LCCC ENGLISH DAILY
Bible Quotation For Today/God Grants Mercy For those
Grant Others Mercy
Matthew 18/23-35/"‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything." And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, "Pay what you owe." Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you."
But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, "You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?"And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’"
Bible Quotation For Today/Wrath
of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness
Letter to the Romans 01/18-25/"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen."
Question: "Does God love me?"
Answer: The question of whether God loves us – personally and individually – is common. Surrounded by the conditional love of finite humanity, we cannot easily comprehend that God would love us. We know our faults. We know that God is perfect and sinless. We know that we are not. Why would God, who is infinite and holy, love us, who are finite and sinful? And yet the great truth of the gospel is that He does! Time and again, Scripture reminds us of God’s love for us.
To begin with, God created mankind in His own image. And He did so with great care and concern. He “formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being … the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:7, 21-22). There’s an intimacy here between God and mankind. With the rest of creation, God merely spoke and it was. Yet God took time in forming man and woman. He gave them dominion over the earth (see Genesis 1:28). God related directly to Adam and Eve. After the Fall, the couple hid from God when He came “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). It was not abnormal for them to speak with God; it was abnormal for them to hide.
Relationship with God was broken after the Fall, but His love remained. Immediately following God’s pronouncement of curses on the sinful couple, Scripture paints another loving image of God. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and also take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of the Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken” (Genesis 3:21-23). God’s action here is not vindictive or punitive; it is protective. God clothed Adam and Eve to hide their shame. He drove them out of Eden to protect them from further harm. God acted out of love. Then, God’s plan of redemption and restoration begins to unfold—a plan not designed after the Fall, but before creation (1 Peter 1:20). God loves humankind so much that He chose to create us even knowing the heartache it would cause Him to redeem us.
There are many verses that demonstrate God’s love. We can see His tenderness in Old and New Testament alike. David and other psalmists were particularly articulate regarding God’s love. Just look at Psalm 139. Song of Solomon is another great picture of love. God’s love is even evident in the history of the Israelites, as He continually preserved a remnant and pled with His people to obey and live. God is seen as just, but also merciful. He is tender. He is jealous for His people, desirous that relationship be restored.
Sometimes we look at the Old Testament and think that God only loves people as a nation, not as individuals. But it is important to remember that Ruth, Hagar, David, Abraham, Moses and Jeremiah were all individuals. God stepped into each of their lives and loved them individually. This love becomes obvious in the person of Jesus.
God confined Himself to human skin in order to redeem us (see Philippians 2:5-11). He entered our world as a baby born to an unassuming family in a very humble way (He spent His first night in an animals’ feeding trough). Jesus grew up like any child would. During His public ministry, He often associated with society’s outcasts. He stopped for the sick. He healed. He listened to people. He blessed the children. He also taught us about God’s love. Luke 13:34 records Jesus crying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” This speaks God’s heart desire that people would return to Him. He longs for us. Not to punish us, but to love us.
Perhaps the greatest picture of God’s love is Jesus’ passion and crucifixion. Paul reminds us, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). Jesus’ work on the cross was a clear, unmistakable declaration of love. And this love is unconditional. We were in our worst state when Christ died for us. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins … But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace that you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5). This salvation has made true life possible. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). God is not stingy. He wants to lavish His love on us. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death,” Paul proclaims in Romans 8:1-2.
Remember, Paul was formerly an enemy of Christ. He vehemently persecuted Christians. He lived by the letter of the law rather than through an understanding of God’s love. Paul, if he even thought of God’s love, probably felt that God could not love him apart from rule-following. Yet, in Christ, he found God’s grace and accepted God’s love. One of his greatest articulations of God’s love is this: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-32, 35-39).
So the simple answer is, “yes.” Yes, God loves you! As hard as it may be to believe, it is the truth.
Other Scriptures about God’s love for you:
Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February
Iran's Second Front Against Israel/Jonathan Spyer and Benjamin Weinthal/PJ Media/February 27/15
What is the Islamic State? What ISIS Really Wants?/Graeme Wood/AP/The Atlantic/February 27/15
Massacres a Repeat of History for Assyrian Christians/Joni B. Hannigan/February 27/15
Win-win nuclear deal for Rowhani and Obama/Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya/February 27/15
Lebanese Related News published on
Lebanese Army's Operation in Ras Baalbek Continues for Second Day in a Row
Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi: Army to remain on the offensive.
Army ousts militants from strategic positions.
Report: Beirut Airport Freight under Scrutiny.
Lebanon security under control: Machnouk.
Citing EU rules, British Airways ends transport of goods from Lebanon.
Lebanon hospital ordered shut, another under scrutiny.
Hezbollah deputy warns of impeding terrorist battle.
US sanctions alleged Africa-based Hezbollah members.
How Lebanese Christian became ISIS bomber.
Riachi Says Delay in Talks between Geagea, Aoun 'Normal'.
Lebanon-born Syrian Refugees Risk Stateless Legal Limbo.
Al-Minieh Hospital Shut for Two Months to Improve Standards.
Israeli Troops Comb Border Area along Lebanon.
Report: State Political Crises to Impact Lebanon's Banking Control Commission.
Salam Rejects Mechanism-Elections Link as Gemayel Says he'll Visit him at Appropriate Time.
Guterres: Lack of World Bank Grants to Lebanon over Refugees is 'Absurd'
Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
Former Mossad chief slams Netanyahu on Iran.
Father and five sons found murdered in Baghdad.
Iraq Statue-Smashing Sparks Outrage, Heritage Fears.
Video: ISIS destroys centuries old Iraqi artifacts .
UNESCO demands emergency UNSC meet over Iraq heritage destruction.
SIS under pressure as Kurds take Syrian town.
Car bomb kills 11 outside Damascus: activists.
Coalition airstrikes pummel ISIS in Syria.
Belgium sending 35 military trainers to Iraq.
Libya's PM says Turkey supplying weapons to rivals.
UAE to reopen embassy in Yemen's south.
Palestinians tear-gassed on anniversary of barrier protests.
Egypt officer killed in Gaza smuggling tunnel collapse.
Turkey, US to begin training Syria rebels Sunday.
Istanbul unveils plan for 'mega' Bosphorus tunnel.
Obama to meet with European Council president Tusk.
Mexico captures most wanted drug kingpin, 'La Tuta'.
Russia upholds sentence for opposition leader.
Ukraine still faces threat of war: OSCE.
Report: Brother of Copenhagen Gunman Arrested
Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
Islamic State murders 15 Christian hostages, beheads woman; 35 Christian villages now entirely uninhabited
New Jersey Muslim guilty of murder that was initially blamed on “Islamophobia”.
Minnesota Muslim pleads guilty to trying to join the Islamic State.
Brooklyn Borough President plans Muslim outreach after arrests of Muslims plotting to join Islamic State, kill Obama.
They will kill us': Pakistani Christian family seeks asylum in Bangkok after escape.
US Muslim gave Islamic State jihadis US military uniforms, combat boots, tactical gear, firearms accessories, and thousands in cash
Muslim prof in The Atlantic hits “the phony Islam” of the Islamic State
Lebanese Army's Operation in Ras
Baalbek Continues for Second Day in a Row
Naharnet/The army continued to target on Friday militant posts on the outskirts of the northeastern border village of Ras Baalbek in the Bekaa, the state-run National News Agency reported. The sounds of explosions were heard in nearby villages in the Bekaa. The Lebanese army helicopters accompanied troops on the field along Lebanon's Eastern Mountain Range. Army Commander Gen. Jean Qahwaji and Defense Minister Samir Moqbel also toured the outskirts of Ras Baalbek to inspect the progress of the military operation. The Lebanese army seized on Thursday two hilltop positions on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek. Moqbel hailed thecapabilities of the Lebanese troops who defeated the terrorists and took full control of the two strategic posts. “The army's accomplishments confirm that it has a solid national conviction,” the defense minister said. For his part, Qahwaji stressed that the continuous sacrifices made by soldiers deployed along Lebanon's eastern border are aimed at safeguarding the nearby villages and block infiltration attempts by terrorist organizations. “The unique military operation reflects the army's strict decision to combat terrorism and protect citizens.”The army command said in a communique that the operation was in line with efforts to secure villages near the eastern border with neighboring Syria. Three soldiers were wounded in the operation, during which militant positions were shelled with artillery and heavy weaponry, it added. The statement did not name the militants, but most are believed to be from the Islamic State group. They and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have been holding around 20 Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage since August. The army frequently clashes with the militants in their hideouts near the Syria border.
Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi: Army
to remain on the offensive
The Daily Star/Feb. 27, 2015/BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army’s posture will not remain defensive in its war against terrorism, Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi pledged Friday. “The Army will not simply remain a deterrent Army, but will go [on the offensive] with a cutting sword,” Kahwagi told local daily As-Safir. His remarks came a day after the Lebanese Army drove jihadis from two strategic hilltop positions along the northeastern frontier with Syria in a preemptive operation that left at least three militants dead and five soldiers lightly wounded. Kahwagi traveled to Ras Baalbek on Friday along wih Defense Minister Samir Moqbel to meet with troops in an effort to boost morale. Moqbel hailed troops for demonstrating a “high skill in combat in defeating the terrorists so quickly from two strategic hilltops in Ras Baalbek.” He congratulated soldiers on "this great achievement ... in the face of terrorism.”Moqbel said Thursday’s operation also “proved, beyond any doubt, that the Army is professional and cohesive ... and only lacks more qualitiative weapons and equipment, which we hope to receive soon.” In the interview, Kahwagi stressed that the Lebanese Army will remain the sole guarantor of Lebanon’s stability. “The Army will protect the country from any danger. Lebanon won’t be a supportive environment for terrorism,” he said. “We will not let takfiri terrorists defeat us,” Kahwagi vowed, adding that the war against jihadis was open-ended. The Lebanese Army’s primary mission has been defending Lebanon and its citizens against external aggression, maintaining internal stability and security and confronting threats against the country's vital interests.
Report: Beirut Airport Freight under
Naharnet /Zoaiter Vows Freight Improvements at Beirut Airport after Coming under Scrutiny .Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Zoaiter vowed on Friday to improve conditions at Rafik Hariri International Airport after British Airways was ordered by authorities in London to stop cargo movements from the facility. During a press conference, Zoaiter said: “The changes introduced by British Airways compel some changes at the airport.” “The airport will get equipment to detect explosives,” he added. As Safir daily reported on Friday that the airline has been ordered to stop the transport of goods starting March after the airport failed to meet international inspection standards. Informed sources told the newspaper that other countries were mulling to take a similar decision if the facility's authorities did not seek to improve cargo inspection measures. Britain's decision came in light of a study that placed Rafik Hariri International Airport in the same ranking as Sudan and Djibouti. Such a dangerous ranking threatens to put Lebanon on the blacklist of freight traffic, the sources warned. It could also affect passenger traffic, they said. According to As Safir, revenues from cargo traffic at the airport reach around LL35.6 billion monthly. The report comes after Health Minister Wael Abou Faour said last month that the conditions at the airport’s food and medicine warehouses remained "tragic.”He has said there had been serious violations as a result of a lack of adherence to the guidelines of safe storage and handling of food and other goods.
