Blind Eagle, Brian Fairchild / July 23, 2014:
Over the past three years, the Syrian civil war has attracted over 12,000 young radicalized Muslims who left their homes and rushed to join the jihad. In early July 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) created a new Caliphate that is expected to attract many thousands more, a situation described by the US Attorney General as a “global crisis”.
Many of the foreign fighters, most in their early to mid-20s, hail from Western countries such as Canada, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, and the UK. American officials estimate that over 100 American Muslims have joined them. This fact begs the question: why did these young Muslims leave their homes to travel abroad and join the jihad? An accurate and unbiased answer to this question is crucial if the US is to have an effective counter-terrorism policy.
The answer, at the most fundamental strategic level, is that the ranks of foreign fighters are filled by Muslims who accept a Salafi interpretation of Islam and join the jihad because of their religious beliefs. Salafism is an ancient ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam which demands that Muslims live by an unquestioning literal acceptance of Allah’s commands in the Qur’an (Sharia law), and they wage jihad because numerous Qur’anic verses command them to do so.
The United States government, however, rejects this basic strategic fact. At a speaking engagement in mid-August 2009,John Brennan, then counter terrorism advisor to the president and current CIA director, emphasized President Obama’s rejection of any religious dimension:
- “Nor does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against “jihadists.” Describing terrorists in this way—using a legitimate term, “jihad,” meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal—risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve.”
The president was so adamant in his position, that, in 2010, he ordered the removal of all religious terms such as “jihad” and “Islamic extremism” from the US National Security Strategy assessment, effectively stopping the government from any inquiries involving a connection between Islam and terrorism. In explanation, the administration states that admitting to a connection between Islam and terrorism would bestow legitimacy on the terrorists, insult Islam, and alienate Muslims, so it unilaterally decided to remove Islam from the equation and to henceforth refer to Islamist terrorists as simply “violent extremists”.
The facts, however, contradict the administration’s position. On July 22, 2014, in a follow-up report to the 9/11 Commission investigation, the commissioners noted that:
- “A senior national security official told us that the forces of Islamist extremism in the Middle East are stronger than in the last decade…Officials are also deeply concerned at the region’s seemingly endless supply of disaffected young people vulnerable to being recruited as suicide bombers.”
The majority of the world’s Muslims understand the religious extremism of the terrorists all too well given that they are their predominant target. A 2013 Pew Research poll reveals that “across 11 Muslim publics surveyed…, a median of 67% say they are somewhat or very concerned about Islamic extremism. In five countries – Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Turkey and Indonesia – Muslim worries about extremism have increased in the past year”.
The president of Egypt also understands and accepts the connection between terrorism and Islam. On January 31, 2014, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, called for changes within Islam that amount to an Islamic Reformation saying:
- “Religious discourse is the greatest battle and challenge facing the Egyptian people, pointing to the need for anew vision and a modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam—rather than relying on a discourse that has not changed for 800 years.”
The administration’s own key Muslim partners, too, have explicitly admitted just how permeated Islam is by the extremist interpretation. The following two examples are especially significant because they come from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which considers itself to be the leader of the Sunni Muslim world due to the fact that it is the Protector of the Two Holy Cities –Mecca and Medina, where Islam was revealed to the prophet and flourished:
- Far from trying to hide the religious foundation of Islamist terrorism, on May 16, 2009, Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of the Interior told Ambassador Richard Holbrooke that al Qaeda hijacked Islam, stating “Terrorists stole the most valuable things we have…They took our faith and our children and used them to attack us”. Moreover, he expressed no hesitation telling Holbrooke how far Islamist penetration had succeeded in the Kingdom, stating that in 2003 the Saudis discovered Islamist radicals in “90 percent” of the mosques.
- On May 24, 2009, Ambassador Holbrooke was given a counter-terrorism briefing by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior that revealed the ancient Islamic roots of Salafi ideology and how it spread:
“The counterterrorism briefing began with history and geography: Briefer Captain Bandar Al-Subaie said the Takfiriideology behind extremist groups dated back to the earliest days of Islam, and had figured in the killings of two early Caliphs. Its tenets were reflected in the beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and had spread from there to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then to the Arabian Peninsula where it had been taken up by modern day terrorists including Al-Qaeda (AQ).”
Moreover, an analysis of ISIS’ recent actions and proclamations provides more than enough proof to show that it is not just a gang of sectarian “violent extremists”, but a radical Islamist religious movement.
- Note: The following analysis includes numerous citations to Qur’anic verses. Except for black highlighting, none of the citations have been altered in any way; they are all copied verbatim exactly as they appear in The Noble Qur’an: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary, published by the King Fahd Complex of the Saudi Arabian Government. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of God verbally revealed to Muhammad, in Arabic, through the angel Gabriel. All of the verses in the Qur’an (which constitute Sharia law) are considered direct commands in God’s voice.
