Tuesday, December 08, 2015

ISIS: the Caliphate, what's in a name?

First, terrorism is a form of communication. It is an act that uses violence to convey a political message intended to shape public opinion or political debate on policy issues. Arie Perliger - New York Times
One of the principal difficulties in trying to analyze ISIS is that we concentrate our attention almost exclusively upon their identity as terrorists and we don't pay sufficient attention to their identity as a political movement with clear objectives: objectives which they pursue in a patient, methodical and even "sophisticated" manner.

Experience shows that a subversive movement with a social base, even a small one, can resist decades of intense pressure, both political and military. Groups without such a base, such as Italy's Red Brigades or Germany's Baader Meinhof are quickly extinguished, but organizations with a social base such as Peru's Shining Path or Spain's ETA can go on for decades.

An example from a modern, European country:

ETA, has killed over 800 people in Spain since the 1960s, they have been defeated militarily and they now solemnly abjure violence. Despite this, ETA can, even today, put thousands of their sympathizers onto Basque streets demanding amnesty for their imprisoned members. They could reorganize at the drop of a beret.

ISIS, more violent than any of the groups named above, has as its target a growing base of followers and potential sympathizers within a world-wide community of an estimated 1.3 billion Muslims. Someone once compared mass movements to a very fat lady in a very small canoe: any sudden movement of hers can tip over and sink the canoe. Terrorism itself pales in importance next to a potential mobilization of even a tiny fraction of the Muslim masses by ISIS.

We are just extras in ISIS's ad campaign

19th century Anarchists referred to their acts of terrorism as "propaganda of the deed". This still holds true:

Bottom line: The western victims of ISIS's beheadings, bombings and drive-by shootings are simply extras in ISIS's advertising campaign directed at that potential world-wide audience of 1.3 billion.

"We" (the prosperous westerners) are not ISIS's "audience"; we are simply tools to reach that audience.

Simply put: Our (over) reaction to their terrorist acts is meant to create a counter reaction favorable to ISIS in their target audience. This strategy is quite effective.                        
You are far likelier to die in a car crash, or even choke on a pretzel, than to fall victim to terrorism on US soil. But fear is not a statistical calculation. That is the point of terror.(...) With a presidential election now in full swing, the stage is set for further polarization that may play straight into the hands of Isis. Thirty-one Republican governors have said that they would deny sanctuary to any Syrian ­immigrants. (emphasis mine) Edward Luce - Financial Times 
Those who have to deal directly with the threat of local terrorism, the police, are not happy with this hysteria:
Counter-terrorism officials of the Los Angeles Police Department met on Thursday with Muslim-American leaders to reassure them and the community at large that they are not alone and that they are facing this challenge together. “Muslim communities are our strength — not our weakness,” Deputy Chief Michael Downing told The Times. “We can’t let this deteriorate our relationship or allow others to isolate or stigmatize the Muslim community.” Chief Downing said law enforcement needs the trust and cooperation of the majority of Muslims in the mainstream, those who can raise the alarm about the radicalized few.  Editorial New York Times
To translate the above into plain English: From time immemorial, more than using brilliant, Sherlock Holmes type deduction and state of the art laboratory work, efficient policeman-ship has, depended mostly on creating networks of tattling informers.

Obviously if panic merchants like Donald Trump create some sort of anti-Muslim Kristallnacht movement, the American Muslim community will naturally pull itself into its shell like a turtle and reliable sources of information will dry up.

Thought for the day: If we treat all 1.3B Muslims in the world as our enemies, eventually all 1.3B Muslims will become our enemies. Could anything be more stupid than that?   

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East

What are ISIS's objectives?