US imposes sanctions on alleged Africa-based Hezbollah members
The Daily Star/Feb. 27, 2015/BEIRUT: The U.S. Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on an alleged Africa-based Hezbollah support network, a statement released Thursday said. It said the Treasury targeted Mustapha Fawaz, Fouzi Fawaz and Abdallah Tahini, all of whom are Lebanese-born men based in Nigeria, with sanctions designations. The Treasury also placed sanctions on a holding company, a supermarket and an amusement park in Nigeria controlled by the Fawaz brothers. In the a statement released Thursday, Adam Szubin, acting undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the U.S. “will track Hezbollah’s illicit activities to all corners of the Earth.” “Wherever this terrorist group may seek to raise funds, we will target and expose its activity,” added the statement. The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The statement alleged that Mustapha Fawaz has been “a significant donor” to Hezbollah, and that he had solicited donations in Abuja, Nigeria, helping transfer them to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Mustapha was detained in mid-May 2013 by Nigerian authorities, where he reportedly confessed the details of his activities and named other Nigeria-based members of the Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Jihad Organization, Treasury said. The Treasury also alleged that Mustapha’s brother Fouzi is a member of a Hezbollah cell in Nigeria. He was also an official with Hezbollah’s foreign relations department, the primary goal of which, according to Treasury, is to scout recruits and to support the group’s infrastructure for its operational units. In 2013, Nigerian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him, Treasury said. Tahini was targeted with sanctions after being arrested in May 2013 for being a member of a Hezbollah cell in Nigeria, the statement said. Mustapha Fawaz and Tahini were both released from custody in late-November 2013 after being cleared of terrorism charges. They both have denied allegations against them. Separately Thursday, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control lifted sanctions on Youssef Nada, and six companies formerly affiliated with him. Nada, who was placed under terrorism sanctions in November 2001, submitted a delisting petition to OFAC in July 2012, a Treasury spokeswoman said
Lebanon security situation under control: interior minister
The Daily Star/eb. 27, 2015/BEIRUT: Lebanon’s domestic security is under control, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk told Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi in Cairo Friday. “We are capable of resolving [threats] with the least possible amount of casualties,” Machnouk told Arabi during a meeting held at the Arab League’s Cairo office, according to an Interior Ministry statement. Machnouk also said that Syrian refugees in Lebanon have not posed a threat to Lebanese security. Their heavy presence exerts pressure on the country’s economy and infrastructure, but not directly on its security, he said. The meeting also delved into Lebanon’s 9-month presidential vacancy. Machnouk highlighted that Prime Minister Tammam Salam will attend in place the president at the Arab League’s 26th Arab Summit to be held in Egypt in March.
Hezbollah deputy warns of impeding terrorist battle
The Daily Star/Feb. 26, 2015/BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army is facing an imminent terrorist battle, Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem said Thursday, after the Army waged pre-emptive attacks on militant positions along the border with Syria. Qassem warned that Syria-based jihadi groups were gearing up for a major offensive deep into Lebanese territory when the winter ends next month. “Lebanon must study its options well because this project targets all of Lebanon,” he added. In its pre-emptive offensive Thursday dawn, the Army pushed out jihadi militants from two hilltop positions, seizing explosives and unexploded projectiles. Most of the militants, believed to be affiliated with ISIS, apparently retreated after the offensive, which was backed by artillery bombardment. Hours after the operation, an officer and four troops suffered light to moderate wounds when a rocket fired by militants crashed near their vehicle on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Ras Baalbek. In a statement released Thursday, Qassem said the “Army, people, and resistance” formula guaranteed Lebanon’s ability to confront the terrorist threat. The Army’s policy of pre-emptive shelling was put in place after eight soldiers were killed and 22 other soldiers wounded in fierce clashes with ISIS militants on the edge of Ras Baalbek late last month. That was the most serious attack since ISIS and Nusra Front militants fought a five-day battle with the Army in the northeastern town of Arsal in August. The two militant groups are still holding 25 soldiers and policemen hostage on Arsal’s outskirts after originally taking more than 37 hostages. Four were killed, while eight others were released.
Citing EU rules, British Airways ends transport of goods from Lebanon
The Daily Star/Feb. 27, 2015/BEIRUT: British Airlines will be the first European carrier to stop importing goods from Lebanon after Beirut’s airport failed to meet new EU requirements, Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter announced Friday. The European Union issued a memo to the Public Works and Transport Ministry informing it of a decision to stop transporting goods from Beirut airport. Consequently, British Airways announced that it would be the first to implement the EU’s decision by banning the transport of goods from Beirut’s airport as of March 1. Last July, the EU launched a program designed to ensure the appropriate screening and validation of cargo entering the EU from any third country airport, according to the Airports Council International - a global trade representative of the world’s airports. Airports that do not meet aviation security screening procedures will be unable to continue doing business in the EU as they will not be authorized to carry any inbound mail or cargo. As a part of the new program, measures must ensure all cargo and mail carried to the EU are physically screened, or come from a secure supply chain. For Lebanon, this means that carriers will need to update security programs and processes and will need to include screening equipment such as explosive detection devices. In Friday’s news conference, the transport minister assured that the airport’s shipping center would be equipped with tools that would ensure safe shipment. “There is full coordination between Lebanon’s Civil Aviation and the European Union,” he said. Lebanon’s airport, which currently lacks explosive detection devices, will be equipped with the tools, and its staff will be trained in their use within two days, Zeaiter announced Friday. The public works minister said that the devices are already present in Beirut’s airport and are set to be relocated to the cargo center. Zeaiter noted that Middle East Airlines is currently constructing a new cargo center that is furnished with the most updated equipment. In the meantime, the current cargo center will be improved, he added.
Lebanon hospital ordered shut, another under scrutiny
The Daily Star/Feb. 27, 2015/BEIRUT: Health Minister Wael Abu Faour announced Friday the unprecedented closure of a hospital in north Lebanon, while another medical facility in south Lebanon came under scrutiny by the Labor Ministry, both over violations. The Minyeh Hospital in north Lebanon is the first medical facility to be ordered shut since the ministry launched a sweeping public health campaign in November, although its closure is temporary and could reopen if it addresses its violations. The health campaign has previously targeted Beirut’s slaughterhouse, the capital’s fish market and hundreds of restaurants, supermarkets and beauty clinics across the country. The decision to order the hospital shut came after the ministry revealed that the facility violated health standards, according to a statement released by Abu Faour's office. Abu Faour gave the facility two months to carry out the reforms. If the changes are not implemented within that period, the hospital’s license would be revoked, he said. Abu Faour also terminated the health ministry’s contract with the hospital. Last week, the health minister ended the government's contract with one of Lebanon's most prestigious hospitals after it violated its agreement with the ministry. Abu Faour’s decision came after Hotel Dieu Hospital in Beirut's Ashrafieh district refused to admit a patient with physical disability. Separately, Lebanon’s labor ministry Friday referred the case of a hospital in the southern district of Tyre to the health ministry after inspections revealed a set of legal and health violations. The labor ministry sent inspectors to evaluate the unnamed facility’s working conditions after receiving several complaints from the hospital’s staff. According to a statement released by the labor ministry, inspectors revealed that although the hospital is licensed, it is not registered with the labor ministry. The hospital also does not have records of health certificates and work-related accidents and has employed Palestinian nationals who do not have work permits. The statement added that the hospital lacks adequate safety regulations with regards to the use of chemicals and the prescription of medication. The facility is also inadequate with regards to fire safety, ventilation and lighting and cooling systems. It also cited excess moisture in storage rooms for chemical and biological substances and noted the incompatibility of the facility’s water with safety standards. The labor ministry will oversee the correction of hospital violations relating to employment, working conditions, and professional safety while the health ministry will be tasked with issues relating to public health and medical practice.
Former Mossad chief slams Netanyahu on Iran
Associated Press/Feb. 27, 2015/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: A former chief of Israel's Mossad spy agency slammed the prime minister's handling of the Iranian nuclear threat. Ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu's contentious speech to Congress, Meir Dagan says "the person who has caused the greatest strategic damage to Israel on the Iranian issue is the prime minister." The comments were published Friday in the Yediot Ahronot daily. Dagan has been a fierce critic of Netanyahu's approach to Iran, emerging as a key opponent of a potential Israeli military attack against its nuclear facilities. He says Netanyahu's trip to Washington, over White House objections, is pointless and counterproductive. Dagan directed the Mossad from 2002 to 2010, a period when it reportedly carried out covert attacks against Iranian nuclear scientists and unleashed cyber-attacks that delayed Iran's progression toward a bomb.
Iraq Statue-Smashing Sparks Outrage,
Naharnet /A video of jihadists in Iraq gleefully smashing ancient statues to pieces with sledgehammers sparked global outrage and fears Friday that more of the world's oldest heritage will be destroyed.
The destruction of priceless Assyrian and other artifacts from the main museum and an archeological site in the northern city of Mosul drew comparisons with the 2001 dynamiting of the Bamiyan buddhas in Afghanistan.
Archaeologists and heritage experts called for urgent action to protect the remains of some of oldest civilizations in the world. After demanding an emergency meeting of the Security Council, the head of the United Nations' cultural body said the International Criminal Court should also take action.
UNESCO chief Irinia Bokova described the destruction as "cultural cleansing".
French President Francois Hollande joined the chorus of condemnation, saying: "What the terrorists want to do is destroy all of humanity."The Islamic State group has controlled Iraq's second city since June and has destroyed several historical and cultural sites across the country, including Muslim shrines.
In the jihadists' extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols and shrines are a material corruption of the purity of the early Muslim faith and amount to recognizing other objects of worship than God.
Their views are marginal however and most clerics, even those who promote a rigorist Islam, argue that what were idols in the days of the Prophet Mohammed are now part of cultural heritage.
A bearded militant talking to the camera in the video released on Thursday argues that the destruction happening behind him is a repeat of when Prophet Mohammed destroyed statues of idols in Mecca almost 1,400 years ago.
"The artifacts and statues in the Mosul museum are not idols of gods, but statues of kings, animals, and birds," said Radwan al-Sayyed, professor of Islamic sciences at the Lebanese University. "Even if they were statues of gods, they are in a museum, and the Koran calls on drawing lessons from them because they were for people who have long passed and that teaches you that life is finite." The Egyptian body which rules on Islamic law condemned the destruction of the Iraqi artifacts.
"Such antiquities are to be found in all of the countries conquered by Muslims, but the prophet's companions did not order their destruction or even authorize anything approaching it," said Dar al-Ifta, whose rulings are sought by Muslims from around the world. Some of the statues destroyed in the video were likely replicas of pieces that had been moved to safety or are kept in museums in the West, experts say.
