by Zafar Bangash (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 4, Ramadan, 1439)
While the terrorist group Da‘ish (aka ISIL or ISIS) has been severely degraded in recent months, it would be premature to write it off completely. This has much to do with the regimes that created, financed and armed the group. Their sponsors’ agenda has been significantly frustrated as well but they have not given up on their mischievous plans entirely.
So it is incumbent upon committed Muslims to examine how and why the takfiris emerged at this particular juncture in history and what lessons can be drawn from this experience. Nothing emerges in a vacuum. There are always a large number of factors and actors — some known and others unknown — at work. Understanding these and the motives behind them would yield better insights into what is at play and what corrective measures can be taken to safeguard Muslim interests.
Let us begin with the choice of its name: the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) or the Levant (ISIL). The group simply came to be called the “Islamic State” (IS) in Western media coverage. This is also not without significance. Some Muslims may have forgotten that living in an Islamic state or striving to establish one is a religious obligation but our enemies and detractors know this well. The myriad think tanks in the West have and continue to study such phenomena deeply. They are always looking for ways and means to subvert the Muslims’ aspirations for dignified existence, not the least of which is an “Islamic state” that is so repulsive as to drive even Muslims into a state of agitation about themselves.
Committed Muslims are also aware that the struggle to establish the Islamic state is based on a prophetic hadith (saying). It says that a Muslim must either live in an Islamic state or in its absence, must strive to establish one, otherwise he dies the death of jahiliyah. The noble Messenger (pbuh) established the first Islamic State in Madinah after suffering many years of persecution and oppression. Following the Prophetic Sunnah is an obligation incumbent upon all Muslims, so establishing the Islamic State also an obligation.
Throughout history, Muslim scholars have written extensively about what constitutes an Islamic state, how it is to be established and what functions it must perform. This also explains why there was such a strong reaction among Muslims to the abolition of the khilafah in March 1924 in Turkey — even though the institution itself had been reduced to a shell and had little in common with the Islamic State established in Madinah. Within a few short years, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (the Muslim Brotherhood) emerged in Egypt in 1928. Other movements — such as the Jama‘at-e Islami in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent and Hizb al-Tahrir in Jordan/Palestine — emerged soon thereafter. All these movements emphasized that establishing the khilafah (Islamic state) was and remains a fundamental duty of all Muslims.
In Islamic terminology, the ruler of Muslims is called a khalifah or imam. This title emerged after the noble Messenger (pbuh) left his earthly abode to join heavenly company. His successor was called khalifah al-rasul (successor to the Messenger of Allah), but ultimately he came to be called simply khalifah and has ever since been part of the Muslims’ lexicon. Every informed Muslim is aware of what it means.
True, the khilafah was subverted into mulukiyah (hereditary kingship) by ambitious individuals and clan leaders in early Muslim history but the concept has been etched in the collective memory of Muslims ever since. It is this shared memory that Islam’s enemies have exploited through the terrorist group Da‘ish.
This has achieved two objectives. First, it gave the group legitimacy in the eyes of some emotional but ill-informed Muslims. Second, their horrors turned most Muslims away from the idea of establishing an Islamic state. If an Islamic state meant head chopping and organ eating, most Muslims wished to have nothing to do with it.
The background of the terrorist group’s head, the self-proclaimed khalifah, Ibrahim al-Samarra’i (who has adopted the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) also confirms this. While at Camp Buca in Baghdad (2006–2009), al-Samarra’i was allowed to mix freely with other prisoners. The camp at Buca was opened after the notorious torture camp at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad was shut down following revelations of horrendous torture and sexual abuse of prisoners.
No other prisoner at the camp was afforded such privilege. What was special about al-Samarra’i/al-Baghdadi to warrant such favoritism? He went about recruiting other prisoners without any interference from the Americans, indeed with their approval. This appeared to be part of the American plan.
Al-Baghdadi also recruited a large number of disbanded Ba‘thist soldiers nursing a grudge because they had been made redundant and the privileges they had enjoyed under Saddam’s regime simply evaporated. The Ba‘thists became eager recruits for al-Baghdadi’s Western-backed campaign. It was a totally unnatural alliance: secular Ba‘thists who had throughout their lives hounded Islamic activists and scholars suddenly became bosom pals of the self-styled “Islamic State.”
The timing of ISIS’ emergence is important. Osama bin Laden was “officially” declared dead in May 2011 (other reports say he died in 2006 or even as early as 2001). Regardless of the exact date of Osama’s death, once the Americans officially announced his removal from the scene, there was need for another bogeyman to continue the so-called war on terror. This is nothing but a war on Islam but this time Western think tanks and policy-makers came up with a more enduring strategy. When an individual dies or is killed, he is removed from the scene permanently. An organization is much more enduring and complicated, hence the idea of the “Islamic State.” It also acts as a magnet for disgruntled and alienated Muslim youth in Western societies where they face endemic racism and discrimination.
