A STATE OF CONFUSION
yet the 'Islamic State'
well throws down the gauntlet
Saturday, August 23, 2014
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
The State as a person of International Law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) a capacity to enter into relations with other States.--
at the end of this past June, ISIS/ISIL declared itself both the leadership cadre of, and the armed force for, a new "Caliphate" to be known, simply, as 'the Islamic State': I suppose, then, that their new 'Caliphate' just IS!
If nothing else, this Islamic State potentially provides a new geographical platform for training and sending abroad terrorists hell-bent on attacking those outside either its protection or politicoreligious ideology.
As I pointed out in my Commentary of this past 18 June, this Islamic State pretty much controls the core of what, back in the mid-to-late 9th Century BCE, was the Assyrian Empire (not long before its first incursion into Babylon [very near the site of present day Baghdad; Mosul, one of the major Iraqi cities first taken by what is now the Islamic State not all that long before it so declared itself, is- as I also therein noted- itself very near the site of Nineveh, the long-time Assyrian capital]). And the very "State-lessness" of the Islamic State itself (as it is- by its own definition- no longer 'the Islamic State of [some geographical entity]') directly interplays with the notion I myself expressed in that Commentary to the effect that the Nation-State is failing-- slowly, yes, as we make our way further into this 21st Century of the Common Era: but failing nonetheless!
Therefore, we are not here talking merely about militant insurgents taking over a country or two (or at least significant portions thereof, which the discarded name ISIS/ISIL implied) but, rather, a serious bid- however quixotic, however much the proverbial "pipe dream"- for 'Empire': 'Empire' in the ancient into medieval sense- in the late 7th Century into early 8th Century 'Arab Caliphate' sense. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (who now demands to be regarded as the Caliph Ibrahim, the sole, legitimate successor of the Prophet Mohammed [if only in his own mind, where not also only in his own time]), has already claimed at least suzerainty over all Muslims, throughout the Globe, over whom he has no real sovereignty.
However, the likelihood of all the world's Muslims- numbering well above a billion persons- voluntarily looking upon al-Baghdadi/Ibrahim as at least their spiritual leader is-- like-- slim to none (and the chances of their accepting his political leadership [without being otherwise forced to against their will, that is] are even slimmer); but this does not at all change the fact that the Islamic State does hold- however precariously so- at least some actual geographically-measured territory and-- well-- Cuius regio eius religio ("Whose is the Territory, his be the Religion")!
As a result, the main question now facing the World in general, the West in particular and, more directly, the United States of America is this: Just what is to be done about all this?
First of all, before we even begin to address that question, we simply must put things into all due perspective:
On one of the cable news channels here in the United States recently, a military analyst appearing as a "consultant" to said network opined that President Obama "does not understand" that which he himself described as "this apocalyptic group" (meaning, of course, the Islamic State itself). While this analyst may well be forgiven for his use of 'apocalyptic' here (after all, it's not as if he were a theological consultant to that network!), such language serves only to misguide those watching on television who themselves might be trying to comprehend IS (as I guess we'll have to now abbreviate it).
While the notion of a Caliph leading (however theoretically) all of Islam in the name of- as well as a direct (the nearly millennium and half in the interim notwithstanding) successor to- its Prophet contains, within it, more than a small element of Islamic "Messianism", it is altogether misleading to here use a variant of the term Apocalypse (which is far more a Term of Art within Judeo-Christian tradition: broadly speaking, it refers to a style of writing [Apocalyptic Literature] in which an author writes of events contemporaneous with himself as if they were Prophecy from an earlier time [more often than not, in an attempt to make this the more credible, the title of said author's work is- or, at least, contains- the name of a well-known earlier personage (thus, the term Pseudepigrapha- literally "Falsely Ascribed"- for one particular collection of such works outside of the Biblical Canon)]; more narrowly [and this only within Christianity!], it refers to one specific work-- the Apocalypse of John which has come to be known as 'The Book of Revelation' at the end of the New Testament. Indeed, 'Apocalypse' [Greek apokalupsis: "[a secret] disclosed"] has- thanks to 'Revelation'- come into everyday use as a synonym for the End of Days [with which much of 'Revelation' deals]).