But several were originals, including the colossal granite Assyrian winged bull at Nergal gate in central Mosul which jihadists armed with a jackhammer can be seen defacing. After wrecking the giant statue, IS militants reportedly told the guards of the vast archaeological site that the ancient city of Nimrud, south of Mosul, was next on their list."It is one of the very important Assyrian capitals. There are reliefs and winged bulls there... This would be a real disaster," said Abdelamir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist at New York's Stony Brook University.
He voiced fears the jihadists would also target Hatra, a UNESCO-listed site in IS-controlled territory around 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Mosul.
UNESCO says the remains of Hatra, "especially the temples where Hellenistic and Roman architecture blend with Eastern decorative features, attest to the greatness of its civilization."
On Thursday, IS militants blew up a 12th century mosque, purportedly because it contained a tomb. They have also destroyed much of the Mosul library's collection, some of the city's best-known shrines, as well as historical sites elsewhere in the country. "This is not the end of the story and the international community must intervene," Hamdani said. US and other Western air forces operate in the Mosul area to provide support for Iraqi Kurdish and federal forces that are working their way towards the city. Mounir Bouchenaki, the director of the Bahrain-based Arab Regional Center for World Heritage, admitted it would be hard to physically protect Hatra, Nimrud or other sites in IS areas. "If you don't have people on the ground, it's very difficult and you even risk contributing to the destruction," he said. Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called the vandalism "one of the most odious crimes committed in our day and age against the heritage of humanity." Paris's Louvre museum said IS had hit at the heart of "humanity's memory". Agence France Presse
Win-win nuclear deal for Rowhani and Obama
Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya
Friday, 27 February 2015
Iran and the six world powers (known as the P5+1: the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China) are planning to meet next Monday to finalize the outline for the final accord. The prolonged nuclear negotiations between the two sides resumed last week in Geneva in order to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
The Islamic Republic has added Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and former foreign minister under the hardline government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Respectively, the United States has brought Ernest J. Moniz, the U.S. energy secretary, to the nuclear negotiations.
The addition of Moniz and Salehi, and the high-level official meetings, reflect the critical stage of the nuclear talks as well as the efforts of both the American and Iranian government to reach a general outline that would preserve their geopolitical, national, and strategic interests.
“Striking an accord in the first phase is very likely and not a strenuous task”
Although Salehi has been known for his zero-détente or uncompromising approach towards Iran’s nuclear program, his presence is unlikely to thwart an accord in the first phase. Since the distrust between Iran’s hardliners and Hassan Rowhani’s nuclear team have been widened, Salehi’s participation is an effort to ensure that the Iranian technocrat team will emphasize crucial issues such as sanction relief, and that Tehran will not make major concessions which damage Tehran’s national security.
A win-win deal: The first phase
Secretary of the State John Kerry previously proposed a two-phase format for the nuclear negotiations. The first phase aims at reaching a general outline, while the second phase charts a way to agree on the nuances and technical issues.
For several political and technical reasons, reaching an agreement in the first phase of the final nuclear talks is beneficiary for both the Obama and Rowhani administrations.
For the White House, striking a deal by the March deadline would buttress President Obama’s argument that progress is being made with respects to his administration’s efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Domestically speaking, the administration has been heavily criticized by Congress (by both the Republicans and Democrats) for allowing the Islamic Republic to buy time, make unnecessary concessions, and not show signs of progress towards a credible final and comprehensive nuclear deal. Congress has also threatened to pass a sanction bill against the Iranian government in case the nuclear talks make no advances, and in case Iran does not comply with the requirements to limit its nuclear program.
In other words, President Obama will need this general and preliminary nuclear deal by the end of March in order to avoid further domestic pressure and risk scuttling the entire nuclear negotiations.
On the other hand, Iran’s hardliners and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been critical of the proposed two-phased nuclear talks from the outset. President Rowhani has been successful at convincing Ayatollah Khamenei that continuing with the two-phased nuclear talks will ultimately serve the geopolitical, national, economic, and strategic interest of the Islamic Republic.
Similarly, President Rowhani requires to strike a nuclear deal in the first phase in order to maintain the blessing of the Supreme Leader as well keep his leverage against the hardliners, the principalists in the Parliament (Majlis), and senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The likelihood of the first phase deal
In addition to the aforementioned political reasons and vested interest of the Obama and Rowhani administrations to strike a deal in the first phase, other factors contribute to the increasing likelihood of reaching a general accord by end of March.
The first phase agreement will not include the technical details regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The accord will likely include the major talking points, which both sides will discuss in the second phase of the deal. Some of the crucial points are:
• U.S. possible flexibility on the breakout timeline (the amount of time that Tehran will need to build a nuclear bomb from highly enriched uranium or Plutonium)
• Iran’s flexibility for the immediate sanction reliefs
• Iran’s acceptance to provide more data regarding the military Dimensions of Tehran’s nuclear program
• The heavy water Arak Reactor, and the production Plutonium at this site
• Flexibility on both sides to reduce and further discuss the scope and capacity of Tehran’s Uranium Enrichment
• Possibility to allow Iran to maintain additional number of centrifuges
The nuances and the technical details are not part of the first phase of the accord. The following crucial questions will not likely be included in the first phase of the agreement: What exactly will be the minimum “breakout” time? 12 months, two years, etc? What will be the duration of the deal? 10 years, 15 years, 20 years? How many years will it take to remove all economic sanctions against Iran? Will Tehran keep 1,500, 4,500, or 6,500 number of centrifuges? What is the exact scope of nuclear research and development that Tehran can maintain?
Since the aforementioned nuanced questions are not part of the first phase of accord, and since the fundamental gaps between the U.S. and Iran are in the technical details of the final nuclear deal, striking an accord in the first phase is very likely and not a strenuous task.
Iran's Second Front Against Israel
by Jonathan Spyer and Benjamin Weinthal/PJ Media
February 26, 2015
Originally published under the title, "Iran Working as Strategic Partner with Hezbollah Against Israel."
IDF artillery prepare to return fire following a Hezbollah attack that killed two soldiers in the northern Mount Dov region along the Israel-Lebanon border on January 28.
All is not quiet on the northern front between Israel and Syria/Lebanon.
The recent Hezbollah attack on an Israel Defense Forces convoy in the Har Dov area close to Israel's border with Lebanon, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed, was the latest move in a dangerous and high stakes game that is now underway on Israel's northern frontier. Israel and Hezbollah are not the only players. The Islamic Republic of Iran, which the U.S. defines as the leading state-sponsor of terrorism, is also a key presence as Hezbollah's strategic partner.
The attack at Har Dov was the second move by Iran/Hezbollah in response to the Israeli operation on the Syrian Golan Heights on January 18th. In the Israeli operation, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer, Mohammed Allahdadi, was killed, as was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of a famous Hezbollah commander.
Israel appears to have chosen not to immediately respond to the Hezbollah attack. As a result, fears of an imminent escalation to full conflict between the Jewish state and the Lebanese Shia Islamists have diminished. But the silence is deceptive. The border incidents cast a sudden light on an ongoing war between Israel and Iran that is more usually played out in the shadows.
The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh announced on February 2nd that his country has exported technology to Hezbollah "for the production of missiles and other equipment, and they can now stand against the Zionist regime."
Just last week, the IRGC, Hezbollah and Assad's soldiers launched an offensive in the direction of the Golan Heights to reclaim territory seized by Syrian rebels and jihadis. The offensive seems to have stalled amid the February snow for now.
But the Iranian/Hezbollah determination to drive the Syrian rebels away from the border area is clearly intact. This ambition lies at the root of the tensions on Israel's northern border.
The Israeli strike on January 18th was a response to an attempt by Iran and Hezbollah to re-write the delicate "rules of engagement" that pertain between Israel and the Shia Islamist organization in Lebanon and now in Syria.
Could the Golan Become a Front for Attacks on Israel?
The Iran/Hezbollah/Assad troika has long threatened to develop the Golan as a front for possible "jihad duties" against Israel. Syria is in chaos. The area east of the Israeli-held Golan is precisely the kind of lawless territory from where Iran's regime and its proxies would find it suitable to launch acts of violence against Israeli communities.
Syria and Hezbollah have made unambiguous public statements threatening military activity against Israel in this area.
Both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah, in the course of 2014, made unambiguous public statements threatening the opening of military activity against Israel in this area.
Iranian General Allahdadi, Mughniyeh and the others were in the Golan Heights as part of the effort to make these statements a reality. They were, it appears, in the process of preparing an infrastructure for attacks on Israel. Israel acted to prevent this, but also to send a broad and clear message to Iran/Hezbollah that it would not tolerate the establishment of a second springboard for attacks on Israeli communities, just east of the Quneitra Crossing.
Israel Does Not Want To Be Drawn into the Syrian Civil War
The emergence of a terror infrastructure facing the Golan, with regular attacks from Hezbollah or (more likely) un-named proxy groups could lead the Jewish state to face the alternative of accepting a war of attrition against northern communities or entering to prevent it. So Israel is determined to prevent the emergence of that reality.
In pursuing this mission, Israel relies only on its own capabilities. This is a stance born from bitter experience. The guarantees of the "international community" have proven to be an ineffective barrier to the ongoing march of Teheran's ambitions. Just north of Israel's border with Lebanon, Iran and Hezbollah have constructed a powerful war machine. The existence of UNSC Resolution-1701, intended precisely to prevent this, has done nothing serious to even hinder this process.
UNIFIL'S Mission Has Failed
Since Hezbollah last attacked Israel during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, a beefed-up UNIFIL's (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) mandate has been to restore peace to the border and assist the Lebanese Armed Forces in disarming Hezbollah. The mission has failed. Hezbollah has likely amassed over 100,000 rockets. It has also infiltrated the Lebanese Armed Forces, to the point wherein many ways it can no longer be reliably discerned where Hezbollah ends and the Lebanese Armed Forces begin.
Hezbollah is believed to have amassed over 100,000 rockets capable of striking Israeli territory.
By way of background, the U.S. designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization in 1995. The long bloody trail of Hezbollah's terrorism can be traced back to 1983. Hezbollah launched a suicide bomb attack against U.S and French military barracks in Beirut. The terror attacks resulted in the deaths of 241 American military personnel and 58 paratroopers. Hezbollah's jingoism against the U.S. did not end in Lebanon; its operative Ali Mussa Daqduq played a key role in murdering five U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2007.
Recently, the Washington Post published details of U.S.-Israeli cooperation in the assassination of Hezbollah's terror mastermind, Imad Mughniyeh, in Damascus in February, 2008. The latest revelations cast light on the extent of ongoing behind the scenes cooperation against the common threat represented by Iran and Hezbollah. This campaign is a marathon, not a sprint, with achievements and setbacks, moments of greater intensity and periods of waiting.
Deterrence Is an Art
Deterrence, as Admiral Eliezer Marom, former commander of the Israeli Navy, said in an interview on Israeli Channel 1 News following the Har Dov attack, is not an exact science; it's an art. Israeli decision-makers have apparently decided to bring the current episode to a close with no further immediate escalation.
