The Islamic State (IS) was never a part of the legitimate resistance against Syrian President Bashar al Assad. There are possibly hundreds of opposition groups inside Syria. Several of these groups consider themselves to be the leader of the rebellion. These groups are not part of a larger monolithic whole; rather, they are divergent ethnic and religious groups that are often antagonistic and even violent towards one another.

The Islamic State has used the chaos created by the Syrian rebellion to try and fulfill an obscure Islamic prophecy. Back during the zenith of Osama bin Laden’s war with the West, some Islamists started focusing on any Islamic teachings, no matter how obscure, that promoted a jihadist visionAtomic Explosion that would be global in scope. Their goal was to legitimize their politicized version of Islam and to cement the legitimacy of jihad in the minds of Muslim moderates. This search led to scholarship regarding something called Yawm ad-Din, the Day of Judgement.

Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events in history. Such a concept is often referred to as “end times” and it is definitely not limited to Islam. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Baha’i, and new religious movements such as New Age religions also have eschatological theology and followers who believe in imminent apocalypticism

The Day of Judgement was first introduced to jihadi groups by the world’s foremost jihadist scholar, a Palestinian man named Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi. Maqdisi’s prominence and knowledge has attracted jihadi acolytes over the years including Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) called upon Maqdisi to find out if their jihad in Yemen would lead to an Islamic Caliphate. Maqdisi affirmed an exceptional destiny for the jihadists in Yemen, but added a caveat that the group in Yemen would have to go on to Syria to fulfill their destiny. Maqdisi explained that AQAP would help bring about Allah’s judgment by helping to usher in the end of the world. Maqdisi explained that jihadists in the AQAP would help mobilize popular support against the West and its apostate allies by launching attacks all over the globe. But first, the fighters in Yemen had to get to Syria.

Yemeni fighters poured into Syria, but the original al Qaeda and its affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq would play a part in popularizing Syria’s role in bringing about the Day of Judgement.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi assumed control of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010. Baghdadi’s closest aide, Hajji Bakr, who has been described as the “prince of the shadows,” helped his leader consolidate power. He proclaimed Baghdadi as a legitimate caliph that was helping to usher in the apocalypse. Baghdadi’s followers believe there will only be four more caliphs after Baghdadi before the end of the world.

During this period, Bakr saw jihad in pragmatic terms. He wanted to attack government troops and police as a blueprint to open up power vacuums to deplete security and resistance to an Islamic State takeover. He also wanted to introduce a powerful religious motivation for uniting jihadists behind a single program—his program. The Day of Judgement prophecy became an influential tool for motivating jihadists to take over Iraq and Syria under Baghdadi’s control. IS fighters

When Syrians began peaceably protesting against their government in 2011, Assad’s administration released an unknown number of jihadists from prison with a calculation that these men would foster violence among the protesters and give the regime an excuse to violently suppress them. Taking advantage of the volatility, al Qaeda’s Ayman al Zawahiri encouraged Baghdadi to send members of his Islamic State of Iraq into Syria. He did, and this group morphed and eventually came to calling itself Jabhat al Nusra or Nusra Front.

Nusra expanded in Northern Syria, and it eventually splintered with the Islamic State of Iraq.

In 2013, Baghdadi announced that he was in control of Nusra and that he was merging it with the Islamic State of Iraq into one group, “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIL or ISIS). Some leaders within Nusra rejected this merger and reaffirmed an allegiance to al Qaeda. Others, particularly foreign fighters from Yemen, joined with Baghdadi.

The end times prophecy worked as a solidifying agent and as propaganda to bring jihadists groups under Baghdadi’s control.

The Qur’an does not go into much specificity about the Day of Judgement. Instead, Islamists have had to depend on hadith for descriptions and guidance. Various hadith explain that chaos and corruption will rule in Muslim lands, and Jesus (whom Muslims see as a Muslim and a Prophet) will return near the day of judgement to restore justice and to defeat the Antichrist called the Mahdi. After he defeats the Mahdi, Muslims believe that Jesus will assume leadership of the world and will live for another 40 years before dying of natural causes. The rule of Jesus will be the precursor to Muhammad returning for the final day of judgement.

