The murder of 27 tourists in Tunisia, the spectacle of the beheaded French citizen, who worked at an industrial plant near Lyon in France (he was known to his attacker, so a personal motive should not be excluded, but the methods chosen are those of ISIS, and the killer was on the police watchlist for Islamic extremism), the bomb attack on the Shi’a mosque in Kuwait, killing 25, the 145 civilians murdered in Kobani, in the Kurdish part of Syria, all within a single day as a macabre observance of Ramadan, show the reach and ferocity of the methods of the Islamic State, and its admirers and emulators, a group once dismissed by Barack Obama as “the J.V.” team.
Martin O’Malley, a Democratic candidate for President, blames the American “rush to war” over Iraq for the rise of the Islamic State. But what could he possibly mean by this? Does he mean that the Muslim Arabs, and Muslims from all over the world who have gone to join the Islamic State, only did so because, with the removal of Saddam Hussein, they found it possible to do so? Or does he mean that the American intervention in Iraq caused resentment among local Sunni Arabs, resentment both of the Infidel Americans and the Infidel Shi’a — those Rafidite dogs and Persians — that hadn’t existed until then, because Sunni Arabs had been running Iraq, as by right they should, and then been dispossessed, and this resentment led to the rise of the Islamic State?
And once it declared itself, this naturally resulted in Pakistani doctors living in Great Britain and Lebanese lawyers in Australia to flock to the Islamic state, along with tens of thousands of other Muslims, from many Western as well as from many Muslim countries. Some countries send more, some less. Tunisians are much in evidence; so are Saudis; so are Chechens. Somalis from Minneapolis, Pakistanis from London, Algerians from Paris, all stream in, and of course so do the converts to Islam, those psychically and socially marginal non-Muslims who, in the projects or in the prisons of Europe and America meet Muslims and decide to join the Muslim gang, which gives them an instant Community of Bruvvers who will support and defend one another, provide a cause that justifies and reclassifies their crimes against the circumambient society as merely following the path of Allah — so that theft now is seen as helping yourself, in the absence of a Muslim ruler, to the Jizyah you deserve — and offers both a Total Regulation of Life and a Simple Solution of the Universe. It’s perfect for so many. It’s a different group from that which converts to Christianity.
These are the Muslims who did not need the war in Iraq to increase their resentment of the West. They hate the Western Infidels for no other reason than that they are Infidels. They hate the Shi’a, who in their eyes are Infidels. They hate the local Christians and Yazidis. They merely took advantage of the absence of authority in the western reaches of Iraq and in war-torn Syria to efface a border, for in the caliphate of their dreams national borders are meaningless, and set up a state, with functioning Shari’a courts, an economy based on theft and extortion, and looting of historical relics, as well as of whatever oil they can manage to divert to themselves from the national pipelines. It is an extraordinary story, and the nearly simultaneous atrocities by admirers or members or emulators of the Islamic state, in France and Tunisia and Kuwait and Syria, ought to make everyone shudder in fear. For it appears that the more such atrocities there are, and then posted on the Internet (so many of them are filmed), the more popular the Islamic State becomes among young Muslims around the world.
Which brings us to the question: which is the real Islam? Is the Islamic State an aberration, a monstrous perversion of Islam, or is it perhaps the Islam depicted, and therefore followed by some nowadays, in the Hadith? “I have been made victorious with terror” was Muhammad’s claim. Has the Islamic State not been following the example set by the earliest Muslims? And if so, even if this Islamic State is defeated, or if it comes apart because the West and local regimes starve it of resources, and bomb it into oblivion, isn’t it true that, for some Muslims who take their Islam straight up, and not diluted on the rocks, for those Muslims purs et durs, the Dream Shall Never Die? It can’t be eliminated, only reduced to manageable proportions.
As long as there is Islam, there will be those Muslims who will want something very much like the Islamic State. They will try to destroy economies — Tunisia is now reeling from the second attack on its tourism industry, and the effects will be devastating. What Western tourist would visit now? They will attack the Shi’a, even Arab Shi’a, because for the Islamic State Sunnis, Shi’a are Infidels, perhaps even worse, in their hypocrisy, than the Christians and Jews. They will kill and videotape their killings and that will bring more recruits.
Islam has been made bearable over the centuries by Muslims who did not know about, or decided tacitly not to enforce, many of its rules. That allowed Muslims to conduct a daily existence made tolerable because they limited their own Islam, for the most part, to the observance of the Five Pillars.
But now the illiterate villager, content for centuries to visit the mud-hut mosque, has had his mental space invaded by, successively, radio, television, the Internet. The full message of Islam is available to him, and he can hardly escape it. To too many Muslims, this is apparently proving attractive. The opponents of the Islamic State can’t come up with a rebuttal of the Qur’anic quotes, and justification that the Sunnah also offers, for ISIS’ actions.What can they do? They can fight, but they are fighting the True Believers, making themselves open to charges of being un-Islamic. They don’t have the texts on their side.
So if Caid Bej Essebsi in Tunisia, or Al-Sisi in Egypt, finds that he has to come down hard, closing mosques — but where do the imams and their followers go, because they do not disappear? — his ruthlessness is understandable. They are fighting to prevent a descent into chaos and murder, and even the Ikhwan, in their minds, is not necessarily a plausible alternative to, but a step on the way toward, the Islamic State. Despotism may be necessary to contain, within Muslim countries, the most ferocious believers. It is difficult to see any other way to deal with such an enemy. Remember this the next time people deplore this or that strongman in the region. The Iron Fist sometimes is necessary, especially in the Muslim East.
Meanwhile, David Cameron says that these killings of Western sunbathers in Tunisia “were not committed in the name of Islam.” What else could he say, now that there are several million Muslims living in Great Britain, and he has to keep the peace? Others whose actions similarly were “not in the name of Islam” or “had nothing to do with Islam” include Major Nidal Hasan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev, and Osama bin Laden and Al-Baghdadi. Nothing at all to do with Islam. At what point can we start to speak the truth?
What is it that prevents people from making the connection between text and deed? There is so much confusion, so much despair, so much clutching at the comforting and plausible denial of such a connection. All people need to keep their wits about them.