Instead, as I have already implied above, we are here talking- despite all the religious symbolism (including its own co-opting of a flag often flown by ordinary Muslims with no possible association with the Islamic State)- about 'Empire'... as well as those two five-letter words ever associated therewith: POWER and MONEY!
Thus, in essence, the Islamic State- as an entity, as an organization- is but a motley collection of money-grubbing thugs ever hungry for more and more power (and any associated glory)... think "Street Gang"!
But, it must be admitted, MONEY (along with the potential POWER that might go along with it: that is, if one can move up quickly within the ranks) all too well attracts-- and, as is the case with street gangs, young people (principally young men [here mixing more than a little excess testosterone (and guns-- don't forget about their weaponry!) with their rather oddball ideas about the Qu'ran and Hadith, Sharia and Fiqh: then again, ultra-conservative Islamophobes here in America also have their own wacky, "off the wall", ideas about same- these also mixed, in at least many a case, with a bit too much testosterone (and, yes, guns)- whilst coming from the other side of the Islam/Judeo-Christian (again: much more political and economic than religious, despite its religious "wrapping paper") divide within Monotheism] with seemingly nothing much better to do (whether these be jobless teens/young adults or middle class young men [yes, men: evidently, the position of women in such groups tends to, more usually, be prone!] rather bored with studying academic subjects in which their families expect them to, someday, well succeed) find a sense of adventure, otherwise lacking in their own current experience, in so joining just such a group recruiting them in, say, Britain or even here in North America...
hence the apparent success of the Islamic State in so recruiting impressionable Muslim (and, perhaps, even some non-Muslim) youths here in the West via various and sundry Social Media platforms and, thereafter, getting them to so willingly head off to Syria or Iraq to fight- maybe even die (but, please, not too soon-- so they hope)- for an altogether "Puritan" attempt to, now in the early 21st Century, implement that 7th Century politicoreligious concept a "Caliphate" is-- or, in truth, once was but is no more (the very flaw in all such "Puritan" thought and action: that of trying to achieve a past that never really ever existed in the first place)...
such explains, among other things, the so obviously British accent of the masked goon who beheaded American journalist James Foley recently.
In addition, we are- in IS- dealing with a "street gang" that seems to use beheading- or the threat thereof- as its principal method of intimidation... think "Drug Cartel"!
Thus, we here have an early 21st Century pastiche of the 7th Century Arab/Muslim warrior class run amok (in this case, literally: as the very term 'amok' [also spelled 'amuck'] is itself a Malay word describing a murderous frenzy usually the result of some deeply disturbed psychic episode; "running amok"- in its original sense- is the actual acting out of such homicidal rage)... think "Spree Killers"!
No, indeed-- Leopold and Loeb had nothing on these guys! No wonder that high-level American officials- from Vice President Joe Biden to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel- have described the Islamic State as "nothing we've ever seen before" and the like! (Though one is, admittedly, sorely tempted to discern close parallels between IS and the 'Mahdist State' set up in the Sudan, during the late 19th Century, by those following Mohammed Ahmed bin as-Sayid, the man who, at the time, claimed to be al-Mahdi- in Sunni Islam, the "Guided One" who will redeem Islam (interestingly, in coordination with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ [Isa in Arabic]!) in the days leading up to a Day of Judgment [as opposed to Shi'a Islam, in which the 'Mahdi' is the "hidden Imam" returned from "eclipse"- into which he retreated so long ago now- for much the same purpose]; the inherent Messianism underlaying, within both Mahdist Sudan and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, a mere Will to Power in the guise of militarized Religious Fervor seems most germane here, with the differing times and places of each being but the quintessential Distinction As Makes No Difference [although this alone still does not change my own contention, as already stated earlier in this piece, that emphasizing IS's "apocalypticism" over and against its mere intimidation of others as a means to both MONEY and POWER is altogether misleading]. Perhaps, then, it is much better to say, instead, that the generation now alive has never seen anything like this Islamic State!).
