Monday, March 9, 2015

ISIS Unveiled

Michael L.

{Originally posted at the Elder of Ziyon.}

In an important conversation concerning the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), between Atlantic journalist, Graeme Wood, and public intellectual, Sam Harris, we read the following exchange:
Harris: Have you watched any of the Islamic State’s execution videos?

Wood: I’ve watched many of them.

Harris: I haven’t, and I’m a little surprised by that. At one point, I think I just decided that the trade-off between their information value and emotional toxicity didn’t seem worth it. From your perspective as a journalist, what is the value in watching those videos?

Wood: I would start by describing not the value but the cost. It’s a terrible thing. I feel diminished, permanently, by having watched them.
My inclination, much like Harris', has been to avoid the more graphic material that ISIS vomits into the public sphere.

Wood argues that there is much to be learned, and I do not doubt him, but I simply have not the heart for too much of this material.  I saw one video that will stay with me for the rest of my life, however.  It showed an ISIS fighter standing in a pool of blood by the edge of cliff with a handgun.  Another man ran off camera, returned dragging a person, sometimes a child, which the first man shot directly in the head prompting the second man to throw the body off of the cliff and then run off for another victim.

I stopped watching after maybe the third or fourth heinous murder because, you can be sure, a little of this goes an awful long way.

But, however the West ends up dealing with these gentlemen, it is probably best, unfortunately, that we continue to get to know who they are and what they want.  In the very same interview or discussion entitled, The True Believers (a hat-tip to JayinPhiladelphia, by the way) they reference a VICE News piece of investigative journalism from last year entitled, The Spread of the Caliphate : The Islamic State, which draws a portrait of the organization that is consistent with what we have learned about it so far.

Let's give fifteen minutes, or so, for part one of five and see what it tells us.

Don't they look dashing?

They are, in fact, entirely brutal, although seemingly without being crude.  They are deeply religious, after all, and see themselves not only as moral, but as quintessentially moral in the eyes of Allah.  If you think that they generally feel guilty for their bloody behavior, they do not.  On the contrary, they think that YOU are highly immoral.  You, in fact, are so immoral that your average ISIS fighter would kill you as soon as look at you.

They are also, it should be noted, often very well-educated and sincere about the intensity of their religious ideology and faith.  As has been repeatedly shown, they are not motivated out of material concerns, but out of an intense religious ideology which give their lives meaning and which allows them to feel part of something both larger than themselves and historical in the making.

They tend to focus on the indoctrination of children, as perhaps we'll discuss next week, and honestly want to defeat the forces of "Rome," for hadithian reasons, in the fields outside of Dabiq in Syria.  In the cities and townships under their control the "morality police" keep the population in line through intimidation and the kinds of violence (whippings, stonings, beheadings, etc) required by al-Sharia.

isis mapThis map, directly from the film, shows the swaths of land that the Islamic State currently holds in Iraq and Syria.  They are just outside of Baghdad and control Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq.

The film, however, focuses on the Islamic State's presence in Raqqa. in northern Syria.  Here we meet now deceased Islamic State Press Officer, Abu Mosa, who took VICE News people to the front lines where ISIS was facing off against Assad's 17th Army Division.  The Fighting 17th, however, represented the last of Assad's forces in that part of the country and were run out of the area entirely, although the Syrian army gunned-down Mosa, himself.

During the fighting ISIS killed at least 50 Syrian soldiers and later posted their heads on fence posts in Raqqa in order to, apparently, encourage the ongoing cordiality of the townspeople.

Part one of the film focuses on ISIS as a successful military operation in service of the Caliphate and in service of Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the supreme leader of the organization who now formally demands the allegiance of Muslims throughout the world.

He does not get it, of course, but this does not stop him from requiring it.

The fact of the matter is that the great majority of Muslims, everywhere, want nothing to do with this guy, nor his horrendously vicious theo-fascist organization rampaging through the Middle East - perilously close to Israel, by the way - and killing people left and right.  It is not hard to understand why Barack Obama, a man with some Islamic background and family, would be protective of the small Muslim minority in the United States and seek to shield it from any association with these bloodthirsty Islamist theologians and their sadistic fighters.