By conceiving of this idea, it has achieved at a stroke a number of Western objectives. Ever since the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) and the Balfour Declaration (1917) were imposed on the Muslim world, especially the Muslim East (aka the Middle East), committed Muslims have been struggling to demolish this colonial-imposed construct. They want to undo the colonial-drawn borders dividing Muslims into nation-states like animals in separate cages in a zoo. While a thin veneer of nationalism, imposed from the top, exists in all Muslim societies, beneath the surface the ethos of Muslim culture remains strong. It is this sense of solidarity that has been successfully exploited by Western policy-makers, especially the imperialists and Zionists, in creating the so-called “Islamic State” in parts of Iraq and Syria.
Al-Baghdadi’s “Islamic State” project turned out to be more useful than Osama’s al-Qaeda outfit because the latter did not have any territory under its control. Osama was a guest in someone else’s land (Afghanistan) and while the Taliban provided him sanctuary, he was not entirely free to operate as he wished. Further, he was dependent on donations from wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other places. Unlike al-Baghdadi, he did not have a direct source of income. The self-styled Islamic State occupied large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. Funding came from such corrupt regimes as those in Saudi Arabia ($18 billion) and Qatar ($17 billion) with smaller amounts from other Arabian regimes as well as Turkey totaling some $45 billion, according to a report by the Berlin-based Firil Center for Studies. These would still not have made the ISIS project so successful, were it not for direct and indirect backing from the US and Zionist Israel.
The takfiri project (thus named because they brand any Muslim they disagree with as kafir and, therefore, subject to execution) was conceived long before it erupted on the scene in June 2014. According to WikiLeaks documents, as early as 2005, the US had launched plans to destabilize the government of Bashar al-Asad.
Further, in one of the Defense Intelligence Agency documents circulated among various government agencies including CENTCOM, the CIA, FBI, DHS, NGA, State Department, and others in 2012, there is an astonishing admission that an “Islamic state” is desired in eastern Syria to effect the West’s policies in the region. To quote from the formerly classified report dated August 12, 2012,
The West, Gulf countries and Turkey that support the [Syrian] opposition… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime…
Could the US and its allies’ position on the establishment of the takfiri state be any clearer?
The ISIS/ISIL takfiri project also confirms that nationalism does not appeal to Muslim masses. Only Islam is a strong enough force to mobilize them for any cause. The imperialists and Zionists have realized this and are using it to advance their own strategic objectives in the most cynical manner.
The legitimate aspirations of Muslims for social and political justice have been harnessed to create mayhem and chaos in the Muslim East. Since Syria is an important part of the resistance front against Zionist Israel, it has been targeted because the Zionists have failed against Hamas and Hizbullah despite repeated attacks. This is part of the stillborn “New Middle East” project that the toothy former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice infamously claimed at the height of the Zionist onslaught on Hizbullah in July-August 2006. Iraq, Libya, and Syria lie in shambles, thanks to the takfiri rampage.
Unfortunately, even some sincere Muslims have been sucked into the vortex of this Western-Zionist-Saudi created mayhem. The Muslims’ concern springs from their sympathy for fellow Muslims. This is admirable. To show empathy for and alleviate the suffering of Muslims is an Islamic obligation but that is no excuse to become part of the imperialist-Zionist project for regime change in Muslim countries, especially when the alternative is so horrific. Can any sincere Muslim truly say that the takfiris would be a better alternative to Bashar al-Asad in Syria despite his many faults and indeed even past crimes?
What the takfiris have also done, to their lasting shame and that of their backers, especially in the Muslim world — Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, etc. — is to present a horrible image of Islam (which, by the way, was an objective of their behind-the-scenes handlers). On the one hand, the takfiris’ crimes are successfully exploited by the imperialists and Zionists to demonize Islam and Muslims, and on the other, they put off many Muslims from the very idea of the Islamic state. They would rather not have head choppers, organ eaters, and public floggers as their rulers even if the present crop of unelected rulers is grossly incompetent and terrible.
One only has to look at the mayhem in Libya to understand this. Are the Libyans better off today than they were under Muammar Qaddafi despite all his antics, eccentricity, and yes, oppression?
If there are Muslims who believe that an Islamic state can be established on the skulls, bones, and blood of innocent Muslims, then they had better examine their understanding of Islam. The killing of any innocent human being, much less a Muslim, is expressly forbidden in Islam (5:32). Those who hold a contrary view know either nothing about the teachings of Islam or they are agents of the enemies of Islam.