The prophecy that the Islamic State has used is a version of this narration. It describes that the armies of “Rome” will gather on what are currently grasslands in Northern Syria. These armies will face off against the armies of Islam (Islamic State) and then be vanquished. IS will then be free to takeover Istanbul before a final showdown in Jerusalem. It is there in Jerusalem that Jesus will return to slaughter the Antichrist and his followers the Christians and Jews.

Most Islamic sects consider hadith to be essential supplements to, and clarifications of, the Qur’an. Sunni and Shi’a hadith collections differ drastically. Sunni hadith texts number around 10 thousand. Shi’ites refute six major Sunni collections, but Shi’a sects cannot agree with one another on which of their texts are actually authentic. Consequently, hadith texts within Shi’a traditions are more contested, and therefore an exact number for Shi’a hadith is difficult to claim.

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France is at War

November 16, 2015

The extremist group Islamic State (IS) has taken credit for a series of terror attacks in Paris on Friday that killed 129 people and injured hundreds more. The attacks are the deadliest on French soil since World War II, and French President François Hollande has called them “an act of war.”

In Syria, U.S. fighter jets joined this morning with the French in bombing IS targets. In Paris, authorities continue to investigate the attacks, saying they have identified the mastermind as a Belgian man living in Syria. In the United States, opponents of the Obama administration say a stronger response to IS terrorism is required.

Much is happening in France as a response to the attacks. This morning, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that the country has subsequently conducted 168 raids, detaining 23 suspects and putting more than 100 under house arrest.

Salim Benghalem, a French national, is believed to have orchestrated the attacks, while Abdelhamid Abaaoud is believed to have ordered them. The two men are thought to currently be in Syria.

In the last few months IS has begun training their fighters on a battlefield, in real-life situations, which can make them more successful terrorists.

France and the United States are founding members of NATO.

A NATO response to the attacks will undoubtedly start with an enhanced level of intelligence-sharing and special operations from the NATO nations going in and supporting the current campaign. Secondly, NATO will probably take over the Syrian bombing campaign.

In the Charlie Hebdo attacks last January, the guns were traced back to Belgium, where there has been a series of arrests in recent days. Two of the gunmen, who died in Friday’s attacks, appear to have been Belgian.

Tens of thousands of foreign Muslims are thought to have immigrated to the Islamic State. Recruits hail from Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and many more. They immigrate with the intention to fight, and many expect to die.

The Islamic State rejects peace as a matter of conviction, and its members espouse enthusiasm for mass genocide. The religious views of IS followers specify that they consider the Islamic State to be a harbinger of the imminent end of the world; furthermore, they believe that IS will play a primary and specific role in bringing it about.

I cannot stress this enough, the kind of radical fundamentalism that IS promotes matters for its terrorist strategy. IS believes in a distinct variety of Islam that puts prominence on an end times scenario. The Islamic State’s strategy is to hit Western society with frequent and devastating attacks to provoke Western governments into a declaration of open war. The Islamic State actually wants to be attacked in a very specific Syrian location of its choice.

IS has attached pronounced significance to a Syrian city near Aleppo named Dabiq. IS members passionately rejoiced when they conquered Dabiq’s strategically inconsequential grasslands, and the organization named its propaganda magazine after the town. Dabiq is basically all farmland, but IS believes that Prophet Muhammad proclaimed that the armies of Rome would set up their camp there. The armies of Islam will then meet them in Dabiq, and the battle will lead to Rome’s demise as the world comes to an end.

Everything the Islamic State does is in anticipation of this event. IS awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will start the countdown to armageddon. The Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as an article of faith, and that means it is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration while remaining confident that it will receive divine rescue if it stays true to its religious model.