Abu MosaSince 9/11, there has been particular concern, among many in government and the academe, that Americans not persecute, or retaliate against, the innocent Muslim minority in the United States for the behavior of their overseas Jihadi cousins.  Americans, much to their credit, have been gracious toward their Muslim friends and neighbors and have not blamed them for the destruction of the Twin Towers, nor the loss of 3,000 souls.

In fact, Hate Crime statistics clearly show that it is the Jewish community in the United States, not the Muslim community, that is particularly singled out for violence and abuse in proportions well above our numbers.  According to FBI Hate Crime statistics from 2013, by religion, 60.3 percent of American hate crimes were of an anti-Jewish nature, despite the fact that we only represent about 2 percent of the population, while only 13.7 percent were anti-Islamic.

Nonetheless, if this documentary is drawing an accurate picture of ISIS then, clearly, we are dealing with believers who are not only Islamic, but "very Islamic" as Graeme Wood put it in his piece for the The Atlantic, What ISIS Really Wants.   These guys are urber-Islamic-fundamentalists.

They make Evangelical Christian housewives in Tennessee look like a bunch of syphiltic Hollywood gay porn stars on the Sunset Strip.

What the Islamic State, following Mohammad, demands, not surprisingly, is submission.  They are definitely sincere and have shown themselves to be exceedingly direct in demonstrating that sincerity.  Nothing gets right to the point so much as crucifying people or burying children alive.  This will definitely tend to get the attention of others, which is very much a part of the Islamic State's modus operandi.

They honestly believe that torturing people, burning them alive, chopping off their heads and putting it on video to music is a good thing, because it is what Allah wants of them.  It is so good, in fact, that such videos serve as a recruiting tool for others, all throughout the world.  This obviously flies in the face of normative western (and Jewish) values that tend to view unnecessary cruelty as horrible, even unholy.  Nonetheless, different cultures are different and it is only western arrogance that inclines many of us to see all cultures as reasonable, as rational, and as fundamentally like our own.  Not all peoples or cultures are alike, however, and if anyone doubts the truth of this observation, I simply invite you to watch the video above.

Mosa, cradling his automatic weapon shortly before martyred in the name of Allah by Assad's forces, tells us this:
I say to America, that the Islamic Caliphate has been established and we will not stop.  Don't be cowards and attack us with drones.  Instead, send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq.  We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah over the White House.
This organization is getting quite large, now, and while it has earned our horror and disgust, it has also earned our respect in the sense that more and more westerners are coming to understand that these Jihadi enthusiasts will need to be dealt with... one way or the other.

Wood, by the way, opposes direct military intervention.  He believes that putting western troops on the ground would validate the Islamic State's narrative and, thereby, serve to recruit others.  It would in this way be counterproductive.

Harris seems a bit more open to the idea of direct, large-scale, military confrontation, although he stops short of an open declaration of support for such an effort.  Harris, like many of us, is simply weighing options in his mind and sees very little to draw comfort from.

No one - Jihadis aside - wants war and that goes double for the President of the United States.

kidisisObama - always at heart the community organizing intellectual - seems to think that the proper approach to ISIS is a good jobs program in Europe.  In fact, according to  "The White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism," one of the approaches the federal government intends to take on this problem is a "workshop with the creative arts community and community leaders in Los Angeles to develop innovative, scalable and implementable programs and tools to counter violent extremism."

A nice anti-racist mural under a highway overpass somewhere in Los Angeles should get the boys in Raqqa to turn in their arms.

Don't you think?

Finally, the meaning of the single digit salute is clear.  It refers to tawhid, the belief in the oneness of Allah.

The Umma is also one in worship of Allah through the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be unto him).  And the Caliphate is the lone, overriding political expression of Allah's will manifested on Earth.

{Next week, I suppose, we'll discuss part 2 of the VICE News documentary, which is concerned with the recruitment of children into the organization.}

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