Today’s article will be on the Islamic State. It is a part 2 of a previous article, entitled “The Khilifa” on my facebook/blog. It can be read on its own, but I will try not to repeat too much of what was done before.
I have done some very extensive research for this article; I have read as much of the Islamic State’s own literature published in English as I can find, and viewed their videos as well. (See all the work I do for you people while you are sleeping or watching sports.) The purpose of this article is to help you understand their motivations, origins, why they are successful, and clear up misconceptions in the media.
I will use comparisons for ease of understanding. I will try to avoid the usual Nazi comparisons, except where truly applicable. The Nazis have become such an overused cliché that they have taken on a cartoon like nature. I may surprise you by referencing the Confederate States of America, however.
Firstly, their name is the Islamic State, الدولة الإسلامية, ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah. Not ISIS or ISIL. They changed their name on June 29, 2014. I have pointed this out to news outlets, who have either said that they don’t care or that it might confuse their audience.
They were originally founded as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad or جماعة التوحيد والجهاد, Organization of Monotheism and Jihad, in Jordan in 1999. Even from its origins, it was an extremist Sunni group wanting ultimately to unite all Muslims in a worldwide caliphate.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq was a god send to them, and they joined scores of other groups fighting the invaders. At various times in their history they have been funded by Osama bin Laden and Saudi Arabia. Here is your first Nazi reference. Like the Nazi Party in Germany at first, they were considered a fringe group who would never amount to anything, but useful to those who paid their bills and gave them supplies. Membership grew exponentially.
In 2004 they were strong enough to become Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين Organization of Jihad’s Base in Mesopotamia, or as we called them al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). They were not a part of al-Qaeda, just allied to it, so this was a purposeful misnaming on our part. On October 13, 2006 they declared an Islamic state in Iraq, but nobody was paying attention.
They were now strong enough to start funding other groups, and eventually broke with al-Qaeda as the latter group waned in power throughout the world.
The question always comes up, “Are they true Muslims?” Figures from President Obama to Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, have said they are not. This is purely for political reasons. The correct answer is, they are Muslims, but not for the reason you might be thinking. They are Muslims the same way that David Koresh and Charles Manson were Christians; because they believe they are. I often hear “This person/group is not really part of Group X because they do not meet my definition of Group X.” This is called a “No True Scotsman fallacy” and unless Group X has given you the authority to say who is in and out, you are wrong. There are 40,000+ denominations of Christianity who all know they are the only correct one, and dozens in Islam. Opinion is most definitely divided.
People also have very short memories. They act like Fundamentalist Islamic terrorism was the only such thing that ever occurred. They forget about the terrorism of the 1950s through the 1980s which rocked Europe. Right wing and Left wing groups fought it out in the streets, and hijackings, bombings, kneecappings, and kidnappings were common. One time, terrorists blew up a train platform to kill one man! “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland saw whole neighborhoods go up in flames for being the wrong type of Christians. The Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda went on for decades long crusade murdering, raping, enslaving all in the name of Jesus. In Bosnia, the world watched as Catholic Croatians and Orthodox Serbians butchered Bosnians (Muslim and otherwise) for years before attempting to do anything. In Rwanda, the Roman Catholic Church preached murder from their pulpits, hiding people in their churches and then reporting their location to the death squads, coordinating the entire horror over their church owned radio stations. The list of examples is too long to fully include here.
During periods of upheaval, it is not uncommon for new nations to take advantage of the chaos and arise. Modern examples abound, but review the Napoleonic Wars, WWI, and WWII for numerous examples. Most fail in the end, while others survive and thrive.
Islamic State is led by Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry, who now calls himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This new name, Abu Bakr, is deliberate because the first caliph was Abu Bakr, the father-in-law of the prophet Muhammad. So many legends have grown up around this man that it is impossible to give an accurate portrayal of his background. What can be said is that he was detained in Camp Bucca detention center in 2004, where he was regarded as a model prisoner. The Americans allowed him to travel around and preach at other facilities, which he used to recruit new followers. This is another example of why it is critical that the US employ persons who can speak the languages of our opponents, as al-Badry did this under noses of his American captors, knowing full well that they understood nothing that he said.
I do want to take a moment to mention US attempts to kill enemy leaders. This is not some kind of movie/comic book conflict. Killing leaders is good, but will not force Islamic State to fall apart. It failed with al-Queda, as it so often does in real life. Remember, the assassins who tried to kill Hitler said themselves that it would not achieve anything without overthrowing his government as well.
The true villain in the Islamic State’s version of history is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the WWI hero and founder of the modern Turkish Republic. He stood against fundamentalism and abolished the original caliphate on March 3, 1924.