Names and titles are important, especially in a religious/political context, a Pope, for example, is not a bishop or a parish priest and a Pope is not really a Pope if he doesn't control the Vatican and with it the spiritual life of the world's Catholics... Thus, among Muslims,  ISIS's calling itself a caliphate and naming its leader the caliph is a clear declaration of its intentions.
A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph, a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet, and a leader of the entire Muslim community. Wikipedia
File:Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 2004.jpg
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - source Wikipedia
Here is the leader of ISIS and if he is killed they will simply name another because as long as there is a caliphate there will be a caliph.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi born 28 July 1971 as Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, is the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also known as ISIS or Daesh, an Islamic extremist group in western Iraq, Libya, northeast Nigeria, and Syria. He has been proclaimed by his followers to be a caliph. Wikipedia
As you can see the soi-disant caliph's real name is Ibrahim and he has changed it to Abu Bakr. What does that mean?

Who was the original Abu Bakr?
Abu Bakr was a senior companion and—through his daughter Aisha, the father-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Abu Bakr became the first openly declared Muslim outside Muhammad's family.(...) he became the first Muslim Caliph following Muhammad's death. As caliph, Abu Bakr succeeded to the political and administrative functions previously exercised by Muhammad. Wikipedia
Again papal comparisons might be roughly useful; Just as the present Pope, born Jorge, has taken the name "Francis" as a declaration of the church's return to Franciscan poverty and simplicity, in similar fashion an aspiring caliph's taking the name Abu-Bakr is probably a declaration of a return to some mythical  origins of purity and simplicity.

As to where ISIS and its caliphate are headed, nothing could be clearer. Just as the Pope must occupy the Vatican, a caliph should live in or at least control the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which are in Saudi Arabia, which is called thus, because it is controlled by the House of Saud.

And since ISIS's ideology and the official one of that kingdom are one and the same, the only real obstacle to Abu-Bakr taking up residence in Mecca is the Saudi Royal family.
The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime. Kamel Daoud - New York Times
The royal house of Saud are perfectly aware of this trap:
(Former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove) remembers the then head of Saudi General Intelligence "literally shouting at me across his office: '9/11 is a mere pinprick on the West. In the medium term, it is nothing more than a series of personal tragedies. What these terrorists want is to destroy the House of Saud and remake the Middle East.'" In the event, Saudi Arabia adopted both policies, encouraging the jihadis as a useful tool of Saudi anti-Shia influence abroad but suppressing them at home as a threat to the status quo. It is this dual policy that has fallen apart over the last year. The Independent
One of the reasons this "dual policy" is falling apart illustrates the contradictions that Saudi Arabia's present rulers have to deal with. They have been dumping oil on the market to try to break the American fracking industry by lowering prices and thus maintain their market share. This means that their cash reserves are being rapidly depleted and since basically the Saudi royal family holds onto power by subsidizing a largely unproductive population... they are in big and growing trouble.
Saudi Arabia is effectively beached. It relies on oil for 90pc of its budget revenues. There is no other industry to speak of, a full fifty years after the oil bonanza began. Citizens pay no tax on income, interest, or stock dividends. Subsidized petrol costs twelve cents a litre at the pump. Electricity is given away for 1.3 cents a kilowatt-hour. Spending on patronage exploded after the Arab Spring as the kingdom sought to smother dissent.(...) In hindsight, it was a strategic error to hold prices so high, for so long, allowing shale frackers - and the solar industry - to come of age. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle.(...) Social spending is the glue that holds together a medieval Wahhabi regime at a time of fermenting unrest among the Shia minority of the Eastern Province, pin-prick terrorist attacks from ISIS, and blowback from the invasion of Yemen. Diplomatic spending is what underpins the Saudi sphere of influence in a Middle East suffering its own version of Europe's Thirty Year War, and still reeling from the after-shocks of a crushed democratic revolt. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard - The Telegraph
It's obvious to me that in a few years the House of Saud will probably take up residence close to their billions on the shores of some frigid Swiss lake... Will this mean that Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, A.K.A, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi finally gets his chance to be a real live caliph in Mecca? 

Probably not.... but it might very well be somebody even worse... so stay tuned.  DS

1 comment:

stunted said...

Well, given yesterday's (22 Dec.) news that the US just barred a British Muslim family from entering the US by refusing to let them board their plane in Gatwick for a trip to Disneyland, it seems the mighty home of the brave is going with the stupid option concerning your thought for the day.