The prophetic tale that predicts the encounter at Dabiq refers to the enemy as Rome. The identity of who this Rome is remains widely debated among IS membership, because the Pope no longer controls a vast military. Some members argue that Rome is the Republic of Turkey. Other IS members suggest that Rome is an infidel army, and, if that is the case, many in IS are sure that must mean the Americans… or perhaps the French.

IS has captured large portions of land in Iraq and Syria since the summer of 2014.

The Islamic State has introduced forced conscription in the territories it has conquered. They’ve been going to the heads of families as well as tribes and saying, you have to give us one son from every family. And those young men are then taken to training camps.

The Islamic State’s principal forebear, al Qaeda, constructed its identity around extraordinary terrorist attacks because it aimed to “provoke and bait” the United States into “bleeding wars” throughout the Islamic world. Its ultimate goal was to use terrorism as a mechanism of change— to undermine the status quo and weaken Middle Eastern countries—so that radicals could turn those countries into an Islamic militant paradise. The Islamic State, in contrast, isn’t interested in creating a paradise on earth. IS wants to destroy the world in order to achieve a paradise in heaven.

Al Qaeda’s brand of Islamist ideology encouraged reconsideration of earlier Islamic religious positions. For example, a chief goal of bin Laden was to defend and preserve Sunni norms and laws against Western secular encroachment. Defensive arguments within bin Laden’s Salafi movement, often referred to as jihad, were accompanied by an unusual degree of openness to departures from past Islamic analysis and understanding. These departures included a call for a more rigid conservatism while promoting a militant vision and culture unheard-of in classical Islam.

The Islamic State takes these ideological departures further. IS has styled itself a state so that it can take up what Islamic law refers to as “offensive jihad,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. Without a caliphate, jihadists could only interpret their actions as defending themselves, because offensive jihad is still seen as an inapplicable concept. But the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph. As an essential duty, IS hopes that its caliphate could potentially draw in millions of Muslims more for IS’s end of the world scenario.

The first assassination in post-revolutionary Tunisia occurred today. Chokri Belaid, a lawyer and Tunisian opposition leader, had been critical of both the Islamist-led government and of the violence perpetrated by radical Muslim Salafist groups. He was was gunned down as he left his home.

Protests in the North African nation originally ignited the Arab Spring, and it has since been seen as a model for the Arab world’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. The killing of Belaid is likely to increase societal tensions, and Tunisia’s Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouch called the assassination a “terrorist act.” Belaid was shot point-blank several times.

Belaid was a high profile politician who had been particularly outspoken against groups affiliated with Tunisia’s largest political party, the Ennahda Party, that is infamous for seeking out remnants of the old dictatorship regime. The Ennahda is an Islamist party that was originally inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. It is the most well-organized party in Tunisia, and it has politically outdistanced all of its more secular competitors.

Tunisia

Belaid was a member of a leftist alliance of parties known as the Popular Front. Islamist militants had disrupted a rally that Belaid had led over the weekend. The rally was part of a string of political meetings that have been disrupted by gangs loyal to Ennahda.

French President Francois Hollande has condemned the killing by saying, “This murder deprives Tunisia of one of its most courageous and free voices.”

Tunisia’s Islamist-led government is seen as being too moderate by that country’s more radical elements. Salafist groups have labeled the government as an oppressor for its refusal to release some 900 militants arrested for various acts of violence. Two of those detainees have since died in their cells after hunger strikes.

This has put Tunisia’s Islamist leaders in a problematic position. To the secular elite, the government is too indulgent regarding Salafist groups; yet, the Salafis accuse the government of being too indulgent regarding the secularists. Salafis have thus accused the Islamist-led government of selling out the purest form of Islam. It is a fine line that Tunisia’s leaders are currently walking.

