ISIS: Not your father’s jihadists, but your medieval ancestor’s

ISIS

ISIS is not attracting jihadists who would be quietly pursuing the American dream (or their home country’s version of it) if they could only find jobs. It is not successful at recruiting killers because of social-media prowess.

ISIS is growing — as a presence, and as a threat — because it is the Branch Davidians or those original kool-aid drinkers, the Peoples Temple, on steroids.

That is one key takeaway from Graeme Wood’s deep dive into the origins and motivations of the Islamic State, or ISIS, in The Atlantic. The article is long and very much worth reading in its entirety, but this is the gist of it:

“The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

“We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as ‘Sheikh Osama,’ a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.

“Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)

“We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohammad Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.

“There is a temptation to rehearse this observation — that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise — and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.”

The challenge such a group poses is qualitatively different than the one posed by al-Qaeda (yet another reason to be worried by President Obama’s infamous dismissal of ISIS as the JV team to al-Qaeda’s varsity squad). It is striking, for instance, to read quotations in the piece by ISIS supporters who describe ISIS’s actions as “offensive jihad,” with the implication that what al-Qaeda was doing — and has been doing lately in places such as Paris and Copenhagen, perhaps to boost a profile that has been sagging with ISIS’s emergence — was merely playing defense. The religious obligations of a true caliphate, which is what ISIS considers itself, apparently include: killing apostate Muslims (which covers anyone who denies the legitimacy of the caliphate); killing or taxing and enslaving non-Muslims; denying any international border, organization or peace treaty of more than 10 years; and waging jihad to capture more territory at least once a year. Holding land and expanding its holdings are required for the caliphate’s existence, the aim of which is a showdown with “the armies of Rome.”

Wood makes the point that all of this comes off as nonsense to Westerners accustomed to dismissing such apocalyptic visions as quackery or the stuff of cults that will either wipe themselves out (Jones) or can be handled with comparatively ease (Koresh). But to Muslims whose religious beliefs include the establishment of a series of caliphs (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS claims to be the eighth of an eventual 12) leading up to the end times, these are grave matters.

That is not to say all or even most Muslims agree ISIS is a legitimate caliphate. Wood’s piece relates the thoughts of Muslim leaders who are skeptical of ISIS’s boasts. But it is to say that claims by Obama and others that ISIS is “not Islamic” in nature are missing the point. ISIS may not speak for all or even most Muslims, but it would appear it is definitely drawing on key tenets of Islam. And, the piece also notes, efforts by non-Muslims to declare ISIS out of bounds for Muslims may help, not hurt, ISIS in the eyes of potential recruits.

In short, this is a wake-up call to stop thinking about ISIS through our Western eyes and perspective, and to start understanding it on its own terms, if we are to have any way of stopping it. It is disturbing to think that, more than 13 years after 9/11, those people in our foreign-policy establishment who are droning on about jobs and hash-tags might need a magazine article to do that.

Reader Comments 0

73 comments
LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@iowahawkblog:  Clearly frustrated by lack of job opportunities and access to community college, ISIS burns 45 people alive in Iraq

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Obama once again whistling past the graveyard, with his speech today at the "Extremist" dog and pony show.  


The man lives in an alternate universe from reality.  He is not serious, it is almost like you are watching a parody skit on SNL.  Most of the leaders of the world think one thing, but he thinks differently and is positive he is right.  Only a true narcissist would value his own opinion that highly.




MarkVV
MarkVV

Those who try to divorce the Old Testament, “the first section of the Christian Bible,” from Christianity, are the proverbial ostriches with heads in sand. The analogy of the barbarism expressed there with “tenets of Islam” is not about putting them on the same level historically. There is no doubt that the version of Islam promulgated by ISIS is retrograde and has no counterpart in modern Christianity, but the analogy is valid in showing that the barbarism involved is not unique.


The question whether ISIS is or is not “Islamic,” which Wood and Kyle have made so much of, is a question about definition, and they do not have a monopoly on that. There is no doubt that ISIS basis their actions on a version of Islam. However, when most Muslim in the world disagree with ISIS, as Wood admits, what are they, not Islamic? Whose definition of what is “Islamic” should we take as valid, the one of the hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims, or the one of a tiny fraction of Muslims, who base their barbarism on the ancients tenets?

