To say that Islamism is at war with the world is to state the obvious. There are two main contenders for leadership of this jihadist battle, and they come from either side of the ancient Sunni-Shia fault line that runs through Islam – the Islamic Republic of Iran and Islamic State (IS).
About Shi’ite Iran, the self-declared enemy of the West in general, and the US and Israel in particular, little can be done in the short term. In July 2015 President Obama led world powers into concluding a flawed nuclear deal with Iran’s leaders which has provided them with the means of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability within fifteen years, and with the lifting of the most irksome of the sanctions that have been imposed on them. Iran – the scourge of the Middle East, and with an horrific record of terrorist outrages over the past 35 years – is riding high, its sights set on achieving both political and religious dominance in the Middle East.
Opposition to its ambitions is led by Saudi Arabia, which is combatting Iran and its allies in Yemen, while the Arab League has just designated Iran’s puppet body, Hezbollah, a terrorist organization.
The other contender as jihadist supremo is Islamic State, which represents an extreme version of Sunni Islam and which seeks to establish a sharia-based world-wide caliphate. In its world view, as Dr Amichai Magen recently explained
, the Ummah
(or ‘community of believers’) is in a state of total war with three designated enemies: the West, ‘the Jews’, and Shia Muslims together with apostate Arab regimes. This war not only justifies acts of extreme violence against those who have conspired to ‘suppress the true faith’ – beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions and rape – but involves the rejection of all forms of man-made law and democracy.
IS and its followers also clearly revel in carrying the war into the heart of the enemy, by instigating acts of indiscriminate terror in Western cities and against Western tourists around the world. Adhering to a religious philosophy which glorifies death, its adherents flock to commit suicide in acts designed to destroy as many innocent lives as possible.
Individuals induced to undertake suicide terror attacks may glory in their own “martyrdom” and gain satisfaction from causing death, misery and mayhem, but it is difficult from the receiving end of these terrorist activities to perceive what strategic advantage accrues to the jihadist cause from them. They seem unlikely to advance the establishment of a world-wide caliphate. They may generate fear in Western populations, but are more likely to stiffen their governments’ determination to boost their counter-terrorist operations and bear down heavily on those who plan and perpetrate terror.
What is the thinking, then, behind the continuous succession of terrorist outrages committed inside Western countries? It only seems to make some sort of sense if it is based on the assumption that democratic societies are basically unstable, and that under sufficient pressure they will implode – an assumption replete with wishful thinking, and on a par with Hitler’s belief in 1940 that a sustained blitz on London would result in a collapse of morale.
It was on June 29, 2014 that the leader of what was then known as ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, felt emboldened enough to take a giant step towards achieving a degree of power and status for himself and his organization beyond the wildest dreams of most jihadi leaders. In an audio recording the group announced
that it was henceforth to be known as "Islamic State", and that its head, al-Baghdadi, was now "the caliph and leader for Muslims everywhere". Moreover, declared the group's spokesman, Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, “the legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph's authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas.''
An official document, released in English and several other languages, urged Muslims to "gather around your caliph, so that you may return as you once were for ages, kings of the earth and knights of war."
What is a caliphate? Effectively an Islamic republic led by one leader, regardless of national boundaries. The original caliphate under the aegis of the Ottoman empire was abolished by Kemal Ataturk in 1924, but Muslim extremists continued to dream of recreating the Islamic state that, over the course of Islam's 1,400-year history, had ruled over the Middle East, much of North Africa and beyond. So the announcement of June 29, 2014
is couched in terms of ending a century-long calamity ¬– namely the break-up of the Islamic Middle East into artificial sovereign states following the first World War – and as marking the return of dignity and honor to the Islamic Ummah
The caliph is historically supposed to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad's Quraysh tribe. Since becoming leader of ISIS, Baghdadi had been claiming precisely that lineage – a claim widely disputed. In his announcement, the new IS spokesman, Adnani, reiterated Baghdadi's claim.
Other Muslim groups, bodies and leaders, both moderate and extreme, reacted violently against this unprecedented exercise in arrogance and self-aggrandisement, but as IS went from strength to strength, Baghdadi’s “delusions” – which are comparable to those of Napoleon or Adolf Hitler – seemed to know no bounds. On July 2, 2014 the new, self-anointed caliph and supreme leader of Islam, declared that Muslims should flock to the new caliphate. “Syria is not for Syrians,” he proclaimed
“and Iraq is not for Iraqis. The land is for the Muslims, all Muslims.” Follow his advice, he said, and “you will conquer Rome and own the world."
Not the happiest of prospects either for Rome or the world. The civilized world has taken a long time to realize that it simply has to face down this self-declared enemy of all it stands for. The recent carnage in Belgium, and the emerging picture of security failures by Western powers, is reinforcing the realization that a determined effort must be made to confront, fight, conquer and crush this malign organization, with its grandiose ambitions and brutal and inhumane methods of achieving them.
Syria and Iraq are the obvious starting points. “No boots on the ground” has proved an inadequate, ineffective and frankly outdated policy in combating Islamic State. To eliminate the scourge of IS from the world, the West and its allies must deploy the vast military power at their disposal, and in a sustained, united and determined effort, overwhelm Islamic State once and for all. The writer is Middle East correspondent for
Eurasia Review. His latest book is:
“The Search for Détente: Israel and Palestine 2012-2014”. He blogs at: