On January 29, Samahan Abdel-Aziz delivered a sermon denouncing extremist groups al-Qaeda and ISIS in the port city of Aden, Yemen. Abdel-Aziz, commonly known as Shaykh Rawi was kidnapped a day later. On January 31, he was found brutally murdered.
A respected figure in Yemen’s south, Abdel-Aziz practiced a conservative branch of Islam known as Salafism. Despite his religious conservatism, speaking out against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS is thought to be what signed his death sentence. While al-Qaeda and ISIS are opponents in many hotspots around the world, local fighters in Yemen agreed to put aside their allegiances to align against common opponents.
“In Aden, although [AQAP and ISIS] have not taken it over, they seem to roam free and seem to be able to get anybody that they want,” Nabeel Khoury, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told ThinkProgress. “[This is] the price you pay in areas where al-Qaeda and the Islamic State [ISIS] are in control.”
ISIS ransacked large regions of Syria and Iraq in summer 2014, and since then, the group has committed a spate of atrocities, both local and international. Although ISIS has killed more Muslims than any other group of people, a host of influential voices in the media and elsewhere continue to call for Muslims around the world to speak out against extremism. What such critics didn’t see is that many Muslims already have, even though in many countries, denouncing ISIS is akin to signing your death certificate. In addition, such calls assume that all Muslims are supportive of the group’s actions if they don’t speak out
Examining the conditions that led to the rise of ISIS is one thing, but demanding that Muslims living in regions under ISIS control speak out against the group is not only impetuous, but also unreasonable, according to the Atlantic Council’s Khoury.
“Civil society leaders, religious, moderate leaders, [and others] have no real defense if they speak out in areas where these organizations are abound,” Khoury explained to ThinkProgress. “It’s one thing to say if you are far away, say in Morocco or some area where the extremists are not operating, there you can have a dialogue. But in areas where these organizations are in control — say Syria and Iraq and especially people directly under their rule — that’s definitely risking your life and a very bad bet. There, they need to be defeated militarily before people can speak freely on the subject.”
ISIS has an official policy of targeting those that don’t agree with the group. In the past, ISIS murder victims have included Muslim women who refused to provide medical care to ISIS fighters, imams and Muslim civilians who failed to swear allegiance to the group, and female, Muslim doctors who protested against forced veiling, among many others.
“The Islamic State has executed Sunni clerics in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, as part of an effort to kill any religious figures who pose a threat to the group’s narrative or ideological control,” noted an intel brief from the Soufan Group, a company that provides governments with strategic security intelligence services. “Wherever the Islamic State maintains control of territory, it relentlessly targets anyone who speaks out against it, preventing organized resistance by killing credible alternative voices. The costs of speaking out against the Islamic State are often lost among foreigners who wonder why more locals do not simply oppose the group.”