This decision was presumably not easily reached. Silence is not necessarily cost-free. With the Iranian ambition very clear, Israel needs to consider whether accepting Hezbollah's signal to the UNIFIL may mean that the organization and its backers will now feel emboldened to continue to regard the Golan as an "open" front, in the knowledge that Israel's responses, though kinetic, would be limited.
The broader picture, in any case, seems clear after the latest events. The eight years of relative quiet that followed the Second Lebanon War of 2006 are over. The northern border is back to being an active arena in the Israel-Islamist conflict.
Iran's Second Front Against Israel Should Not Be Ignored
Lastly, Iran's growing role in destabilizing Israel's borders should debunk any idea that President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate leader within the Middle East. The Iranian effort to open a "second front" against Israel in the Golan should be seen as part of a larger regional picture in which the Iranians are actively interfering in conflict areas throughout the Middle East — in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank/Gaza, and now once again across Israel's northern border.
**Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, Israel, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter here.
Massacres a Repeat of History for Assyrian Christians
By Joni B. Hannigan
HASAKA, Syria -- Thousands of Assyrian Christians fled their villages near Hasaka earlier this week as news spread Islamic State jihadists were attacking and kidnapping even the elderly, women and children.
Hours later, it was reported at least 150 Assyrian Christians were kidnapped. By midweek, however, Christian Examiner learned from sources on the ground in Syria the number of abducted could be as high as 285.
The BBC reported as well that at least 1,000 local Assyrian families had fled in the wake of the attacks.
Hasaka is in northeastern Syria near the borders with Turkey and Iraq, and Jalil Dawood, an Iraqi born pastor of the Arabic Church of Dallas, Texas, said what is so troubling about recent attacks there is that the city has been a refuge for those fleeing persecution for more than 100 years.
Hasaka was home to Assyrians -- and Chaldeans and Syriacs -- who fled Simele, Iraq, after a 1935 wholesale massacre of Christians when British forces pulled out of the area leaving these minoritiy groups vulnerable to the brutalities of Iraqi forces, Dawood said.
But Nineb Lamassu, an Assyrian reporter, reminded viewers of a BBC newscast this week about refugees who came to Hassaka, fleeing the 1915 massacres of Assyrians in Turkey because these Christians had made alliances with countries who were fighting facism.
"They were betrayed by their British allies and ... they were in Iraq and ... they were again betrayed ... and the first massacre in Iraq was committed against these Assyrian Christians and the survivors fled to Syria and these are the survivors," he said.
He said a similar betrayal took place this week.
Lamassu said Assyrian leaders had been warning United Nations and European authorities that a mass persecution such as the one that took place Feb. 24 was imminent, "demanding a safe haven" for the community of families from those villages that were attacked, "crying" and "expressing our concerns to no avail."
When asked who should be protecting these people, Lamassu answered, "mostly they are the responsibility of the western international government, especially the allied forces." Further, he said the Assyrian Christians are the responsibility of the British because the Assyrians at Kharbour (a group of villages in Hasaka), are the Assyrians that fled -- "the survivors of the genocide" of 1915.
AN ASSYRIAN PERSPECTIVE
Dawood said his grandparents were in the group of Assyrian Christians who fled to Iraq from Turkey in 1915. He was born in Baghdad and fled during the war with Iran in the 1970s. His father also fled Iraq.
"So basically we are on the run, over and over again, generation after generation -- three in my case --100 years on the run in 2015," Dawood said. "The persecution continues."
In light of the relentless pursuit of Christians and other religious minorities by ISIS, Dawood said it is heartbreaking to watch leaders who are apparently "waiting and waiting until somebody's head comes off and somebody in a cage gets burned" to respond to what they have already agree is "evil."
"Inaction will not help," he said. "It seems like the world listens to the powerful and the weak is suffering because someone is bullying and persecuting them."
ISIS, he said, "wants the platform and the headlines and the news."
As for the United States, "everyone is following America" and "we need someone else like Britain or France," someone, he said, who will step up if America won't and at least give them arms or training or lead them.
After all, Dawood pointed out, these mostly peaceful Assyrian Christians cannot fight Islamist terrorists with AK47s when they have tanks and other heavy military equipment snatched from Mosul, left behind after the American military pulled out of Iraq in 2012.
For the world, Dawood said if the powerful is allowed to take over the weak because of "their religious or ethnic differences, you will have a massacre like we have in Rwanda."
Too many bury their heads in the sand, believing these issues are political, but Dawood says that America as a "superpower" and other "superpowers" have a responsibility to step up.
"Somebody has to interfere and protect those people," he said. "They need ground troops. It's a joke otherwise."
The church can not afford to keep at a distance either, Dawood said because although people might think there are no personal consequences now, at some point the situation "will touch us all in one way or another," he said.
Eventually, ISIS will subdue the church, Dawood said, comparing the situation to World War II when Hitler "started gaining momentum and power."
"If no one said anything until [Hitler] subdued the church" what would have happened? Dawood asked. "If we don't do anything -- with time, this will subdue the church."
Report: Brother of Copenhagen Gunman
Naharnet /Danish police said they arrested Friday a third alleged accomplice in the Copenhagen shootings who was identified by the media as the gunman's brother. The suspect is "charged with complicity in the perpetrator's actions" and will appear before a judge on Saturday for a custody hearing, police said in a statement. The man was identified by public broadcaster DR as the 18-year-old brother of gunman Omar El-Hussein, who killed two people in twin attacks in the Danish capital this month. Two other men were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the February 14-15 shootings accused of aiding the attacker and have been remanded in custody until March 26. As part of the continuing investigation into the killings, police cordoned off an area near a housing estate in north Copenhagen and used sniffer dogs to search the basement of an apartment block, the tabloid newspaper Ekstra Bladet reported. The first two suspects were originally charged with helping the gunman get rid of a weapon and providing him with a hiding place, but the charges were amended at a closed-door hearing on Thursday, a lawyer for one of the men Michael Juul Eriksen told AFP. Eriksen said the charges could not be made public but news agency Ritzau said the men were accused of providing the killer with two guns. El-Hussein was shot dead by police after killing a Danish filmmaker outside a cultural center before opening fire at a synagogue, killing a Jewish man. El-Hussein had been released from prison two weeks before the attacks after serving a term for aggravated assault, raising fears he may have become radicalized behind bars.
Agence France Presse.
The Problem With Moderate Muslims
By Hussein Aboubakr
For the past six month the president of the US has taken it upon himself to defend Islam as a religion and a culture. One State Department spokesperson made a statement suggesting that lack of job opportunities is a major reason for beheadings and cruel violence. All of this is not just shocking because of how irrelevant it is, but it's shocking because the will to avoid addressing the problem is so big that the president of the United States had to personally deviate from his federal job description and give speeches about what Islam is and what it is not. Our desire to reassure ourselves that all people are as nice as us is so great that we are changing the ways we conduct our business. That is why I want to share some thoughts on the issue of Islam and Islamic moderation.
To deny the existence of moderate Muslims is, beyond any reasonable doubt, an anti-Muslim prejudice. Not only that, but it's most certainly destructive to any efforts to counter Islamic extremism. A world with no moderate Muslims is inconceivable. Check out these long quotes from an open letter from Ani Zonneveld, a Malaysian-born Muslim, published on the AlJazeera website:
"I was raised in a harmonious interracial and interfaith society that accepted and respected other religious practices.. Saudi Arabia started exporting its Wahhabi ideology in the 1970s, and it spread around the world, turning existing interpretations of Islam into one that is dogmatic and violent. We cannot continue on this path of religious-based mayhem in the name of Islam. The Muslim world needs a change.
"As a child, I remember celebrating Mawlid -- the Prophet Muhammad's birthday -- with uplifting songs, prayers and even a parade. Now it is taboo to observe Mawlid even in America, and adherents to the Wahhabi brand of Islam would rather emphasize his death...
"When I was growing up, weddings and community events were colorful and featured music and dance, without segregating the sexes. This is no longer the case in many Muslim communities. Music, dance and unsegregated gatherings are deemed haram, or forbidden. Artistic expressions must be Sharia-compliant, meaning no depiction of humans or animals...
"The Quran liberated women from subhuman status, gave us rights to choose whom to marry, to work, to be in leadership positions and to ultimately live in full dignity. And yet in 2015, Wahhabi imams have relegated women to subhuman status by allowing husbands to cane their wives into obedience and promoting a version of Sharia that permits forced and child marriages and condones honor killings. Women have become sexual objects through forced veiling, which makes our voices, skin, hair and faces off limits, and even a handshake is deemed a potentially arousing sexual experience."
This is one of the most honest Muslim self-criticism pieces I have read. It is sincere, genuine, authentic and above all it is unbiased and it is the work of a moderate Muslim. However, it is obvious that those words raise the same concerns I have: the majority of the Muslim world is not under the influence of a moderate version of Islam but rather a very extreme, violent one. I was born and raised in Egypt, thousands of miles from Malaysia, and I have an almost identical experience with the rapid radicalization of the Egyptian society. There are moderate Muslims but it should be clear at this point that they are not as influential as the extremists. It should be clear that advocates of reform in the Muslim world are as marginalized and persecuted as any other non-Muslim minority. One clear proof of that can be seen in the fact that many if not most such Muslims, like Mr. Zonneveld or me personally, do not actually reside in their home countries but in the western world due to the fact that many parts of the Muslim world are extremely intolerant towards reform and criticism.
In my childhood I was told that every day that passes on the Islamic nation without a caliphate is a sin. That the failures and miseries of the Muslim world started the moment we gave up conquests and wars against the infidels. That our prosperity depends on conquering new lands, converting new believers, looting new resources and enslaving more women. I was taught that a Jew is essentially a demon in flesh and that it is our destiny as good Muslims to kill them all. I was regularly fueled by battle stories and stories of lethal feuds of seventh century Arabia. It was not just me, a small child in Cairo, who was raised with these great apocalyptic prophecies, it was also so many people from all around the globe.
In Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler rose to power, conducted rapid and drastic changes to German society, declared war on the world and fought, all while enjoying the support of the majority of the German people. In the United States, some of the earliest public opinion polls in the 1940s found that an overwhelming majority (about two-thirds) of whites were willing to support racial segregation. Similar polls from South Africa, with much closer dates, suggest that the vast majority of the white population was in support of total white domination and apartheid. In a much earlier time of history, 14th century European Christians were avid supporters of witch hunting, inquisitions, public executions, anti-Semitism and a verity of extreme cruelty. Try to imagine a young European couple happily taking their little children to watch the latest heretics torching techniques and encouraging them to smell the burning flesh; that was 14th century Europe. This is no myth, no phobia, it is history.
The bottom line is; it is quite possible, at one point of history, to have an entire nation dominated by some very bad ideas. We have seen it before and we are seeing it today. For the west now to deny this historical fact and pretend that the majority of people are always naturally sane, rational, peace loving hippies is hypocritical, misleading and dishonest. It is an ugly lie that offends our intelligence. We have a long history of the major human consensus to persecute women, Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. Thus, it is quite possible -- at least theoretically -- for a significant portion or even the majority of the world's Muslim population (estimated to be over 1.5 billion) to be anti-Semitic, homophobic and in sympathy with violence and even Islamic totalitarianism.