Islamic State is most definitely a religious organization, using its own interpretation of Sharia Law. At the same time, they are smart enough to allow women to fight (something al-Queda did not do for some time) and to police themselves with their own versions of Islamic police. Women often played vital roles in the various wars of liberation in Islamic countries, spying, delivering messages and supplies, and remarkably as bombers; mostly because the foreign invaders saw them only as part of the background.
Many states are, or have been, officially religious states. The Islamic Republic of Iran and Vatican City come easily to mind. However, Great Britain is also officially a religious state, and church service is a part of public education. The Confederate States of America was an officially Christian country. The preamble to their constitution stated “We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America. ” Their official motto was Deo Vindice , “God, our vindicator.” Confederate soldiers were well documented for their religious devotion, and Lincoln once worried the Confederates were “out praying” his side! Nazi soldiers went into battle with “Gott mitt Uns” on their belt buckles; “God with Us.” Religious vindication fills Hitler’s book and speeches, one swore to be a Christian in Nazi oaths, and the war in Russia was seen as a religious crusade against atheism.
Even the invasion of Iraq had religious significance for the top US leadership. President Bush tried to gain French support by invoking fulfillment of biblical prophecy as a reason to join. (President Chiac was so confused, he had to contact biblical scholars to understand what Bush meant). General Boykin, later in charge of the hunt for Bin Laden, once said that he saw the face of the devil in aerial photographs of Somalia. His staff stated that he so confused Bin Laden and the devil that his efforts to search for him failed. All over America, preachers said that the war was the proof of the hoped for Apocalypse, while others said that finally the land of Abraham would be returned to the arms of Christendom. One of the main reasons why the US had no post invasion plan for Iraq was that so many of our leaders were convinced that Jesus would come, they would be Raptured, and therefore there was no need for a plan.
The Islamic State is in good company. They too, are hoping that Jesus will come. If you have read my previous posts, you know that all Muslims believe in Jesus and that he shall return, as a matter of faith. Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus son of Mary) (PBUH), Messenger of God and al-Msih (the Messiah), will return in glory in the Day of Judgment. He will help the Mahdi, the guided redeemer of Islam, to defeat the forces of evil and bring about a new age. Sound familiar?
This is why Islamic State uses the Black Standard as their symbol. It is said that Muhammad used black standards and that in the time of the Mahdi there shall be black standards. The unofficial color of Islam is Green; it represents the green vegetation that means life in the open desert.
The Islamic State is trying to get the West to invade again on purpose. They think that if it happens, the Mahdi will be revealed, Jesus will come, and the world will see the truth of Islam. This is why defeating them in combat will not end them as an idea. They will simply declare that it was not the right time, and come back stronger in the future.
Until the Mahdi and Isa come, they will continue to build their earthly state. The media likes to call them the “self-declared” or “unrecognized” Islamic State, and that it is no state at all. This is untrue. They are a state, with laws, traffic tickets, and taxes. All revolutionary states are unrecognized at first. Revolutionary America was considered just a rebellious part of England until recognized by Morocco and the Netherlands, and would still have been only a rebel province if they had lost. The Confederate States of America was recognized by no state in the world (except a tiny one in Germany which only recognized Texas), and yet history treats them as a failed nation.
Although they are strict, Islamic State gains support because they bring order to their regions. The Taliban was hailed as saving Afghanistan by many nations. By opposing all Muslim governments, they gain support of the common people frustrated by the failures of the Islamic Spring. They insist on no alliances, and all governments must become part of them, just as the Nazis refused coalitions when they were a minority party, stating that other parties must join them as National Socialists.
Success breeds confidence, and they have gained tens of thousands of fighters, along with the quiet support of millions. They invoke the Crusades in their literature, a time when Fundamentalist Islam defeated other Western invaders. Like many such movements, they recall the “good old days”, and it works. They get quiet support from a number of quarters, all using the State for their own purposes. The aerial attacks actually strengthen their support, as it is seen by millions as a cowardly way to fight.
As you have learned, things are more complicated then portrayed. Military defeat will only be considered a temporary setback. After all, there are still lots people hoping to reestablish the Confederacy or the Third Reich today, even after 150 or 70 years. Islamic State will be no different.
Updated August 4, 2016. The Islamic State has been meeting greater resistance. As often happens to new emerging states, their opponents have started to work together, seeing the Islamic State as a mutual threat. At the same time, the Kurdish people are starting on their own nation, again using the conflict against Islamic State and in Syria to grow.
Update June 6, 2017 The Islamic State is losing its territorial acquisitions, and will become like Al-Qeda, restricted to terrorism and only holding territory where central authority is weak.
As always, the cycle repeats itself.