Who is to blame for the rise of the Islamic State (IS)? The Ottoman Empire. At least, in part. It began with Turkish Muslim warriors fighting for territory in the Christian Byzantine Empire, finally overwhelming them in the Battle of Manziert in 1071. They then took on the Mongols in modern day Iran. The empire eventually covered from Algeria west to the Arabian peninsula, north to the Balkans and surrounding the Black sea. The growth of the Ottoman Empire happened the way growth of territory where people live happens the usual way. War.
Before the spread of the Ottoman Empire, the majority of Europe were Christians. What is lost to history is that most of the Arab world was too. Following the death of Christ, His apostles and disciples traveled in every direction to deliver His message. Six centuries later, what the Ottomans brought the vanquished was Islam. For 1,400 years, Christians and Muslims generally lived side by side in relative peace and the Empire ruled under Sharia, the Islamic word for “law”.
As the mid-16th century the Ottoman Empire was in decline. By the turn of the 20th century all that remained was Turkey and what then were known as Palestine, Lebanon, Hatay, Syria, Trans-Jordan and Iraq. It was also the time of internal combustion engine and the discovery of oil in the region. In 1901 Englishman William Knox D’Arcy paid £40,000 to the Shah of Tehran allowing him to drill for oil in western Persia.
With the onset of World War I, countries across Europe who got their oil from Arabia, developed concerns about potential delivery disruptions. Trade of all kinds had long been critical, and key to that with the “Orient” which dates back to the days of Marco Polo. Access to oil via the Suez Canal made it more so.
Two governments took collaborative action to ensure it. They crafted a treaty between their two nations, negotiated by Sir Mark Sykes for the United Kingdom and Frenchman Francois Georges-Picot. Completed and implemented in 1916, it was announced publicly in 1922 as Sykes-Picot.
It’s overarching purpose was divide the spoils of war. This secret pact would dismantle the remains of the Ottoman Empire who were allied with Germany once they were defeated and transfer it to Franco-British control. Part of the implementation, British intelligence sent T.E. Lawrence to Arabia to enlist Arabs in a guerrilla operation against the Ottomans which he did with great success. Lawrence knew the contents of Sykes-Picot but never disclosed it to those with which he fought.
At the conclusion of World War I, the two nations divided everything from the borders of Egypt and Iraq north to southern Turkey and divided the area into the states of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait. Everything north of the Syrian border was under the direct control or influence of France. Everything to the south went to the British. An International Zone was carved out in Palestine.
Puppet leaders of these new countries were appointed by the two nations, ostensibly bringing stability to the region. Installing puppet leaders was not uncommon for European empires. As recently as 1832 they had installed transplanted a Bavarian prince, Otto, as king of the newly reestablished Greek state.
The borders established by Sykes-Picot were drawn according to political wants, disregarding the traditional tribal regions. Iraq’s population north of Bagdhad is Sunni Muslim and Shia in the south. Kurds and Yizidis live near the northern Syrian border. Shia lived with Christians near the sea in Syria, Sunni inland. Lebanon was largely established as an enclave for Christians.
Why is this important? the Islamic State remembers. In a video released following the IS invasion of northern Iraq, the jihadi on screen said that they had crossed the line of Sykes-Picot, and they had. It was also mentioned in their video following the November 13, 2015 attack on Paris.
Sykes-Picot is the root cause of the civil war in Syria, why Iraq is nearly a failed state and why IS exists and attacking France, Britain and others. IS believes that revenge for Sykes-Picot is justification for their jihad.
On November 16, 2015, IS published a video announcing that after their Paris attacks, London and Washington DC are next.
(Updated 11/17/15 to add Ottoman Empire and links, and edit content)