The fact that Islamic State (formerly Daesh or ISIS/ISIL) is highly popular in the Islamic world cannot be ignored. Not a day goes by without reading about large numbers of people from all parts of the globe – both Muslims, would-be Muslims and converts – arriving in droves at the Jihad centers of Syria and Iraq prepared to give up their lives for Islamic State.
A number of groups have sworn allegiance to the «State’s» leader, Caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The most recent of these is Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a terror group based in Sinai that poses a threat to Egypt.
In addition, the fact that we have not heard of one protest or demonstration against Islamic State anywhere in the Islamic world, not even against its treatment of minorities, women and children, cannot be ignored. The thunderous quiet is in sharp contrast to the violent demonstrations that enveloped that very same world over caricatures, films and military actions of which it disapproved. Does the Islamic world agree with beheadings, mass murder of minorities and the sale of women in the slave market? And another question that needs answering is why Al Qaeda was not as attractive as Islamic State during the years in which it operated.
The most meaningful answer to these questions is that to many Muslims, Islamic State appears to be the real thing – pure, holy, original and unadulterated Islam.
To them, it is the Islam that Mohammed brought to the world and that guided his cohorts and those who ruled after him. Many Muslims have read or heard about books on Islamic history, where the way Islamic forces conquered most of the 7th century world, butchering infidels, looting churches and monasteries, selling infidels on the market and forcing those who were vanquished to convert, is described with great pride – and without an iota of shame.
Islamic historians have never felt the need to apologize for the way in which they conquered the world, to the point where they constantly describe Islam as a religion of peace. Islamic State today is doing the same: it conquers areas, beheads some, crucifies others, sells men and women into slavery just the way the first Muslims did in the seventh century, and it also cuts off the hands of thieves, stones adulterers, whips criminals, all in accordance with Sharia law. Can any Muslim believer protest against Sharia? Can he protest the return of Muslim practices to the glorious days of the Prophet and his followers? Can a Muslim criticize Mohammed’s behavior when the Islamic faith declares him infallible?
In contrast to al Qaeda, which never took over territory in order to establish an Islamic state, IS is the modern territorial expression of what seems to be the exact replica of what Mohammed created in the seventh century. The writing on the IS flag is taken from the seventh century and followers believe that it includes Mohammed’s seal. A good many IS fighters wear black, as did the early fighters for Islam. At the head of IS today is a Caliph, the title given to those rulers who took over after Mohammed. This is a crucial point, because the institution of the Caliphate was dissolved in 1924 by Attaturk (Mustafa Kamal), who has now been declared an enemy of Islam by the faithful. He stopped Sharia, set fire to mosques, closed madrassas, switched from Arabic to Latin letters and tried to uproot Islam from Turkey by every means at his disposal. IS, however, has arrived to renew the Caliphate, a subject that plays on a sensitive string in the Islamic heart.
Another issue is that IS does not hesitate to threaten the infidel Western powers, and has no problem butchering American and British citizens– the symbols of heretic Christian Western hegemony. These murders are carried out confidently and unashamedly in front of the camera, while the murderers read a scornful English message meant for those countries’ leaders, considered the strongest men in the world, leading the strongest countries in the world The sheer audacity of IS makes Moslems all over the world proud and makes them feel that this is the way a true Moslem should act and speak when faced with heretics.
This issue is most important to the young Muslims living in the Europe and the USA, who have not been absorbed into Western society and have developed feelings of rage against the countries in which they were raised. Their mass exodus to the Jihad centers of Iraq and Syria stems from their desire to take revenge on the West for pushing them, the children of immigrants, to the periphery of society and for discriminating against them although they were born, raised and educated in the West.
Of late, several videos video clips have surfaced whose subject is the young Yazidi women handed over to the fighters of IS to serve as slaves. The clips portray the lighthearted bantering of the fighters prior to the young women’s being divided up among them. In traditional Islamic societies, where men are not allowed to have any contact with women other than their wives, this relaxation of prohibitions acts as a strong pull factor.
Islamic State arrived in a world where social media – youtube, facebook, twitter – are within everyone’s reach, mainly through the use of mobile phones. The intensive utilization of these methods of communication by IS activists on internet sites set up for that purpose, facilitates recording their ideas, propagating them and recruiting volunteers.
Islamic State is a wealthy organization: it has wrested control over oil fields, and countries – most likely Turkey – buy oil from it, some directly and some indirectly. IS fighters rob banks, kidnap people for ransoms in the millions, receive massive funding from countries such as Qatar, levy taxes on the populations forced to live under IS control in the areas it has conquered. All this enables IS to purchase arms, weapons, means of communication and transportation that create the image of success – and in attracting people, nothing succeeds like success.
Islamic State has gained possession of arsenals of American weapons and arms that belonged to the Iraqi army. These are now in the hands of the Jihadists. Some of the weapons airlifted to the Kurds fighting in Kobane in northern Syria, fell into the hands of IS as, literally, gifts from heaven. Many Muslims believe that American weaponry that serves Jihad fighters battling America is a sign from heaven proving that Allah is helping the Jihad fighterswin against their enemies by means of the enemies’ own weapons.
Just for the sake of comparison: al Qaeda does not control any territory, does not collect taxes, does not force Sharia law on local populations, has no Caliph at its head, and even its Jihad against infidels has waned over the years. Al Qaeda’s image is that of a tired, old, decrepit organization that has lost its way, while Islamic State – at this point – seems a young and vibrantone, whose actions are in true accordance with Islamic precepts and which does not give any consideration to the heretical, materialistic and permissive cultural mores with which Western culture tries to inculcate Muslims all over the world.
As things stand, IS will probably grow larger over the next few months – or years – and become more dangerous and influential in the Middle East and possibly the world.
This organization can be made to disappear in one of two ways: the first, a battle to the death that the world declares against it, putting «boots on the ground» to destroy or imprison the Jihadists, down to the last man. The problem with this scenario is the high price in human life and resources the world will have to pay in order to bring it about.
The second scenario is what has always happened in Islamic history: once a group begins to rule, internal feuds appear based on ideology, religion, funds, personal differences,tribal and organizational animosities – leading to eventual disintegration and its fall from power. The problem with this scenario is that it takes a long time and can span decades during which the organization continues shedding blood and turning its subjects’ lives into hell.
Meanwhile, the world does nothing of any consequence against IS, which is advancing, gaining control over more territory and threatening other nations in its immediate environs. Organizations and volunteers are eagerly joining it and there is no end in sight. Islamic State is undoubtedly more attractive than al Qaeda, making it stronger and turning it into a clear and present danger to the Middle East and the entire world.
The real problem in the West today is that too many European politicians depend on the votes of large, ever growing Muslim populations, meaning that there is very little chance that these politicians will take a stand against anything Islamic, including Islamic State and how it must be addressed.
Written in Hebrew for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.