According to the US administration, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the new Islamic State are no more than “violent extremists” perpetrating regional sectarian violence. As such, their communications are considered to be simply hate speech or exhortations to violence and of no real intelligence value.
The reality, however, is quite to the contrary. On July 5, 2014, al-Baghdadi made his debut appearance in a video at the Great Mosque of al-Nouri in Mosul, Iraq. Wearing Islamic garb and sporting a long beard, he made a speech that was carefully crafted specifically to establish his religious legitimacy to rule all Muslims as the leader of the new Caliphate.
Al-Baghdadi’s speech occurred during the Muslim month of Ramadan, and he opened by stating that “Ramadan is a month to wage jihad”, noting that the Prophet Muhammad made armies and fought the “polytheists” during this month. This reference sent a particularly potent message to Muslims, especially to radicalized Salafis, who understood its implications.
The Prophet Muhammad led Islam’s two most important battles during Ramadan – the very first battle – the Battle of Badr, and the Battle of Mecca. In Islamic history, Muhammad, against all odds, was victorious at the desert oasis of Badr as a result of Allah’s divine intervention. At the Battle of Mecca, he deployed an Army of 10,000 and the city fell virtually without resistance. The victory at Mecca consolidated Muhammad’s power and caused the surrounding tribes to join him. The few remaining opposing tribes were quickly subdued.
The parallels to al-Baghdadi are unmistakable. Al-Baghdadi’s total force is estimated to be around 10,000. He emerged out of the desert and, against all odds, defeated the Iraqi military with many Iraqi units running from his advance. He consolidated his power in the new Islamic State, and the surrounding tribes have joined him. He is currently pursuing the remaining opposition. He also claimed that the success he and his mujahideen have achieved was only possible because they “have been bestowed upon by Allah to achieve victory” – divine intervention.
After referencing Ramadan, al-Baghdadi quoted the Qur’an – Chapter 51, Verse 56, “I (Allah) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship me (alone)”, which reminded all Muslims that they were created to submit to and follow the commands of Allah. Having established this basic tenet of Islam, he followed by saying that Allah commanded them to fight against his enemies and then paraphrased Allah’s command to “Wage jihad using your wealth and yourself for the sake of Allah”, which appears in the Qur’an Chapter 9, Verse 41:
- “March forth, whether you are light (being healthy, young and wealthy) or heavy (being ill, old and poor), and strive hard with your wealth and your lives in the cause of Allah. This is better for you, if you but knew.”
To reinforce this point, he immediately quoted two additional jihad commands – “I have ordered you to fight even though you do not like it”, which paraphrases Qur’an Chapter 2, Verse 216:
- “Jihad (holy fighting in Allah’s cause) is ordained for you (Muslims) though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.”
As well as, “And fight them so there is no discord and this religion is for all people to adopt in their life for Allah”, which paraphrases Chapter 2, Verse 193:
- “And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone)…”
Having amply established each Muslim’s duty to wage jihad, he then told his audience what the jihad is for – to establish Allah’s religion on earth through the creation of a Caliphate ruled by Sharia law, after which he announced the creation of the new Caliphate with himself elected as its Imam.
This speech is nothing but religious. It methodically used Qur’anic references to make the Sharia case to all Muslims that al-Baghdadi’s jihad, his recent victories, and the establishment of the new Caliphate are all Islamically legal and sanctioned by Allah. It was devoid of any other content.
ISIS’ strict adherence to Sharia law is not only confined to the new Imam’s speeches, however. On July 21, 2014, ISIS gave Christians in Mosul an ultimatum: to convert to Islam, submit to Islam and pay the Jizya (a tax for Muslim protection), or die.
These threats were described in the media and by government officials as another example of the group’s intolerance and mindless “sectarian” violence, but with no other significance. This superficial assessment, however, misses the larger point. The threats are an integral part of Sharia as commanded by Allah in Qur’an Chapter 9, Verse 29:
- “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger Muhammad, (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Even the most barbaric of ISIS crimes adhere to Sharia. In late May 2014, news reports surfaced that ISIS had crucified a number of its opponents, which is commanded in Chapter 5, Verse 33:
- “The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off from opposite sides, or be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter.”
In mid-June 2014, reports surfaced of ISIS beheadings, which is commanded in Chapter 47, Verse 4:
- “So, when you meet (in fight – Jihad in Allah’s Cause) those who disbelieve, smite (their) necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them…”
Understanding the religious foundation of ISIS and all other Salafi-jihadi organizations is not just an academic exercise. The definition of an enemy dictates how national resources are used to combat it. As the facts above reveal, ISIS is not a regional, sectarian organization seeking a place for Sunnis in Iraq’s political structure. Nor is it just a band of thugs committing violence for violence’s sake. It is a radical religious movement that transcends borders. In the minds of its leaders and followers it is fighting a holy war justified by Allah’s commands in the Qur’an (Sharia law). It is not driven by regional political ambition, but by religious zeal. The young radical Muslims that flock to it share the same religious beliefs and zealotry.
Brian Fairchild bio.