by Ghassan Kadi
In an audio message (published in the link below in the Lebanese daily Assafir on the 26th of December 2015), ISIS/ISIL/IS Chief, “Caliph” Abou Bakr Al-Baghdadi gives a rather lengthy 24 minute speech. Half of the message is addressed to Muslims, all Muslims, whilst the other half is addressed to the world; especially the nations that have taken upon themselves to fight the Islamic State.
The approach is not systemic and jumps from one “half” to the other, but with a bottom-line call for all Muslims to band together in order to fight what he perceives as the enemies of Islam.
“The world has united to fight Islam”, he argues, and this was to be expected. Either way, Muslims will be the victors, because they will either be martyred in battle and get elevated to heaven, or win the battle on the ground.
And who are the enemies of Islam in his view? All nations that are fighting the Islamic State, including Saudi Arabia that has recently formed a military alliance against terrorism. Al Baghdadi says that the proposed Saudi coalition is only intended to fight Islam and the Islamic State. If its objectives were to uphold Islam, it would be fighting in Syria alongside the Islamic State and protecting the defenseless Muslims in Syria and in Palestine.
On the mention of Palestine, he addresses Jews and says that they have neither been forgotten nor forgiven. They will soon find themselves surrounded by the Islamic State and they will have nowhere to run and hide.
He calls for Saudi youth to rise against their heretic rulers, and for all Muslims to join him and take up arms in the battle that they knew was one day coming.
He makes direct mention of America, Europe and Russia and promises them retaliation.
The timing of this speech is uncanny. Is it related to the killing of Zahran Alloush?
Alloush, the chief of the “Army of Islam” was Saudi Arabia’s right hand in Syria. He is the one who staged the fake chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta in July 2013. He is Bandar’s boy and danced to his master’s tunes, but he was also highly regarded and respected within the rank-and-file of all Islamists because he was able to steadfastly hold his positions very close to Damascus and at one stage was not very far from entering it.
His death alongside many high commanding officers left his brigade in huge disarray, and even though a replacement by the name of Abou Humam Al-Bouweidani has been appointed, there has already been negotiations taking place for clearing the fighters out of the area. Now, it is highly possible that Al-Baghdadi is trying to fill this void and to lure Alloush’s army of loyals to give him their pledge of allegiance.
But this alone cannot explain fully the reason behind Al-Baghdadi’s message. Al-Baghdadi is clearly taking advantage of the timing of events, the formation of different coalitions to fight him, and trying to use them to give himself credit, substance and religious validity.
In the minds of Muslim youth who subscribe to the theory that Islam is a combination of a “sword and a book”, the concept of perceiving Jihad as an armed struggle is not far from their hearts. Whilst this is a huge misconception of the true message, it is nonetheless accepted as what Islam is meant to be. In this context, the words of Al-Baghdadi fall onto receptive ears. Many youth will be listening to his words and asking themselves why are they sitting on their backs in the comfort and safety of their homes when their brothers and sisters are being slaughtered by a wave of international infidels?
They will feel ashamed of themselves if they do not get up and fight, and if they don’t just do this on their own accord, then their peer pressure will be so enormous and many of them will not be able to resist.
Most recruitments are done by peer pressure, especially from those who are a little older and more versed in Islamic rhetoric and are able to provide “proof” from the Quran to their argument and call for taking up arms.
The call of Al-Baghdadi is not very specific at all. He is calling for all Muslims, wherever they are, to do whatever they can to fight for the cause. Does this include self-planned mini terrorist attacks here and there all over the globe? The obvious answer to this is yes or at least why not, because God according to him, has ordered Muslims to fight their enemies wherever they find them, and until the whole world is united by Islam.
His words were carefully chosen, and theologically-speaking, he did not say anything at all that is against the concept of mainstream Islam. Moderate clerics will find it very difficult to make any arguments against the speech if and when challenged by their followers. Their inability to refute his message will be seen by some would be recruits as an indication that Al-Baghdadi speaks the truth and ought to be followed. To many new recruits, this will sound like the “call” they have been waiting for.
The Al-Baghdadi “call”, whether it gets followed by a huge recruitment drive or not, is a testimony of the fact that even the most determined of those who are poised to fight the Islamic State have not yet woken up to the enormity of its threat.
The Islamic State is much more than an organization of terrorists with an army and stolen oil fields. It is an ideology, an ideology that feeds on a religion, commonly-held misinterpretations of a religion, with more than a billion potential recruits in sight.
Now here’s the irony. Saudi Arabia has been based on Wahhabism, which is in turn founded on those violent misinterpretations of Islam. Saudi Arabia fed the ideology that created Al-Qaeda and later on the Islamic State, but they have politically collided with both of them later on.
The Islamic State has broken loose, and with the help of Turkey, its oil trade is generating enough revenues for itself to be self-supportive. The Islamic State has also broken its allegiance to the US, even though the Americans are indeed foolhardy enough to think that they can continue to wield them in the fight against Assad.
But even if the army of the Islamic State is defeated, its oil trade put to an end, Erdogan given a punch and sent to the naughty corner and Saudi Arabia goes bankrupt and unable to bankroll any more funds for rising Jihadists, the concept of an Islamic State akin to Al-Baghdadi’s will not go away for as long as there are Muslims who believe in the violent version of Islam. It will only be a question of time before a new Al-Baghdadi is born and attempts to resurrect the dream.
The simplistic view that the Islamic State was borne by the Saudis and the Americans and that they both continue to control it is just as stated; simplistic. The Jihadists will accept support from anyone when they need it, but puppets they are not. They are very highly indoctrinated people on a mission. And unless they are understood for what they are, what they believe in, and how they intend to achieve their objectives, they will never be defeated.
And whilst some Westerners keep changing the name of the Islamic State from ISIS to ISIL to IS and/or the Islamic State formerly known as ISIS, the Islamic State did not change its name at all, and continues to fester ideologically unopposed and little noticed.
The closest understanding of the Islamic State outside the Muslim world seems to be present in Russia. If anything, the downing of the Su-24 has broken the barriers of political correctness between Moscow and Ankara and Moscow is now openly talking about and reporting Turkey’s support to the Islamic State. Moscow has made similar but much more subtle remarks about the role of Saudi Arabia.
The impasse here is political, and no one can envisage Moscow urging for Muslim religious reform. Religious reform of any religion is the task of its followers, and obviously in the case of Islam, the onus is on Muslims.