In the wake of the attacks on Paris, French President Francois Hollande used the word Daesh to refer to ISIS. The group put out a chilling video promising to cut out the tongues of those who use this word. It is a shortening of the Arabic term, al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). It apparently has a derogatory connotation. Hence the threat to tongues everywhere.
Who are these people:
We hadn’t heard of ISIS until just a very few years ago. Today they are a very real and dangerously frightening threat to the world as we know it. They are no Al Qaeda, be very clear about that. ISIS adheres to the Salafi tradition of Sunni Islam, like Al Qaeda, but the similarity ends there.
ISIS is the Caliphate with a Caliph (Holy Leader). The self declared Caliph is Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Whenever Islam has a Caliph, he is the supreme leader of all Muslims everywhere (except for the Shi’ia, the Ismailis, the Druze etc. But then the Caliphate does not recognize them as Muslims at all).
Most Sunnis, radical or moderate, don’t recognize this Caliph or his Caliphate. The last real Caliphate was held by the Ottoman Turks, though even that was contentious. According to early belief, only a Qurayshi, of the Prophet’s own tribe can ever be Caliph. That, Al Baghdadi certainly is.
In addition a Caliph must be a man of unquestionable moral purity, according to early laws. And he must have amr, authority, or a certain gravitas. Baghdadi and his followers believe he is that man. Heretofore, he shall be the Caliph. All right then.
The Caliph must by necessity enforce the Sharia. He cannot deviate from it. If he does so, he can be excommunicated. In return for his leadership, his followers pledge him ultimate allegiance, baya’a. Any or every person or nation that supports any other law, is an apostate.
The people who join ISIS are not all just psychopaths and adventurers. Though it certainly has its share of those. To survive within the strict confines of ISIS belief, the foot soldier must have a true belief in the relentless, nihilistic march to an apocalyptic end and Judgement Day. The path to said Judgement Day will be strewn with the bloody bodies of the many enemies of ISIS.
This is the key to understanding the success of ISIS recruitment efforts within a section of the disaffected, marginalized Muslims youth in European and Arab countries. In the US, where Muslims are more integrated and assimilated into the fabric of society, there is less radicalization. It also explains the returnees from ISIS paradise one hears about in countries like India. It is no Disneyland.
How are they different from Al Qaeda:
What is essential for ISIS, as the Caliphate, unlike for underground groups like Al Qaeda or any of its tributaries, is territory. There can be no Caliphate without territory. That is why Raqqa is so important. That is why it must have stung ISIS like a slap in the face when the Kurds took back Sinjar province. They cannot afford to lose territory. They must gain more territory wherever and however they can. This is the first essential.
They believe in the early forms of punishment for conquered enemies. Enslavement of women and crucifixion were never a part of Al Qaeda’s practice. They had a much more worldly goal to achieve and never got into the nitty gritty of 7th century punishments. Therefore instead of the brutal visuals of beheadings, what we saw most often in Al Qaeda’s heyday were bombings and justice (their style) delivered at the end of the barrel of a Kalashnikov.
Another key difference is the ISIS emphasis on Apocalypse. Al Qaeda never mentioned this. Elite Sunnis like Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri, the guides and leaders of the movement, did not indulge in such speculation. It was almost as if it was beneath them. But to ISIS it is a central concept of their thinking.
What do they hope to achieve:
ISIS is attempting a reformation of Islam that will take them back to the purest form of religion, Islam as it was in the glory days of the Prophet’s early territorial advances. They want a state which replicates exactly the legal and daily life of the Mecca and Medina of the 7th century.
They do cleverly and cynically use the online universe to make their plans known to people everywhere. To quote Graeme Wood from his exhaustive article in the Atlantic, entitled What ISIS Really Wants, published last week, “We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.”
Their clearest stated aim is global domination. They will stop at nothing to achieve it. It may sound like the mad ravings of a Dr. Evil style villain, but that is what they want. To be at the helm of all affairs, everywhere. This is why they have to focus on territorial expansion. They already hold sway over an area of land about the size of Austria. They have absolute power over the populations of this area, totaling about 8 million people.
Enslavement of the people they conquer is a consequence of their plan to rule the world. Countries and territories they conquer will have to learn to live by their rules. That is why they have now dropped the terms Iraq, Sham and Levant from their name, and simply call themselves Islamic State. Once the armed wars are over, the entire world, they hope, will be theirs, not just the areas their original name limited them to.
The Syrian city of Dabiq is central to the ISIS conception of the apocalypse and the ultimate reckoning. This is where they hope to draw the armies of the infidels and fight the last, great battle. They have named their online magazine Dabiq, in recognition of the battle to come. And so we await the End of Days as visualized by ISIS.
It is an ambitious and expensive course they have charted. However, funding seems to be no problem. A concentrated series of kidnappings has raised large sums. They also use the old Iraqi smuggling routes to move everything from the output of the confiscated oil fields to the antiquities they have plundered. However by far the largest sums of money seem to come from private donors in the middle east and fund raising efforts for so-called humanitarian aid.