JamVet
JamVet

Lil: "That might be interesting if there were any Christian terrorists taking over huge swaths of territory in the name of their religion.

Since there aren't, it isn't."

That is correct.

Ever since we progressives and liberals effectively emasculated the KKK and other such groups in this country, murderous Christian terrorism has dropped precipitously in the past fifty years...

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Penses @JamVet

 there is NO scriptural foundation for terrorism in the New Testament.

Two things:

1. The apocalyptic yarns of The Revelation, where the oppressors finally get theirs and the good people ascend to ultimate glory, can certainly inspire the less mentally adjusted to think terrorism is justified to hasten such a desired outcome; and

2. Traditionally, Christians pretty much get to pick and choose what bits--violent and otherwise--they get to keep from the earlier Scriptures.

So yes. There's plenty of scriptural foundation to be had, and one would have to be blind not to accept it and simply deal with any flare-ups that might occur as a result. (Frankly it's not something that keeps me up nights.)

Penses
Penses

@JamVet


"...murderous Christian terrorism has dropped precipitously in the past fifty years..."


I don't know how many times I have to make this point to non-religious secularists who apparently have NO real understanding of the religious texts to which they directly or indirectly refer, but there is NO scriptural foundation for terrorism in the New Testament. There is, however, such a foundation in the Koran. Hence, someone calling himself a believer in Christ committing terrorists acts cannot, by defintion, be a "Christian". But one calling himself a believer in Mohamed and doing the same thing can plausibly be called a Muslim.


Case closed.

Penses
Penses

@Visual_Cortex


"The apocalyptic yarns of The Revelation, where the oppressors finally get theirs and the good people ascend to ultimate glory, can certainly inspire the less mentally adjusted to think terrorism is justified to hasten such a desired outcome."


You are the first I have ever heard suggest that. To claim that people twisting words to mean what was not intended proves that the words command, sanction or condone terrorism is logically fallacious.


"Traditionally, Christians pretty much get to pick and choose what bits--violent and otherwise--they get to keep from the earlier Scriptures."


No, they do not: "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.". Religious people who claim to be Christians have indeed "picked and chosen" what Scriptures to regard and which to disregard. That I will grant, because it is patently obvious. The "laws" of the Old Testament are not binding on Christians and Jews (who are still bound to obey the laws) do not follow them much at all.


Jesus told his followers before his final ascension to go and make disciples (not nominal "Christians") of all the world and, during his life on earth had asked some of the Jews "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' but don't do what I say?". And he NEVER taught anyone to murder others for any reason. Instead, he taught people to pray for their enemies and to be kind to them.


Again, just because people clearly can turn Paul's counsel to slaves in the first century into a justification for enslaving others against their will does NOT mean that the New Testament enjoins or condones the practice of slavery. And that goes for all of the scriptures on all matters.


MarkVV
MarkVV

@Penses @JamVet 


“…there is NO scriptural foundation for terrorism in the New Testament. There is, however, such a foundation in the Koran. Hence, someone calling himself a believer in Christ committing terrorists acts cannot, by defintion, be a "Christian".


Baloney! Or, more politely, a non sequitur.The absence of something in a foundation of a religion does not make someone doing that something “by definition” ineligible to be called a member of that religion. There are millions of things a Christian or Muslim or Budhist can do, which are not present in a scriptural or other foundation of those religions, and which have no effect whatsoever on them being Christians, Muslims or Budhists.

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

@JamVet That's all basically true except for the progressives and liberals.


MLK was a Con and a Christian.

lvg
lvg

Over 500 US troops are sitting in the Sinai as peace keepers with hundreds from other countries. They are surrounded by ISIL affiliated terrorists and other Jihadists that have slaughtered hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police. Egypt has move into the demililitarized Sinai with heavy armaments by agreement with Israel. Just wait until US peacekeepers get slaughtered. Will this be another Beirut???? . I doubt Obama will cut and run like Saint Ronald did.

Reporting on this unfolding confrontation is nil.

Penses
Penses

@MarkVV


"...then perhaps we might compare them with some “key tenets “ of Christianity of a similar kind from the Old Testament."


