ISIS: The Widening Gyre
Relatively close together in time, individuals claiming to be related to the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or Daesh in Arabic) have carried out terrorist attacks in Lebanon, France and the US and blown up a Russian plane with tourists coming from vacations in Egypt. It is difficult to know if there is some sort of ‘central command’ to the ISIS which plans and orders such attacks or if people like to join a ‘winning team’ and thus individuals acting on their own claim to be acting for the ISIS. What is sure is that an increasing number of areas are being impacted by the Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Kurds conflict. An increasing number of states are participating in air attacks on positions in Syria and Iraq, and armed groups such as Boko Haram (in north-east Nigeria) and groups in Libya and elsewhere claim to be part of the ISIS network. While a good number of ISIS fighters “ all numbers are unverifiable estimates “ have been killed in Syria and Iraq, there is a constant flow of recruits to the ISIS from the Middle East, from Muslim areas of Russia, from Western Europe and perhaps from elsewhere as well.
The terrorist attacks of 13 November 2015 in Paris have led to the proclamation of a ‘state of emergency’, giving more power to the police and allowing the military to be deployed in any part of the country. There are increased discussions among the representatives of concerned states “ led by Russia and the US – on possible negotiations in the Syria-Iraq conflicts, but real good-faith negotiations among Syrians and Iraqis are uncertain at this moment.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer,
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
—William Butler Yeats
The ISIS gyre began with a relatively narrow gyre in which energy began turning evermore intensely but in a narrow area of Iraq and then Syria. Now, the widening gyre symbolises the increasingly wide areas involved and the greater number of countries involved.
The symbol of the widening gyre used by Yeats in his poem ‘The Second Coming’ is more fully explained in his prose work A Vision. A gyre is a spiral figure along which energy “ what Yeats calls ‘will’ and ‘creative mind’ “ flows in a slow and controlled movement from one plane to another. In India, a gyre is often called the Vishnu chakra; one finds the same image used by Sufi teachers in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.1
What some have called the ‘downward spiral’ of ISIS politics “ the increased violence and the use of terror tactics in the larger swathes of the countryside outside the control of the central governments of Syria and Iraq “ is too simple an image and provides no hints for policy positions. The downward spiral image does not indicate that energy can flow in a downward direction and in an upward direction, simultaneously. It is the widening aspect of the gyre that is most important as it underlies the increasing links of the ISIS to Boko Haram (in north-east Nigeria), to control of areas in Libya and to terrorist attacks in France and the US.
Symbols are important for political analysis for they carry a plenitude of associations. A ‘quagmire’ “ an unstable swamp “ became the repeatedly used image of the US conflict in Vietnam “ an unmoving stalemate in which people were increasingly bogged down in mud. The only policy proposition that could arise from the image was to get out of the swamp, which the US forces did by 1975.
The ISIS gyre began with a relatively narrow gyre in which energy began turning evermore intensely but in a narrow area of Iraq and then Syria. Now, the widening gyre symbolises the increasingly wide areas involved and the greater number of countries involved. There is the entry on the scene of the ‘Great Powers’ – the US, Russia, France and England – and the middle-level powers of Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia and increasingly Germany and thus the NATO alliance.
Attitudes in western Europe and the US are becoming increasingly anti-Muslim. Some people view all refugees as potential ISIS terrorists.
In one sense, some of the energy of the ISIS gyre is moving upward. The conflicts are focusing attention at high levels in major countries, while the conflicts in Yemen have largely slipped out of view, except for the people suffering directly. The possibility of ISIS-related groups taking control of part of the coast of Libya, thus facilitating the flow of migrants to Western Europe, has not escaped notice in the European Union (EU). The response has been to increase the number of EU coastguard boats with a wide mandate for action. The massive flow of refugees from Iraq and Syria, along with ‘economic refugees’ from Africa and elsewhere, to Western Europe has highlighted the weaknesses of the EU administration and that of the member states to reach common policies. Nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in Western Europe, dealing with the care and settlement of refugees and migrants, have not been able to cope with the large number of people involved. There are currently EU efforts to have neighbouring states to Syria-Iraq “ Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan “ keep more of the refugees there. However, the three states can hardly deal with the current number and hope that the refugees will go elsewhere as quickly as possible.
The downward energy of the ISIS gyre is easily visible. More bombing means more deaths. Winter is setting in, and refugees suffer from the cold. Attitudes in western Europe and the US are becoming increasingly anti-Muslim. Some people view all refugees as potential ISIS terrorists. Many government leaders have to take such narrow and hateful attitudes into consideration as there will be elections for president in both France and the US. Political manoeuvring has already started. The term of office of the UN secretary general is also coming to an end. Enlightened political leadership and a will for good-faith negotiations are in short supply. Yet, there may still be possibilities that in the face of the dangers, a real conflict-resolution centre will be created and can hold.
Notes and References
- Harivanshrai Bachchan. W. B. Yeats and Occultism: A Study of His Works in Relation to Indian Lore, the Cabbala, Swedenborg, Boehme and Theosophy. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1965.