Groups and individuals in Qatar and Kuwait have caught the eye of the US Treasury Department as possibly the biggest sources of revenue. ‘Uncommitted funding’ to Syrian aid groups has been suspect for a while. No one knows exactly who in Syria this money goes to. However, for reasons of internal politics, nothing has been done to stem the flow.
So, there we have it. In the ultimate analysis, ISIS is a Doomsday Cult with delusions of grandeur. It exists in a bubble, where everyone that does not exactly abide by its precisely enumerated and narrow belief system, is an enemy. That means just about everyone and every nation other than the Islamic State itself.
This has created an extraordinary circumstance, where nations we cannot imagine as allies, are arrayed on one side and ISIS stands solitary in its extreme and bizarre beliefs on the other. Iran and the USA are allied after decades of suspicion and saber rattling. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Emirates, Egypt and every other Islamic republic with a common penal code, are as much an enemy as France, Belgium or Germany.
How do they designate a nation/people as an enemy:
The legal thinking behind the ISIS stand is rooted in certain specific early traditions and texts of Islam. Most of the 1.7 billion Muslims in the world do not follow in absolute and exact detail the very early legal traditions of the 7th century. It is impossible, as they live in modern nations and are usually fairly well assimilated in the local populations, the US being a good case in point.
Most Islamic nations in our times have criminal codes, which are loosely the ‘law of man’. Any nation with such laws is an enemy of ISIS. This includes Saudi Arabia, which has a watered down version of Sharia criminal procedures. Yes, they do continue stonings and chopping off of thieves’ hands. But this doesn’t quite cut it with ISIS. It is not far enough. ISIS thinks Saudi Arabia does not deliver the whole package.
Next we come to the great enemy, the Shi’ia. Baghdadi has categorically stated that they, are the first enemy. They must be defeated, their lands confiscated, the men put to death and their women enslaved. Today, Shi’ia controlled Iraq and Iran are the first frontier ISIS must conquer to increase their territory and the slave population. The Shi’ia must be annihilated. Hence, the brutal attacks in Beirut.
ISIS will then move on to the next enemy, what they call al sulul, the Sunnis of Arabia who support or are part of the Saudi monarchy. The Sunnis of Arab lands have too many adherents to the ‘law of man’. This is not to be tolerated.
And then they come to the lands of the infidels, which is all the rest of us. There will be no quarter given, no mercy shown. Canons of ISIS still use medieval terms like Crusaders to depict the west. We will destroy your Rome, they claim. Rome today probably means the alliances of the west.
What we need to understand to contain and destroy the ISIS threat:
For too long now the rest of the world has gotten it all wrong about ISIS. First we thought they were Al Qaeda Lite. And proceeded to deal with them accordingly.
After the Paris bombings, there have been attempted shamings of Muslims everywhere. We need to understand that to ISIS eyes, these are not even real Muslims, if they live within the confines of the laws of any state, be it Indonesia or Turkey, India or the USA. They are already the enemy. Why are we, educated, 21st century citizens of the free world, adding to this? Did we shame Catholics worldwide when the IRA was carrying out its bombing campaign in the last century? Or did we hold all Christians responsible for the atrocities of the Nazi regime? Stop shaming all Muslims. They feel just as bad as anyone else. And they are considered the enemy just as much as we are.
The long column of Syrian refugees in desperate exodus are another self styled feather in the cap for ISIS. The world must, as both Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama have both pointed out in recent days, reach out with kindness and acceptance to the fleeing thousands. These are the first victims of ISIS intolerance and terror tactics. ISIS is who they are fleeing from. Why is this so hard to understand?
Let us understand, all of us, the genesis of this reprehensible beast of hatred and destruction. ISIS evolved like a venomous serpent in the dangerous vacuum created by George W. Bush’s misadventures in Iraq. The dissolution of Saddam Hussein’s huge standing army, not only left Iraq unable to protect itself, but also fueled the great disaffection that gave ISIS its early recruits.
The warmongering has already begun in the US. Putin clearly wants to send them to meet their Maker, in his own words. Governments in the US and Russia and the West as a whole, should learn to stay their hand, desist from the temptation to create more such vacuums for terror groups to evolve. The question is, can the west and its middle eastern allies really contain the ISIS threat, destroying it in dribs and drabs, as they have been attempting so far?
On the other hand, it seems war is inevitable. Perhaps the only way to stop the serpent of ISIS may be all-out war. It should give world leaders pause though, that, this is exactly what ISIS wants. Every move ISIS makes, when it strikes soft targets in Paris or Beirut or anywhere else, they are showing their driving need for all-out war. They are trying to draw the armies of their enemies into the mother of all battles in Dabiq, where their vision of End of Days will be enacted.