Many parts of the Muslim world are intolerant towards free speech, criticism and reform. Human rights are not observed in most of the Muslim world; women's rights, homosexual rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of belief..etc. are things that the majority of non-violent Muslims do not observe. Execution of apostates, women who are not allowed to drive, sexual segregation, persecution of liberals and journalists, homosexual imprisonment, and persecution of non-Muslim minorities are all common themes almost in all Muslim countries. Many Muslim countries use public beheadings, hangings, lashings, stonings and chopping of limbs as an accepted form of punishment.
While the vast majority of Muslims may frown upon ISIS and Al Qaeda and may be horrified by their acts, they will still approve of many human rights abuses. The majority of the world Muslim population believe that the cartoonists who ridicule Muhammad should be prosecuted. Many Muslim countries carry death penalties for any similar heresy action because they simply do not believe in freedom of speech. There is a Muslim consensus that any acts of violence against Israel, including suicide bombers in buses, are justified if not encouraged. Our acceptance or denial of those facts does not affect the reality we are all living; the Muslim world is dominated by bad ideas and bad beliefs. The majority of Muslims have no principle objections to application of extreme violence, subjection of women and minorities, prosecuting if not killing homosexuals and confiscating personal freedoms.
My argument is, we are using the label "moderate" for everyone who is not trying to kill us regardless of that person's actual views. We are in a very bad situation to the extent that we have confused moderation with self-interest. The majority of the Muslim world may not be moderate, but rather acting in its daily life from a purely self-interested point of view. This is a very good thing. We should encourage all Muslims to act and preserve their self-interests. But we should not lie to them about the nature of their religious ideas.
One of my other concerns regarding moderate Muslims is their response to Islamic terrorism. Whenever the issue of Islamic extremism arises, the first reaction of moderate Muslims is not to start an honest debate and reform in their religion but to defend Islam and Muslims. Moderate Muslims are obsessed with slogans like "the religion of peace" more than they care about facing the terrorists emerging from their own communities. Moderate Muslims rush to warn about Islamophobia and unjust western prejudice against Muslims. Almost in every single occasion that Islamic terrorism is mentioned, Muslims' first action is to defend their faith. They assert over and over how peaceful and beautiful Islam is. They are obsessed with their religion and care about it more than they care about stopping murder in its name. It should be clear that this kind of obsession is just another form of fundamentalism. The time has come to talk about how unhelpful and unhealthy their constant obsession with Islam is. Those Muslims need to know that it is more important right now to direct their efforts inside their communities to battle extremism than to polish the image of a faith soaked in blood. Constantly using the rhetoric of Islamophobia and defending their faith as if it was under attack does not help us to promote peace but actually makes the job of terrorist recruiters easier.
We can all agree that prejudice against Muslims is indeed a form of unacceptable discrimination, but moderate Muslims should not try to stifle criticism of their religion by raising the racism card. Many Muslims are responsible for creating an environment of intimidation and social blackmail, using the alleged charges of Islamophobia to immediately dismiss any criticism. We should be clear and honest to our Muslim friends; Islam and its prophet are just other figures in the world of religious fascinations and they are not above criticism and ridiculing and this is nonnegotiable.
Recently we have been hearing the argument, sometimes from the highest figures of the U.S government, that we should not criticize the doctrine of Islam in a way that points out its inherent violence because that is the exact point organizations like ISIS are trying to convince Muslims with. The point is we should not help terrorists in convincing Muslims that Islam is violent. I have to say that this is the most twisted acrobatic irrational logic I have ever heard. I think a truly moderate sane person, when told that his god promotes and enjoys public beheadings, should do one of two things; either dismiss the cruel claims about his god as untrue or dismiss his whole religion. The victims of terrorism should not be blamed for the crimes being committed against them. Our intellectual freedom should not be taken hostage so moderate Muslims won't break bad. What kind of logic is that? I assume that any peaceful moderate person should remain so regardless of what anyone says on TV or in a newspaper or a coffeehouse about a sixth century belief system. Otherwise, the words "peaceful" and "moderate" simply mean "I will be nice as long as you do not hurt my feelings." Personally I find this closer to psychopathy than moderation.
If we are sincere about solving this pressing global issue, then we should be honest and truthful. We can't fight cruel terrorists while we ally ourselves with people who commit similar atrocities but have more oil. We can't allow ourselves to deceive our Muslim friends that it is their right to oppose free speech, LGBT rights, women's rights etc. Moderate Muslims should not be part of the problem, they should be the solution. Islamic extremism will not be "degraded and ultimately destroyed" unless it is Muslims themselves who fight it. Being obsessed with religion is not a proper response and we should be honest and clear about that. I am aware of the fact that all I'm sharing is tough and not easy to do, but I can assure you that closing our eyes to reality will do us no good. Only acknowledging it will allow us to take our first steps toward a profound and desperately needed reform.
What is the Islamic State? What ISIS
Graeme Wood/AP/The Atlantic
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.
Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.
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.
Nearly all the Islamic State’s decisions adhere to what it calls, on its billboards, license plates, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology.”
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 most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.
To take one example: In September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” To Western ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Adnani also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised geezer.”)
But Adnani was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away.
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
Control of territory is an essential precondition for the Islamic State’s authority in the eyes of its supporters. This map, adapted from the work of the Institute for the Study of War, shows the territory under the caliphate’s control as of January 15, along with areas it has attacked. Where it holds power, the state collects taxes, regulates prices, operates courts, and administers services ranging from health care and education to telecommunications.
In November, the Islamic State released an infomercial-like video tracing its origins to bin Laden. It acknowledged Abu Musa’b al Zarqawi, the brutal head of al‑Qaeda in Iraq from roughly 2003 until his killing in 2006, as a more immediate progenitor, followed sequentially by two other guerrilla leaders before Baghdadi, the caliph. Notably unmentioned: bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, the owlish Egyptian eye surgeon who currently heads al‑Qaeda. Zawahiri has not pledged allegiance to Baghdadi, and he is increasingly hated by his fellow jihadists. His isolation is not helped by his lack of charisma; in videos he comes across as squinty and annoyed. But the split between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State has been long in the making, and begins to explain, at least in part, the outsize bloodlust of the latter.
Zawahiri’s companion in isolation is a Jordanian cleric named Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, 55, who has a fair claim to being al-Qaeda’s intellectual architect and the most important jihadist unknown to the average American newspaper reader. On most matters of doctrine, Maqdisi and the Islamic State agree. Both are closely identified with the jihadist wing of a branch of Sunnism called Salafism, after the Arabic al salaf al salih, the “pious forefathers.” These forefathers are the Prophet himself and his earliest adherents, whom Salafis honor and emulate as the models for all behavior, including warfare, couture, family life, even dentistry.
The Islamic State awaits the army of “Rome,” whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse.
Maqdisi taught Zarqawi, who went to war in Iraq with the older man’s advice in mind. In time, though, Zarqawi surpassed his mentor in fanaticism, and eventually earned his rebuke. At issue was Zarqawi’s penchant for bloody spectacle—and, as a matter of doctrine, his hatred of other Muslims, to the point of excommunicating and killing them. In Islam, the practice of takfir, or excommunication, is theologically perilous. “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’ ” the Prophet said, “then one of them is right.” If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed apostasy by making a false accusation. The punishment for apostasy is death. And yet Zarqawi heedlessly expanded the range of behavior that could make Muslims infidels.
Maqdisi wrote to his former pupil that he needed to exercise caution and “not issue sweeping proclamations of takfir” or “proclaim people to be apostates because of their sins.” The distinction between apostate and sinner may appear subtle, but it is a key point of contention between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.
Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.
Musa Cerantonio, an Australian preacher reported to be one of the Islamic State’s most influential recruiters, believes it is foretold that the caliphate will sack Istanbul before it is beaten back by an army led by the anti-Messiah, whose eventual death— when just a few thousand jihadists remain—will usher in the apocalypse. (Paul Jeffers/Fairfax Media)
Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes. Hence, perhaps, the incredulity and denial with which Westerners have greeted news of the theology and practices of the Islamic State. Many refuse to believe that this group is as devout as it claims to be, or as backward-looking or apocalyptic as its actions and statements suggest.
Their skepticism is comprehensible. In the past, Westerners who accused Muslims of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics—notably the late Edward Said—who pointed out that calling Muslims “ancient” was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil.
Without acknowledgment of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says Allahu akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.
Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”
Every academic I asked about the Islamic State’s ideology sent me to Haykel. Of partial Lebanese descent, Haykel grew up in Lebanon and the United States, and when he talks through his Mephistophelian goatee, there is a hint of an unplaceable foreign accent.
According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”
All Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs, and that the laws of war passed down in the Koran and in the narrations of the Prophet’s rule were calibrated to fit a turbulent and violent time. In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”
Our failure to appreciate the essential differences between ISIS and al-Qaeda has led to dangerous decisions.
The Koran specifies crucifixion as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of Islam. The tax on Christians finds clear endorsement in the Surah Al-Tawba, the Koran’s ninth chapter, which instructs Muslims to fight Christians and Jews “until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” The Prophet, whom all Muslims consider exemplary, imposed these rules and owned slaves.
Leaders of the Islamic State have taken emulation of Muhammad as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. “What’s striking about them is not just the literalism, but also the seriousness with which they read these texts,” Haykel said. “There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t normally have.”
Before the rise of the Islamic State, no group in the past few centuries had attempted more-radical fidelity to the Prophetic model than the Wahhabis of 18th‑century Arabia. They conquered most of what is now Saudi Arabia, and their strict practices survive in a diluted version of Sharia there. Haykel sees an important distinction between the groups, though: “The Wahhabis were not wanton in their violence.” They were surrounded by Muslims, and they conquered lands that were already Islamic; this stayed their hand. “ISIS, by contrast, is really reliving the early period.” Early Muslims were surrounded by non-Muslims, and the Islamic State, because of its takfiri tendencies, considers itself to be in the same situation.
If al-Qaeda wanted to revive slavery, it never said so. And why would it? Silence on slavery probably reflected strategic thinking, with public sympathies in mind: when the Islamic State began enslaving people, even some of its supporters balked. Nonetheless, the caliphate has continued to embrace slavery and crucifixion without apology. “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,” Adnani, the spokesman, promised in one of his periodic valentines to the West. “If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
In October, Dabiq, the magazine of the Islamic State, published “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour,” an article that took up the question of whether Yazidis (the members of an ancient Kurdish sect that borrows elements of Islam, and had come under attack from Islamic State forces in northern Iraq) are lapsed Muslims, and therefore marked for death, or merely pagans and therefore fair game for enslavement. A study group of Islamic State scholars had convened, on government orders, to resolve this issue. If they are pagans, the article’s anonymous author wrote,
Yazidi women and children [are to be] divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations [in northern Iraq] … Enslaving the families of the kuffar [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet … and thereby apostatizing from Islam.