The most radical of the Salafist gangs have attacked cultural events and shrines they consider un-Islamic. Carrying sticks and swords, they have ransacked stores selling alcohol and fought with the police. Salafist militants are also accused of leading the attack last year on the American school in Tunis as well as the U.S. Embassy attack that killed United States Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The Salafi movement is typically spread through schools run by religious teachers who have little knowledge of or appreciation for traditional Islam. The chief task of these teachers is to promote a jihadist vision that is 1) global in scope, 2) intolerant of competing with other Sunni doctrines, and 3) fanatically anti-Shi’a. A main goal of these Salafist schools has been having their pupils spread this form of Islam world-wide. Originating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Salafist movement has made Tunisia one of its latest cultural battlegrounds.

It’s been more than two years since anti-government protests began in Egypt. Since then, the government’s been replaced, citizens gained their right to vote, and a new president has been sworn in; however, protests in Egypt have started again, and some of them have turned violent.

Egyptians are frustrated because revolutionaries haven’t been able to translate the protests that brought down the former government into greater political action and reform. Egyptian courts are seen as politicized, police have not been reformed, and citizens do not have due process protections. Protesters are furious over the abusive treatment Egyptians receive at the hands of security forces.

Egypt’s interior minister did offer a rare apology over the weekend after officers under his command were seen on television beating a naked man two blocks from the president’s palace.  The spectacle of Hamada Saber’s beating revived bitterness at Egypt’s police force, whose record of brutality helped set off the original revolt against Hosni Mubarak, the former president, and served as a reminder that nearly two years later, the new president, Mohamed Morsi, had taken few steps to reform the police.

A protester uses a loudhailer as she chants anti-Mursi slogans during a protest in front of the presidential palace in Cairo

The latest violence has deepened a sense of crisis in Egypt. The country’s quarreling political forces, supporters and opponents of President Morsi, have blamed each other.

The current ruling party in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, and they have struggled with their leadership role. The Brotherhood was an oppressed group before the anti-government protests began, and they have had difficulty with the challenges of their new position.

The seven million bureaucrats that work in Egypt’s government have kept their jobs under Morsi; therefore the endemic corruption and bribe taking that has plagued Egypt has not been addressed. Furthermore, the Brotherhood have been so focused on seeing their Islamist constitution become law that they have ignored almost all other grievances. The Brotherhood  rammed their constitution through to approval in December.

Since becoming the president of Egypt as the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi has focused on turning Egypt into an Islamist state. Possibly because he doesn’t want to give any momentum to the secularist opposition, Mr. Morsi has not done any reforms that could alienate government workers or weaken his power base. Therefore, the little political capital that Morsi had not invested in shaping Egypt’s constitution has been focused on foreign policy. Here, Morsi is taking a page out of the North Korea playbook where he is attempting to shift attention away from internal politics. By shifting national focus to outside the country, Morsi is in less danger of offending government interest groups. Of course, so far he is failing to change the national subject.

Morsi has sought to reassert Egypt’s historical leadership role in regional affairs. In doing so, Morsi has tried to place Egypt at the center of negotiations to end the Syrian civil war. He has also warmed relations with Iran. Morsi rightly believes that if he can paint himself as a peacemaker, it will quell some of his political opposition. In that vein, Morsi has called for a national dialogue within Egypt as a response to the country’s ongoing violence.

Egypt’s Coptic Christian pope sharply criticized Morsi and the Brotherhood in an interview with The Associated Press earlier today, saying that the new constitution is discriminatory, because under it Egypt’s Christians are being treated as a minority.

The comments by Pope Tawadros II reflected the political stance, historically unusual for a Coptic Pope, that he has taken since being enthroned in November as the spiritual leader of the Copts, the main community of Egypt’s Christians. Christians are increasingly worried over the power of Islamists in the country.

Tawadros dismissed Morsi’s call for national dialogue as a way to dispel criticism that his government concentrates power in the Brotherhood without reforming corruption. Most secularist opposition parties have refused to join the dialogue, as has the Coptic Church, calling it mere window dressing.

