Representatives from 26 countries attended a conference in Paris on the 15th of September 2014. Diplomats from the UN, Russia, China, the USA, France, Germany, Canada, Britain and the Arab world attended. At the conclusion of the conference a statement was issued that condemned the Islamic State and ‘showed support’ for the newly elected government of Iraq.
Eight days later, on the 23rd of September, a coalition comprising the USA, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, The United Arab Emirates and Qatar began an assault on Islamic State (IS) positions in Syria. They had notified the tyrant Bashar al-Assad of their intentions before commencement of operations but only because they did not want Assad’s forces shooting down the coalitions airplanes.
A couple of observations then:
ISIS is the unintentional progeny of Sunni extremism and yet they are also the predictable consequence of uncritical Muslim thought throughout Muslim history. The vision of a Global Caliphate is the cornerstone of this religious thinking.
The debate in Muslim history has always centered round the methodology of achieving a global caliphate (an empire ruled exclusively by and for the Muslim faithful). Accord has taken direction from military conquest; in modern times by creeping migration and incremental acceleration of demands for internal self-determination; and by hostile international diplomatic posturing. It is inevitable that today it is being attempted by a combination of all three.
Islamist movements never saw themselves as anything but transnational. They arose according to the contemporary ideological environment and if not checked, did not remain isolated to one geographical region. Fabulous economic wealth helped to propel the extremist ideology of the Islamic Levant onto a greater world stage but militancy was always present even when unable to express itself openly.
Charles Allen described one particular sect, the Wahhabis, as “God’s Terrorists.” They arose in Saudi Arabia in the 18th Century and are now concentrated in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE. Wahhabis represent the governing aristocracy and administration of Saudi Arabia and have therefore provided the principle funding for a ruthless ultra-conservative version of Islam via its worldwide network of schools and mosques. And Qatar is the world’s wealthiest country (per capita). It also, has helped to spread the chaos – by providing much of the funding for the HAMAS movement. Moreover, it has funded the more extreme Islamist al Qaeda linked factions that oppose the Shiite regime in Syria.
A couple of years ago a scandal erupted in Britain when a newspaper investigation revealed a Saudi funded private school network that provided textbooks which taught children the ‘proper’ way to cut off the right hand and left foot of thieves. Exhortations to remain separate rather than to integrate into British society were part of the school ethos. Some people will point out that Western foundations spread the ideals of democracy, equality and human rights in overseas aid programs, and they object to this teaching because it is a foreign, and to them, an alien and unwelcome implant. This then, is one of the arguments liberals use for excusing schools that teach their children how to commit torture and mutilation, as punishment, in the name of their faith. While I disagree with this argument for the simple reason that a democracy is unlikely to kill those with whom it disagrees, the speed with which we try to excuse the behavior of Islamic organizations preaching the antithesis of our democratic system is far more worrying.
Extremism taught as Normal Behavior
Salafism follows the literal traditional texts of the first three generations of the founders of the 7th Century Islamic faith.
Wahhabis are also referred to as Salafis (even as many view the former as no more than a subset of the latter). Both are universally recognized as being more extreme than the adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a similar ideology but is less inclined to maintain the strict defining code of Salafism.
ISIS is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. ISIL is the same movement but stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The Levant defines the territorial ambitions of IS in far more grandiose terms unless both Iraq and Syria are viewed through ‘secular’ Ba’athist imperialist ambitions. We may choose to place a Salafi label on them but whatever label we select to assign to them, the grisly and barbaric behavior of IS (the Islamic State) represents the logical consequence of the ideas behind Islamic purity.
The estimated 31,000 jihadis fighting for IS are not going to be cowered by a US led coalition of authoritarian Muslim regimes. With ideological sympathy from amongst the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis they will disperse when attacked and hide amongst their coreligionists across the Arab and greater Muslim world.
In order to permanently degrade ISIL and prevent it from rising again we have to first accept that their genocidal theology and as a consequence, their abhorrent methodology will find resonance amongst many Muslims in every society. Until we accept this alarming fact we will not seriously approach the subject of how to initially a) contain this phenomenon and b) how to ultimately destroy it.
This is Part 1 of a 3 Part series.