Tens of thousands of foreign Muslims are thought to have immigrated to the Islamic State. Recruits hail from France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Australia, Indonesia, the United States, and many other places. Many have come to fight, and many intend to die.
Peter R. Neumann, a professor at King’s College London, told me that online voices have been essential to spreading propaganda and ensuring that newcomers know what to believe. Online recruitment has also widened the demographics of the jihadist community, by allowing conservative Muslim women—physically isolated in their homes—to reach out to recruiters, radicalize, and arrange passage to Syria. Through its appeals to both genders, the Islamic State hopes to build a complete society.
In November, I traveled to Australia to meet Musa Cerantonio, a 30-year-old man whom Neumann and other researchers had identified as one of the two most important “new spiritual authorities” guiding foreigners to join the Islamic State. For three years he was a televangelist on Iqraa TV in Cairo, but he left after the station objected to his frequent calls to establish a caliphate. Now he preaches on Facebook and Twitter.
Cerantonio—a big, friendly man with a bookish demeanor—told me he blanches at beheading videos. He hates seeing the violence, even though supporters of the Islamic State are required to endorse it. (He speaks out, controversially among jihadists, against suicide bombing, on the grounds that God forbids suicide; he differs from the Islamic State on a few other points as well.) He has the kind of unkempt facial hair one sees on certain overgrown fans of The Lord of the Rings, and his obsession with Islamic apocalypticism felt familiar. He seemed to be living out a drama that looks, from an outsider’s perspective, like a medieval fantasy novel, only with real blood.
Last June, Cerantonio and his wife tried to emigrate—he wouldn’t say to where (“It’s illegal to go to Syria,” he said cagily)—but they were caught en route, in the Philippines, and he was deported back to Australia for overstaying his visa. Australia has criminalized attempts to join or travel to the Islamic State, and has confiscated Cerantonio’s passport. He is stuck in Melbourne, where he is well known to the local constabulary. If Cerantonio were caught facilitating the movement of individuals to the Islamic State, he would be imprisoned. So far, though, he is free—a technically unaffiliated ideologue who nonetheless speaks with what other jihadists have taken to be a reliable voice on matters of the Islamic State’s doctrine.
We met for lunch in Footscray, a dense, multicultural Melbourne suburb that’s home to Lonely Planet, the travel-guide publisher. Cerantonio grew up there in a half-Irish, half-Calabrian family. On a typical street one can find African restaurants, Vietnamese shops, and young Arabs walking around in the Salafi uniform of scraggly beard, long shirt, and trousers ending halfway down the calves.
Cerantonio explained the joy he felt when Baghdadi was declared the caliph on June 29—and the sudden, magnetic attraction that Mesopotamia began to exert on him and his friends. “I was in a hotel [in the Philippines], and I saw the declaration on television,” he told me. “And I was just amazed, and I’m like, Why am I stuck here in this bloody room?”
The last caliphate was the Ottoman empire, which reached its peak in the 16th century and then experienced a long decline, until the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, euthanized it in 1924. But Cerantonio, like many supporters of the Islamic State, doesn’t acknowledge that caliphate as legitimate, because it didn’t fully enforce Islamic law, which requires stonings and slavery and amputations, and because its caliphs were not descended from the tribe of the Prophet, the Quraysh.
Baghdadi spoke at length of the importance of the caliphate in his Mosul sermon. He said that to revive the institution of the caliphate—which had not functioned except in name for about 1,000 years—was a communal obligation. He and his loyalists had “hastened to declare the caliphate and place an imam” at its head, he said. “This is a duty upon the Muslims—a duty that has been lost for centuries … The Muslims sin by losing it, and they must always seek to establish it.” Like bin Laden before him, Baghdadi spoke floridly, with frequent scriptural allusion and command of classical rhetoric. Unlike bin Laden, and unlike those false caliphs of the Ottoman empire, he is Qurayshi.
The caliphate, Cerantonio told me, is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation. Islamic State propaganda regularly reports the pledges of baya’a (allegiance) rolling in from jihadist groups across the Muslim world. Cerantonio quoted a Prophetic saying, that to die without pledging allegiance is to die jahil (ignorant) and therefore die a “death of disbelief.” Consider how Muslims (or, for that matter, Christians) imagine God deals with the souls of people who die without learning about the one true religion. They are neither obviously saved nor definitively condemned. Similarly, Cerantonio said, the Muslim who acknowledges one omnipotent god and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully Islamic life. I pointed out that this means the vast majority of Muslims in history, and all who passed away between 1924 and 2014, died a death of disbelief. Cerantonio nodded gravely. “I would go so far as to say that Islam has been reestablished” by the caliphate.
I asked him about his own baya’a, and he quickly corrected me: “I didn’t say that I’d pledged allegiance.” Under Australian law, he reminded me, giving baya’a to the Islamic State was illegal. “But I agree that [Baghdadi] fulfills the requirements,” he continued. “I’m just going to wink at you, and you take that to mean whatever you want.”
To be the caliph, one must meet conditions outlined in Sunni law—being a Muslim adult man of Quraysh descent; exhibiting moral probity and physical and mental integrity; and having ’amr, or authority. This last criterion, Cerantonio said, is the hardest to fulfill, and requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce Islamic law. Baghdadi’s Islamic State achieved that long before June 29, Cerantonio said, and as soon as it did, a Western convert within the group’s ranks—Cerantonio described him as “something of a leader”—began murmuring about the religious obligation to declare a caliphate. He and others spoke quietly to those in power and told them that further delay would be sinful.
Social-media posts from the Islamic State suggest that executions happen more or less continually.
Cerantonio said a faction arose that was prepared to make war on Baghdadi’s group if it delayed any further. They prepared a letter to various powerful members of ISIS, airing their displeasure at the failure to appoint a caliph, but were pacified by Adnani, the spokesman, who let them in on a secret—that a caliphate had already been declared, long before the public announcement. They had their legitimate caliph, and at that point there was only one option. “If he’s legitimate,” Cerantonio said, “you must give him the baya’a.”
After Baghdadi’s July sermon, a stream of jihadists began flowing daily into Syria with renewed motivation. Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German author and former politician who visited the Islamic State in December, reported the arrival of 100 fighters at one Turkish-border recruitment station in just two days. His report, among others, suggests a still-steady inflow of foreigners, ready to give up everything at home for a shot at paradise in the worst place on Earth.
Bernard Haykel, the foremost secular authority on the Islamic State’s ideology, believes the group is trying to re-create the earliest days of Islam and is faithfully reproducing its norms of war. “There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness” about the group’s dedication to the text of the Koran, he says. (Peter Murphy)
In London, a week before my meal with Cerantonio, I met with three ex-members of a banned Islamist group called Al Muhajiroun (The Emigrants): Anjem Choudary, Abu Baraa, and Abdul Muhid. They all expressed desire to emigrate to the Islamic State, as many of their colleagues already had, but the authorities had confiscated their passports. Like Cerantonio, they regarded the caliphate as the only righteous government on Earth, though none would confess having pledged allegiance. Their principal goal in meeting me was to explain what the Islamic State stands for, and how its policies reflect God’s law.
Choudary, 48, is the group’s former leader. He frequently appears on cable news, as one of the few people producers can book who will defend the Islamic State vociferously, until his mike is cut. He has a reputation in the United Kingdom as a loathsome blowhard, but he and his disciples sincerely believe in the Islamic State and, on matters of doctrine, speak in its voice. Choudary and the others feature prominently in the Twitter feeds of Islamic State residents, and Abu Baraa maintains a YouTube channel to answer questions about Sharia.
Since September, authorities have been investigating the three men on suspicion of supporting terrorism. Because of this investigation, they had to meet me separately: communication among them would have violated the terms of their bail. But speaking with them felt like speaking with the same person wearing different masks. Choudary met me in a candy shop in the East London suburb of Ilford. He was dressed smartly, in a crisp blue tunic reaching nearly to his ankles, and sipped a Red Bull while we talked.
Before the caliphate, “maybe 85 percent of the Sharia was absent from our lives,” Choudary told me. “These laws are in abeyance until we have khilafa”—a caliphate—“and now we have one.” Without a caliphate, for example, individual vigilantes are not obliged to amputate the hands of thieves they catch in the act. But create a caliphate, and this law, along with a huge body of other jurisprudence, suddenly awakens. In theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws. One of Choudary’s prize students, a convert from Hinduism named Abu Rumaysah, evaded police to bring his family of five from London to Syria in November. On the day I met Choudary, Abu Rumaysah tweeted out a picture of himself with a Kalashnikov in one arm and his newborn son in the other. Hashtag: #GenerationKhilafah.
The caliph is required to implement Sharia. Any deviation will compel those who have pledged allegiance to inform the caliph in private of his error and, in extreme cases, to excommunicate and replace him if he persists. (“I have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility,” Baghdadi said in his sermon.) In return, the caliph commands obedience—and those who persist in supporting non-Muslim governments, after being duly warned and educated about their sin, are considered apostates.
Choudary said Sharia has been misunderstood because of its incomplete application by regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which does behead murderers and cut off thieves’ hands. “The problem,” he explained, “is that when places like Saudi Arabia just implement the penal code, and don’t provide the social and economic justice of the Sharia—the whole package—they simply engender hatred toward the Sharia.” That whole package, he said, would include free housing, food, and clothing for all, though of course anyone who wished to enrich himself with work could do so.
Abdul Muhid, 32, continued along these lines. He was dressed in mujahideen chic when I met him at a local restaurant: scruffy beard, Afghan cap, and a wallet outside of his clothes, attached with what looked like a shoulder holster. When we sat down, he was eager to discuss welfare. The Islamic State may have medieval-style punishments for moral crimes (lashes for boozing or fornication, stoning for adultery), but its social-welfare program is, at least in some aspects, progressive to a degree that would please an MSNBC pundit. Health care, he said, is free. (“Isn’t it free in Britain, too?,” I asked. “Not really,” he said. “Some procedures aren’t covered, such as vision.”) This provision of social welfare was not, he said, a policy choice of the Islamic State, but a policy obligation inherent in God’s law.
Anjem Choudary, London’s most notorious defender of the Islamic State, says crucifixion and beheading are sacred requirements. (Tal Cohen/Reuters)
III. The Apocalypse
All Muslims acknowledge that God is the only one who knows the future. But they also agree that he has offered us a peek at it, in the Koran and in narrations of the Prophet. The Islamic State differs from nearly every other current jihadist movement in believing that it is written into God’s script as a central character. It is in this casting that the Islamic State is most boldly distinctive from its predecessors, and clearest in the religious nature of its mission.
