few hundred thousand Vietnamese and American lives.
4. The Irish Republican Army (IRA). Irish Catholics have been fighting English Protestants for more than a century, but it was in the 1970s that the IRA gained notoriety for its bombing of civilian targets in both Northern Ireland and Britain. In the late 1980s, a military stalemate convinced Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, to enter secrets talks with the British, a parlay that eventually led to a cease-fire. Since then, Sinn Fein, led by Gerry Adams, has grown to become the second largest political party in Northern Ireland and the IRA to be removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. (The IRA is not to be confused with the upstart “Real IRA,” which is still on the terror list.)
5. African National Congress (ANC). In 1961, after nearly a half-century of practicing non-violence, the African National Congress, a group dedicated to overthrowing the white minority government of South Africa, formed a military wing and begin attacking government administrative and military targets throughout the country. ANC leader Nelson Mandela was immediately thrown into prison where he languished until 1990. In 1994, under intense international pressure, South Africa held its first universal democratic election, and the ANC was swept into power with a huge majority, Mandela being elected the country’s first post-apartheid president.
6. Kosovo Liberation Army. The enemy of my enemy is the friend of my enemy’s friend, or something like that. In any case, the KLA was formed in the 1990s to protect ethnic Albanians from “ethnic cleansing” then underway by the Serbs. First branded a terrorist organization by the Clinton Administration, the KLA then became an American ally during NATO’s war against the Serbian forces of Slobodan Milosevic in 1998-1999. Its military objectives achieved, the KLA morphed into the more benign Kosovo Protection Corps, which now works in NATO and has major political influence in the province.
7. Hezbollah. Back to the Middle East! The self proclaimed “Party of God” is perhaps most famous for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in which 258 Americans were killed. (But what about Benghazi!) Since then, the group has gained significant political influence in Lebanon, today occupying 14 of 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament. If it’s any consolation, that’s down from 23 seats about 10 years ago.
8. The Muslim Brotherhood. Still in the Middle East. Founded in 1928, the group has as its original slogan, “Believers are but brothers,” but subsequently expanded it to, “Allah is our objective; the Qur’an is the Constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish.” Because that’s so much catchier. Determined to establish a government ruled by Islamic law in Egypt, by force is necessary, the group was branded a terrorist organization in the 1950s. The Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 brought down the government of long-time Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarkah and Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi was elected that country’s president in 2012. Morsi’s reign lasted all of one year, the Egyptian military staging a counter-coup in 2013 and once again banning the organization.
9. Hamas. Still in the f@$king Middle East. This off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1987 with the express purpose of obliterating the State of Israel and establishing a fundamentalist Islamic Palestinian state in its place. Favoring suicide bombings, cross-border tunnels, human shields and rocket attacks as well as well-funded parliamentary candidates, Hamas now dominates the Palestinian government and virtually controls the entire Gaza Strip. In Arabic “hamas” means “enthusiasm,” which is not to be confused with “hummus,” a delicious spread made from mashed chick peas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt.
10. The Taliban. I guess we’re stuck in the Middle East. Perhaps forever. Founded in 1994, the Taliban is yet another fundamentalist Islamic terror group, this one based in Afghanistan. An outgrowth of the mujaheddin guerrilla forces who fought the Soviets during the 1980s (and who were again heavily funded by the U.S. We have to stop doing that.), the Taliban fought its way to power in 1996, using its brutal authority to close schools, oppress women, shoot holes in centuries old Buddhist statues, and play host to al Qaeda terrorist training camps. The Taliban was driven from power by Allied forces in late 2001, but have remained an increasing powerful presence throughout any part of the country that isn’t named Kabul.
Happy Friday…and look out for Hellfire missiles.