You are showing both ignorance and thoughtlessness. Judaism is based on the Old Testament and Christianity is based on the New Testament. I would be most interested to see your evidence for the latter providing scriptural justificaton for murder, rape, mutilation and so on. And, if you had ever bothered to study the former, you would know that the commands to kill others (unlike those found in the Koran) are not open-ended edicts against all "non-believers" for all time. They were, in fact, largely directed at specific groups at specific times for specific reasons (namely. great wrongdoing over centuries). As regards stoning of people for things like adultery and the practice of homosexuality or bestiality, these edicts were not directed at non-believers but Jews and aliens who lived among them.


Why liberal secularists imagine they can speak intelligently about Christianity in any context is beyond me.

Penses
Penses

@Jefferson1776


A seeming non-sequitor. The topic of my post and the post to which I responded was not "rights".

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Penses @MarkVV 

You defenders of the barbarism in your religion or the one you like are contemptible; your labeling someone you know nothing about is a good evidence of your lack of intelligence.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Truth is we should take care of Americans 1st,  health care is more important than other countries problems, and they won't even fight for themselves.  Spend the money at home.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

So, a middle Eastern war is a threat to us?  I get you are scared, but they are the JV team in terms of U.S. based attacks.  They'll be dead soon enough.  They want to die.  They'll get that opportunity soon.  How bout you get your boys on the was powers act?  Seems like Republicans are holding things up now....

ODDOWL
ODDOWL

The neo-con Republicans war hawks are talking war...  They're beating on the war drums... The Republicans have even developed a war chant;  "Boots on the ground"  "Boots on the ground"...  The Republican chicken hawks are throwing around figures like 200.000 boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria... ISIS must be stopped at any cost, trillions of dollars if necessary... The war drum beating Republicans envision taking the war to ISIS all over the middle east and Africa which would require millions of boots on the ground...   There is talk in Congress by Republicans about reinstituting the military draft...   So don't put away your camouflages just yet...    Why are we in Iraq ???   Answer; Bush-1 and Bush/Cheney...   If Americans are in Iraq and Syria, they will be attacked... If Americans get the hell out of the middle east, Americans will not be attacked...   There is a sectarian civil war going on between Sunni and Shiite Muslims because of ideological differences...   America should get the hell out of the way...    North Korea is closer than Iraq or Syria...  The hip hop Dictator in North Korea frightens me, ISIS, not so much... 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@ODDOWL And the proggies are replaying tapes of Neville Chamberlain and hoping to revive the look the other way or appeasement era of the 30's.  That period allowed Nazism to grow and expand, Jews and other minorities to be slaughtered,  and resulted in a World War.


Had we kept a residual force in Iraq, this ISIS growth might have been halted or lessened.



Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

I wonder how many people commenting here bothered to read the Atlantic article Kyle's citing. (I did, early this morning.)

I doubt many have, which is a shame--it's a lot more nuanced in its criticism of how we've handled the Daesh than, I think, Kyle might have you imagine, and gives some reasonable advice as to how we can best contain the threat, summarized here:

Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options. Neither the Kurds nor the Shia will ever subdue and control the whole Sunni heartland of Syria and Iraq—they are hated there, and have no appetite for such an adventure anyway. But they can keep the Islamic State from fulfilling its duty to expand. And with every month that it fails to expand, it resembles less the conquering state of the Prophet Muhammad than yet another Middle Eastern government failing to bring prosperity to its people.

The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest. 


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex The use of "threat" there refers to a physical threat, as in bodily harm on our own soil. On that count, I don't think anyone would dispute that al-Qaeda represents more of a threat.

As far as a threat to our interests, on the other hand, by wreaking havoc and killing on a widespread basis in a strategically important area of the world, the matter is quite different.

Also, stumbling into a least-of-all-evils plan after wasting 2-3 years playing down or misunderstanding ISIS -- which Wood also spends a good bit of space detailing -- is not exactly a blueprint to follow in the future. Nor does it suggest much success in the event we need to change tacks, if we continue to misunderstand, ignore or refuse to accept what ISIS is really all about.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kyle_Wingfield @Visual_Cortex

stumbling into a least-of-all-evils plan 

I don't expect you to have a whole lot of faith in this administration nor in its State dept. I don't think they walk on water either; but I still consider them an upgrade over what the other team would have to offer, which would surely entail the kind of Armageddon showdown outside Dabiq the Daesh seem to desperately desire as part of the prophecy.