In broad strokes, al-Qaeda acts like an underground political movement, with worldly goals in sight at all times—the expulsion of non-Muslims from the Arabian peninsula, the abolishment of the state of Israel, the end of support for dictatorships in Muslim lands. The Islamic State has its share of worldly concerns (including, in the places it controls, collecting garbage and keeping the water running), but the End of Days is a leitmotif of its propaganda. Bin Laden rarely mentioned the apocalypse, and when he did, he seemed to presume that he would be long dead when the glorious moment of divine comeuppance finally arrived. “Bin Laden and Zawahiri are from elite Sunni families who look down on this kind of speculation and think it’s something the masses engage in,” says Will McCants of the Brookings Institution, who is writing a book about the Islamic State’s apocalyptic thought.
During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers, by contrast, saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world. McCants says a prominent Islamist in Iraq approached bin Laden in 2008 to warn him that the group was being led by millenarians who were “talking all the time about the Mahdi and making strategic decisions” based on when they thought the Mahdi was going to arrive. “Al-Qaeda had to write to [these leaders] to say ‘Cut it out.’ ”
For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need. Of the Islamic State supporters I met, Musa Cerantonio, the Australian, expressed the deepest interest in the apocalypse and how the remaining days of the Islamic State—and the world—might look. Parts of that prediction are original to him, and do not yet have the status of doctrine. But other parts are based on mainstream Sunni sources and appear all over the Islamic State’s propaganda. These include the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and Baghdadi is the eighth; that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.
The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.
“Dabiq is basically all farmland,” one Islamic State supporter recently tweeted. “You could imagine large battles taking place there.” The Islamic State’s propagandists drool with anticipation of this event, and constantly imply that it will come soon. The state’s magazine quotes Zarqawi as saying, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.” A recent propaganda video shows clips from Hollywood war movies set in medieval times—perhaps because many of the prophecies specify that the armies will be on horseback or carrying ancient weapons.
Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. Western media frequently miss references to Dabiq in the Islamic State’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of beheading. “Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” said a masked executioner in a November video, showing the severed head of Peter (Abdul Rahman) Kassig, the aid worker who’d been held captive for more than a year. During fighting in Iraq in December, after mujahideen (perhaps inaccurately) reported having seen American soldiers in battle, Islamic State Twitter accounts erupted in spasms of pleasure, like overenthusiastic hosts or hostesses upon the arrival of the first guests at a party.
The Prophetic narration that foretells the Dabiq battle refers to the enemy as Rome. Who “Rome” is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. But Cerantonio makes a case that Rome meant the Eastern Roman empire, which had its capital in what is now Istanbul. We should think of Rome as the Republic of Turkey—the same republic that ended the last self-identified caliphate, 90 years ago. Other Islamic State sources suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the Americans will do nicely.
After mujahideen reported having seen American soldiers in battle, Islamic State Twitter accounts erupted in spasms of pleasure, like overenthusiastic hosts upon the arrival of the first guests at a party.
After its battle in Dabiq, Cerantonio said, the caliphate will expand and sack Istanbul. Some believe it will then cover the entire Earth, but Cerantonio suggested its tide may never reach beyond the Bosporus. An anti-Messiah, known in Muslim apocalyptic literature as Dajjal, will come from the Khorasan region of eastern Iran and kill a vast number of the caliphate’s fighters, until just 5,000 remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Just as Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus—the second-most-revered prophet in Islam—will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.
“Only God knows” whether the Islamic State’s armies are the ones foretold, Cerantonio said. But he is hopeful. “The Prophet said that one sign of the imminent arrival of the End of Days is that people will for a long while stop talking about the End of Days,” he said. “If you go to the mosques now, you’ll find the preachers are silent about this subject.” On this theory, even setbacks dealt to the Islamic State mean nothing, since God has preordained the near-destruction of his people anyway. The Islamic State has its best and worst days ahead of it.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was declared caliph by his followers last summer. The establishment of a caliphate awakened large sections of Koranic law that had lain dormant, and required those Muslims who recognized the caliphate to immigrate. (Associated Press)
IV. The Fight
The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions. Osama bin Laden was seldom predictable. He ended his first television interview cryptically. CNN’s Peter Arnett asked him, “What are your future plans?” Bin Laden replied, “You’ll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing.” By contrast, the Islamic State boasts openly about its plans—not all of them, but enough so that by listening carefully, we can deduce how it intends to govern and expand.
In London, Choudary and his students provided detailed descriptions of how the Islamic State must conduct its foreign policy, now that it is a caliphate. It has already taken up what Islamic law refers to as “offensive jihad,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. “Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves,” Choudary said; without a caliphate, offensive jihad is an inapplicable concept. But the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph.
Choudary took pains to present the laws of war under which the Islamic State operates as policies of mercy rather than of brutality. He told me the state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies—a holy order to scare the shit out of them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.
Choudary’s colleague Abu Baraa explained that Islamic law permits only temporary peace treaties, lasting no longer than a decade. Similarly, accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet and echoed in the Islamic State’s propaganda videos. If the caliph consents to a longer-term peace or permanent border, he will be in error. Temporary peace treaties are renewable, but may not be applied to all enemies at once: the caliph must wage jihad at least once a year. He may not rest, or he will fall into a state of sin.
One comparison to the Islamic State is the Khmer Rouge, which killed about a third of the population of Cambodia. But the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations. “This is not permitted,” Abu Baraa said. “To send an ambassador to the UN is to recognize an authority other than God’s.” This form of diplomacy is shirk, or polytheism, he argued, and would be immediate cause to hereticize and replace Baghdadi. Even to hasten the arrival of a caliphate by democratic means—for example by voting for political candidates who favor a caliphate—is shirk.
It’s hard to overstate how hamstrung the Islamic State will be by its radicalism. The modern international system, born of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, relies on each state’s willingness to recognize borders, however grudgingly. For the Islamic State, that recognition is ideological suicide. Other Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, have succumbed to the blandishments of democracy and the potential for an invitation to the community of nations, complete with a UN seat. Negotiation and accommodation have worked, at times, for the Taliban as well. (Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan exchanged ambassadors with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates, an act that invalidated the Taliban’s authority in the Islamic State’s eyes.) To the Islamic State these are not options, but acts of apostasy.
The United States and its allies have reacted to the Islamic State belatedly and in an apparent daze. The group’s ambitions and rough strategic blueprints were evident in its pronouncements and in social-media chatter as far back as 2011, when it was just one of many terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and hadn’t yet committed mass atrocities. Adnani, the spokesman, told followers then that the group’s ambition was to “restore the Islamic caliphate,” and he evoked the apocalypse, saying, “There are but a few days left.” Baghdadi had already styled himself “commander of the faithful,” a title ordinarily reserved for caliphs, in 2011. In April 2013, Adnani declared the movement “ready to redraw the world upon the Prophetic methodology of the caliphate.” In August 2013, he said, “Our goal is to establish an Islamic state that doesn’t recognize borders, on the Prophetic methodology.” By then, the group had taken Raqqa, a Syrian provincial capital of perhaps 500,000 people, and was drawing in substantial numbers of foreign fighters who’d heard its message.
If we had identified the Islamic State’s intentions early, and realized that the vacuum in Syria and Iraq would give it ample space to carry them out, we might, at a minimum, have pushed Iraq to harden its border with Syria and preemptively make deals with its Sunnis. That would at least have avoided the electrifying propaganda effect created by the declaration of a caliphate just after the conquest of Iraq’s third-largest city. Yet, just over a year ago, Obama told The New Yorker that he considered ISIS to be al-Qaeda’s weaker partner. “If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” the president said.
Our failure to appreciate the split between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and the essential differences between the two, has led to dangerous decisions. Last fall, to take one example, the U.S. government consented to a desperate plan to save Peter Kassig’s life. The plan facilitated—indeed, required—the interaction of some of the founding figures of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and could hardly have looked more hastily improvised.
Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it appears the best of bad military options.
It entailed the enlistment of Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, the Zarqawi mentor and al-Qaeda grandee, to approach Turki al-Binali, the Islamic State’s chief ideologue and a former student of Maqdisi’s, even though the two men had fallen out due to Maqdisi’s criticism of the Islamic State. Maqdisi had already called for the state to extend mercy to Alan Henning, the British cabbie who had entered Syria to deliver aid to children. In December, The Guardian reported that the U.S. government, through an intermediary, had asked Maqdisi to intercede with the Islamic State on Kassig’s behalf.
Maqdisi was living freely in Jordan, but had been banned from communicating with terrorists abroad, and was being monitored closely. After Jordan granted the United States permission to reintroduce Maqdisi to Binali, Maqdisi bought a phone with American money and was allowed to correspond merrily with his former student for a few days, before the Jordanian government stopped the chats and used them as a pretext to jail Maqdisi. Kassig’s severed head appeared in the Dabiq video a few days later.
Maqdisi gets mocked roundly on Twitter by the Islamic State’s fans, and al‑Qaeda is held in great contempt for refusing to acknowledge the caliphate. Cole Bunzel, a scholar who studies Islamic State ideology, read Maqdisi’s opinion on Henning’s status and thought it would hasten his and other captives’ death. “If I were held captive by the Islamic State and Maqdisi said I shouldn’t be killed,” he told me, “I’d kiss my ass goodbye.”
Kassig’s death was a tragedy, but the plan’s success would have been a bigger one. A reconciliation between Maqdisi and Binali would have begun to heal the main rift between the world’s two largest jihadist organizations. It’s possible that the government wanted only to draw out Binali for intelligence purposes or assassination. (Multiple attempts to elicit comment from the FBI were unsuccessful.) Regardless, the decision to play matchmaker for America’s two main terrorist antagonists reveals astonishingly poor judgment.
Chastened by our earlier indifference, we are now meeting the Islamic State via Kurdish and Iraqi proxy on the battlefield, and with regular air assaults. Those strategies haven’t dislodged the Islamic State from any of its major territorial possessions, although they’ve kept it from directly assaulting Baghdad and Erbil and slaughtering Shia and Kurds there.
Some observers have called for escalation, including several predictable voices from the interventionist right (Max Boot, Frederick Kagan), who have urged the deployment of tens of thousands of American soldiers. These calls should not be dismissed too quickly: an avowedly genocidal organization is on its potential victims’ front lawn, and it is committing daily atrocities in the territory it already controls.
One way to un-cast the Islamic State’s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of Syria and Iraq now under caliphate rule. Al‑Qaeda is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding. Former pledges could of course continue to attack the West and behead their enemies, as freelancers. But the propaganda value of the caliphate would disappear, and with it the supposed religious duty to immigrate and serve it. If the United States were to invade, the Islamic State’s obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed, it might never recover.
Abu Baraa, who maintains a YouTube channel about Islamic law, says the caliph, Baghdadi, cannot negotiate or recognize borders, and must continually make war, or he will remove himself from Islam.
And yet the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?
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. Al-Qaeda’s core is rare among jihadist groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the West); most jihadist groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of the Islamic State, precisely because of its ideology. It sees enemies everywhere around it, and while its leadership wishes ill on the United States, the application of Sharia in the caliphate and the expansion to contiguous lands are paramount. Baghdadi has said as much directly: in November he told his Saudi agents to “deal with the rafida [Shia] first … then al-Sulul [Sunni supporters of the Saudi monarchy] … before the crusaders and their bases.”