Say what you will about al-Qa'eda: even in its most barbaric brutality, it was at least methodical (4 jet airliners taking off from 2 separate airports each independently hijacked as part of a coordinated attack on structures in two different cities back on 11 September 2001 indicates no less); compared to them, the Islamic State is just plain crazy!!
'Beatle John'- as one of the IS (ahem) "warriors" calls himself (the one who is reputed to be the same one who killed James Foley)- sending out messages about fulfilling "our thirst for your blood" indicates no less about their mindset--- imagine!
But we also have to well consider the very "silver lining" that is within this otherwise dark "cloud".
For why was James Foley so summarily killed? Ostensibly- or so the running commentary accompanying the gruesome video of Foley's murder (or, rather, let's call it what it really was: an assassination, for that is precisely what IS intended it to be seen as- especially by Americans) so expresses- to get the United States to stop its air strikes on Islamic State positions (although one has to, given all I have written just above, consider mere Homicidal Mania as the real reason, if it can even be called same!): which, in turn, itself implies that the air strikes are actually working!
Just as the so-called 'Northern Alliance', in the early Fall of 2001 representing the last significant resistance to the Taliban then ruling the vast majority of the territory of Afghanistan, was unable to make headway against the Taliban until after Sunday 7 October 2001 when the United States began pounding the Taliban from the air in direct response to their having aided and abetted those who had carried out the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks less than a month earlier, the Kurds and others lately fighting desperately against the Islamic State in northern Iraq were unable to take back, say, the Mosul Dam until American air strikes made that goal at least somewhat easier to achieve.
Thus, IS now playing the "Stop the Air Strikes or We Kill this American" card... which is not going to work, by the way (especially considering that IS killed the American anyway).
In addition, is the Islamic State even a State, at least in terms of the Montevideo Convention (now a key element within that rather amorphous mass known as 'International Law') quoted above this very piece? Its population is hardly "permanent" (and killing off- or at least threatening to kill off- a rather large proportion of just about everyone IS encounters makes this even less so), its territory (the Westphalian dictum of Cuius regio, eius religio notwithstanding) is ill-"defined"-- is the self-proclaimed Caliph Ibrahim reigning supreme really "government" in the modern sense of the term?-- and, regardless of its "capacity to enter into relations with other States" (or lack thereof), IS doesn't seem to really even want to do so (a Caliph, if only in the sense al-Baghdadi himself is using the term, being the only legitimate temporal ruler on Earth, after all).
No, we cannot ignore an Islamic "State" (a term which here, in the very context of the Montevideo Convention, should- perhaps- ever be placed between quotation marks) nowadays playing out a real life mid-7th Century version of RISK- but with all the brutality and crudities/cruelties inflicted by Arab/Muslim fighters/warriors during the first Breakout of Islam, as a military power, way back during that time. We should not, say, turn our eyes from- or, for that matter, our backs on- those Yazidis (a people practicing a Christianized Islam- for lack of a better summary description- that is non-dualist [that is, they do not believe in a concept of Evil counterpoised with Good: rather interesting, considering what they have lately been put through]) who had been forced to cling to their refuge on Jabal Sinjar, on the Iraq side of its border with Syria west of Mosul, to which they fled in the wake of IS pretty much taking over the entire surrounding area.
Yes, we have to also well consider this Islamic "State" a grave threat to the West in general, as well as the United States of America in particular, as the same types of people- especially young people- who can so easily become homicidal "warriors" can so easily become equally homicidal terrorists in the name (if only to deflect personal responsibility for any and all misdeeds) of the same twisted vision of Islam that otherwise serves as but a smokescreen for murderous intent and/or rampage which would be the same in relation to any religion or lack thereof.
However, we also cannot afford to lose sight of the much bigger picture here: that, in the main, IS is still (at least as of this typing) pretty much 'small potatoes' within the grander scheme of mid-2014 Geopolitics. They can certainly do quite a lot of damage- as they already have in much of northern Syria and northern Iraq (and might yet do elsewhere throughout the World)- but such damage can yet be contained...
that is, only if we here in the West remain both vigilant at home, as well as responsive "over there", as regards how we deal with IS and its many and various threats.