“We will actively take part in any national dialogue that would benefit the nation,” Tawadros told The AP. “But when a dialogue ends before it starts and none of its results are implemented then we do not take part.”

Thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo today for a mass demonstration to protest a draft constitution that has been adopted by the allies of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The demonstration culminated in a mass march on the presidential palace.

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As you may be aware, Egypt’s fragile democracy was threatened last month when Morsi, a member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, moved to dramatically expand his power by nullifying Egypt’s separation of powers and granting himself absolute authority.

Separation of powers is a model for state governance. It was first used by the Roman Republic around 509 BCE. Under this model, the state is divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers as well as areas of responsibility. This ensures that no branch has more power than the other branches. The most common branch division is an executive, a legislature, and a judiciary.

Under Morsi, Egypt’s executive branch now has immunity from the other branches, thus giving the president dictator-like powers.

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Bin Laden Dead

May 2, 2011

The architect behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was killed in an operation led by the United States, President Obama said Sunday in a late-night statement at the White House.

Osama Bin Laden was probably born in 1957. He was number 17 of 57 children to a father who made his fortune in the Saudi Arabia construction industry.  It is believed that the young bin Laden got his penchant for radical Islamist ideology at his university,  King Abdul-Aziz University, in Jeddah. This is where bin Laden was exposed to Islamist thinkers.

Bin Laden was influenced by the Sunni reformist movements of Deobandi and Salafi. Going forward, Bin Laden and his followers were bolstered by a genuine belief that they were reformulating the global order.

Bin Laden’s personal brand of Islamist ideology encouraged reconsideration of earlier Islamic religious positions. Among the goals of bin Laden were the defense and preservation of Sunni norms and law. Defensive arguments within bin Laden’s Salafi movement, often referred to as jihad, are often accompanied by an unusual degree of openness to departures from past Islamic analysis and understanding. These departures include a call for a more rigid conservatism while promoting a militant vision and culture unheard-of in classical Islam.

The Salafi and Deobandi movements are typically spread through schools run by religious teachers who have little knowledge of or appreciation for traditional Islam. The chief task of these teachers is to promote a jihadist vision that is global in scope, intolerant of competing with other Sunni doctrines, and fanatically anti-Shi’a. A main goal of Salafi and Deobandi schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is having their pupils spread this form of Islam world-wide.

U.S. intelligence tracked the al Qaeda leader to a 3,000 square foot, custom built compound with high walls and two security gates. The compound is near the Pakistani town of Abbottabad. Bin Laden’s movements were monitored for months until President Obama decided that there was enough evidence for the U.S. military to act.

U.S. operatives moved on the compound early Monday local time. Helicopters descended on the fortified compound in Abbottabad, and a small contingent of the U.S. Navy Seals killed bin Laden in a raid.

President Obama announced the news at the White House. He called the death of bin Laden “the most significant achievement to date” in the war against al Qaeda.

“After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body,” the president said, warning that the U.S. must remain vigilant because al Qaeda will “continue to pursue attacks against us.”

Iranian Physics professor Massoud Ali Mohammadi was killed by a bomb blast outside his home on Tuesday.

The Iranian government has accused the United States and Israel of being behind the killing. The bomb, which was placed on Mohammadi’s motorcycle, detonated by remote control when he approached. It is worth noting that Mohammadi has been tied to the Iranian regime’s opposition movement. There has been speculation that the Iranian government was secretly behind the assassination.

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The infamy of the attacks on 9/11 has had different effects in the Middle East and South Asia than it has had in the United States. While America still grieves for the victims and the innocence that was lost, many in the Muslim world see the events as a cultural lesson. A lesson that many of them believe has not yet been learned. The carnage of September 11 was vile and evil, but it could happen again. In order to understand the “how” one must look at the “why.”

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