Musa Cerantonio and Anjem Choudary could mentally shift from contemplating mass death to discussing the virtues of Vietnamese coffee, with apparent delight in each.
The foreign fighters (and their wives and children) have been traveling to the caliphate on one-way tickets: they want to live under true Sharia, and many want martyrdom. Doctrine, recall, requires believers to reside in the caliphate if it is at all possible for them to do so. One of the Islamic State’s less bloody videos shows a group of jihadists burning their French, British, and Australian passports. This would be an eccentric act for someone intending to return to blow himself up in line at the Louvre or to hold another chocolate shop hostage in Sydney.
A few “lone wolf” supporters of the Islamic State have attacked Western targets, and more attacks will come. But most of the attackers have been frustrated amateurs, unable to immigrate to the caliphate because of confiscated passports or other problems. Even if the Islamic State cheers these attacks—and it does in its propaganda—it hasn’t yet planned and financed one. (The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January was principally an al‑Qaeda operation.) During his visit to Mosul in December, Jürgen Todenhöfer interviewed a portly German jihadist and asked whether any of his comrades had returned to Europe to carry out attacks. The jihadist seemed to regard returnees not as soldiers but as dropouts. “The fact is that the returnees from the Islamic State should repent from their return,” he said. “I hope they review their religion.”
Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.
Even so, the death of the Islamic State is unlikely to be quick, and things could still go badly wrong: if the Islamic State obtained the allegiance of al‑Qaeda—increasing, in one swoop, the unity of its base—it could wax into a worse foe than we’ve yet seen. The rift between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda has, if anything, grown in the past few months; the December issue of Dabiq featured a long account of an al‑Qaeda defector who described his old group as corrupt and ineffectual, and Zawahiri as a distant and unfit leader. But we should watch carefully for a rapprochement.
Without a catastrophe such as this, however, or perhaps the threat of the Islamic State’s storming Erbil, a vast ground invasion would certainly make the situation worse.
It would be facile, even exculpatory, to call the problem of the Islamic State “a problem with Islam.” The religion allows many interpretations, and Islamic State supporters are morally on the hook for the one they choose. And yet simply denouncing the Islamic State as un-Islamic can be counterproductive, especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them.
Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.
The Islamic State’s ideology exerts powerful sway over a certain subset of the population. Life’s hypocrisies and inconsistencies vanish in its face. Musa Cerantonio and the Salafis I met in London are unstumpable: no question I posed left them stuttering. They lectured me garrulously and, if one accepts their premises, convincingly. To call them un-Islamic appears, to me, to invite them into an argument that they would win. If they had been froth-spewing maniacs, I might be able to predict that their movement would burn out as the psychopaths detonated themselves or became drone-splats, one by one. But these men spoke with an academic precision that put me in mind of a good graduate seminar. I even enjoyed their company, and that frightened me as much as anything else.
Non-muslims cannot tell Muslims how to practice their religion properly. But Muslims have long since begun this debate within their own ranks. “You have to have standards,” Anjem Choudary told me. “Somebody could claim to be a Muslim, but if he believes in homosexuality or drinking alcohol, then he is not a Muslim. There is no such thing as a nonpracticing vegetarian.”
There is, however, another strand of Islam that offers a hard-line alternative to the Islamic State—just as uncompromising, but with opposite conclusions. This strand has proved appealing to many Muslims cursed or blessed with a psychological longing to see every jot and tittle of the holy texts implemented as they were in the earliest days of Islam. Islamic State supporters know how to react to Muslims who ignore parts of the Koran: with takfir and ridicule. But they also know that some other Muslims read the Koran as assiduously as they do, and pose a real ideological threat.
Baghdadi is Salafi. The term Salafi has been villainized, in part because authentic villains have ridden into battle waving the Salafi banner. But most Salafis are not jihadists, and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State. They are, as Haykel notes, committed to expanding Dar al-Islam, the land of Islam, even, perhaps, with the implementation of monstrous practices such as slavery and amputation—but at some future point. Their first priority is personal purification and religious observance, and they believe anything that thwarts those goals—such as causing war or unrest that would disrupt lives and prayer and scholarship—is forbidden.
They live among us. Last fall, I visited the Philadelphia mosque of Breton Pocius, 28, a Salafi imam who goes by the name Abdullah. His mosque is on the border between the crime-ridden Northern Liberties neighborhood and a gentrifying area that one might call Dar al-Hipster; his beard allows him to pass in the latter zone almost unnoticed.
A theological alternative to the Islamic State exists—just as uncompromising, but with opposite conclusions.
Pocius converted 15 years ago after a Polish Catholic upbringing in Chicago. Like Cerantonio, he talks like an old soul, exhibiting deep familiarity with ancient texts, and a commitment to them motivated by curiosity and scholarship, and by a conviction that they are the only way to escape hellfire. When I met him at a local coffee shop, he carried a work of Koranic scholarship in Arabic and a book for teaching himself Japanese. He was preparing a sermon on the obligations of fatherhood for the 150 or so worshipers in his Friday congregation.
Pocius said his main goal is to encourage a halal life for worshipers in his mosque. But the rise of the Islamic State has forced him to consider political questions that are usually very far from the minds of Salafis. “Most of what they’ll say about how to pray and how to dress is exactly what I’ll say in my masjid [mosque]. But when they get to questions about social upheaval, they sound like Che Guevara.”
When Baghdadi showed up, Pocius adopted the slogan “Not my khalifa.” “The times of the Prophet were a time of great bloodshed,” he told me, “and he knew that the worst possible condition for all people was chaos, especially within the umma [Muslim community].” Accordingly, Pocius said, the correct attitude for Salafis is not to sow discord by factionalizing and declaring fellow Muslims apostates.
Instead, Pocius—like a majority of Salafis—believes that Muslims should remove themselves from politics. These quietist Salafis, as they are known, agree with the Islamic State that God’s law is the only law, and they eschew practices like voting and the creation of political parties. But they interpret the Koran’s hatred of discord and chaos as requiring them to fall into line with just about any leader, including some manifestly sinful ones. “The Prophet said: as long as the ruler does not enter into clear kufr [disbelief], give him general obedience,” Pocius told me, and the classic “books of creed” all warn against causing social upheaval. Quietist Salafis are strictly forbidden from dividing Muslims from one another—for example, by mass excommunication. Living without baya’a, Pocius said, does indeed make one ignorant, or benighted. But baya’a need not mean direct allegiance to a caliph, and certainly not to Abu Bakr al‑Baghdadi. It can mean, more broadly, allegiance to a religious social contract and commitment to a society of Muslims, whether ruled by a caliph or not.
Quietist Salafis believe that Muslims should direct their energies toward perfecting their personal life, including prayer, ritual, and hygiene. Much in the same way ultra-Orthodox Jews debate whether it’s kosher to tear off squares of toilet paper on the Sabbath (does that count as “rending cloth”?), they spend an inordinate amount of time ensuring that their trousers are not too long, that their beards are trimmed in some areas and shaggy in others. Through this fastidious observance, they believe, God will favor them with strength and numbers, and perhaps a caliphate will arise. At that moment, Muslims will take vengeance and, yes, achieve glorious victory at Dabiq. But Pocius cites a slew of modern Salafi theologians who argue that a caliphate cannot come into being in a righteous way except through the unmistakable will of God.
The Islamic State, of course, would agree, and say that God has anointed Baghdadi. Pocius’s retort amounts to a call to humility. He cites Abdullah Ibn Abbas, one of the Prophet’s companions, who sat down with dissenters and asked them how they had the gall, as a minority, to tell the majority that it was wrong. Dissent itself, to the point of bloodshed or splitting the umma, was forbidden. Even the manner of the establishment of Baghdadi’s caliphate runs contrary to expectation, he said. “The khilafa is something that Allah is going to establish,” he told me, “and it will involve a consensus of scholars from Mecca and Medina. That is not what happened. ISIS came out of nowhere.”
The Islamic State loathes this talk, and its fanboys tweet derisively about quietist Salafis. They mock them as “Salafis of menstruation,” for their obscure judgments about when women are and aren’t clean, and other low-priority aspects of life. “What we need now is fatwa about how it’s haram [forbidden] to ride a bike on Jupiter,” one tweeted drily. “That’s what scholars should focus on. More pressing than state of Ummah.” Anjem Choudary, for his part, says that no sin merits more vigorous opposition than the usurpation of God’s law, and that extremism in defense of monotheism is no vice.
Pocius doesn’t court any kind of official support from the United States, as a counterweight to jihadism. Indeed, official support would tend to discredit him, and in any case he is bitter toward America for treating him, in his words, as “less than a citizen.” (He alleges that the government paid spies to infiltrate his mosque and harassed his mother at work with questions about his being a potential terrorist.)
Still, his quietist Salafism offers an Islamic antidote to Baghdadi-style jihadism. The people who arrive at the faith spoiling for a fight cannot all be stopped from jihadism, but those whose main motivation is to find an ultraconservative, uncompromising version of Islam have an alternative here. It is not moderate Islam; most Muslims would consider it extreme. It is, however, a form of Islam that the literal-minded would not instantly find hypocritical, or blasphemously purged of its inconveniences. Hypocrisy is not a sin that ideologically minded young men tolerate well.
Western officials would probably do best to refrain from weighing in on matters of Islamic theological debate altogether. Barack Obama himself drifted into takfiri waters when he claimed that the Islamic State was “not Islamic”—the irony being that he, as the non-Muslim son of a Muslim, may himself be classified as an apostate, and yet is now practicing takfir against Muslims. Non-Muslims’ practicing takfir elicits chuckles from jihadists (“Like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice to others,” one tweeted).
I suspect that most Muslims appreciated Obama’s sentiment: the president was standing with them against both Baghdadi and non-Muslim chauvinists trying to implicate them in crimes. But most Muslims aren’t susceptible to joining jihad. The ones who are susceptible will only have had their suspicions confirmed: the United States lies about religion to serve its purposes.
Within the narrow bounds of its theology, the Islamic State hums with energy, even creativity. Outside those bounds, it could hardly be more arid and silent: a vision of life as obedience, order, and destiny. Musa Cerantonio and Anjem Choudary could mentally shift from contemplating mass death and eternal torture to discussing the virtues of Vietnamese coffee or treacly pastry, with apparent delight in each, yet to me it seemed that to embrace their views would be to see all the flavors of this world grow insipid compared with the vivid grotesqueries of the hereafter.
I could enjoy their company, as a guilty intellectual exercise, up to a point. In reviewing Mein Kampf in March 1940, George Orwell confessed that he had “never been able to dislike Hitler”; something about the man projected an underdog quality, even when his goals were cowardly or loathsome. “If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.” The Islamic State’s partisans have much the same allure. They believe that they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure—especially when it is also a burden.
Fascism, Orwell continued, is psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.
Nor, in the case of the Islamic State, its religious or intellectual appeal. That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.
***Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is gcaw.net.