(Not that Team Obama definitely won't be goaded into doing such a thing, but I certainly hope not.)


straker
straker

Kyle - "to have any way of stopping it"


Kyle, I think it would take about 250 to 300,000 American troops in the ISIS region fighting for at least 4 or more years for us to stop them.


Since this would involve restoring the draft, and since both you and I know this won't happen, what do you suggest we do?

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@straker

Why are you asking Kyle?

Shouldn't you be asking the people who are tasked with protecting and defending the United States of America and have not only failed miserably, but thrown away all the gains made on Our President Bush's watch while cluelessly braying about al Qaeda being dead?

Was that Nobel Peace Prize totally meaningless?

Hello?

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

@straker Any idea if it would be worth it ?  Sound expensive for the gov't they always pay too much for everything but good for a gov't parasite, you know the contractors for defense...

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Remember when ISIS was sneaking across the border from Mexico ?


Show of hands how many fell for that one ????

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

They are the JV team


Think about our predecessors who had to fight the Nazis and the Japanese empire.


How ashamed they must be of us that we basically poop our pants over a few thousand nuts out in the desert with guns.


Unfortunately Bush's boondoggle of a war will be felt a bit longer. But we don't have to put boots on the ground. 


No more America boys die because of Dubya's mistake  !!!!



n8diggidy
n8diggidy

Bush's Freedom Agenda set off the confrontational battle of ideologies that will be in a generational conflict.  The American electorate falsely believed we could take our ball and go home with the election of The Obama.  Hopefully the electorate is learning we should have maintained freedom's gains, rather than letting them slide to the fundamental transformation of Washington D.C. into Chicago, Illinois.


Can anyone tell me at this LATE date, what exactly The Obama made better in Chicago?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@n8diggidy The American electorate falsely believed we could take our ball and go home with the election of The Obama.  


No


They thought at least if we came home more wouldn't die and those in the region might actually start doing the fighting themselves.


instead of depending on us for everything. 

MarkVV
MarkVV

The main political gist of Kyle’s article appears to be the claim that ISIS “is definitely drawing on key tenets of Islam,” as opposed to the view of “Obama and others’ that ISIS in “not Islamic” in nature. To support such a claim, Kyle should identify specifically those “key tenets of Islam” (citing the exact wording); then perhaps we might compare them with some “key tenets “ of Christianity of a similar kind from the Old Testament.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@MarkVV

That might be interesting if there were any Christian terrorists taking over huge swaths of territory in the name of their religion.

Since there aren't, it isn't.

Salt-n-Light
Salt-n-Light

@MarkVV If you read the article Kyle quotes from it lays out the Islamic basis of what they are doing. Straight from the Koran and the teaching and actions of Mohammed. And it is no way analogous to Chrisitianity of similar kind in the OT if you understand the OT, the Levitical Law and the New Covenant. Educate yourself before you try to elevate Islam over Christianity.

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

Mr. Obama can't even bring himself to admit there is a problem with Islam. What, Me Worry?

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@HeadleyLamar @TaxiSmith You mean other than flying hijacked planes into buildings, attacks on our military installations and naval vessels, bombing subways, assorted assassinations, beheadings, and repeated unprovoked attacks on our allies?


I wonder what the problem could be.

idigalot
idigalot

What is the problem with Christianity? You mean other than blowing up federal office buildings and day care centers, blowing up clinics and nightclubs, aiming high-power weapons at BLM agents, killing nurses, shooting people at religious centers, and repeated unprovoked attacks on my neighbors.

I wonder what the problem could be.

Juanx
Juanx

Until Europe, Africa and Asia began and continue to take positive action to eradicate these sores from their countries America can advise and provide computerized assistance only. If the affected countries don't defend themselves we will not have American Boots on the Ground in foreign soil. Period.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

War taxes to pay is what you are advocating,  we have a shortfall that bugs the GOP (they caused it)