Graeme Wood has an excellent, must-read article in the Atlantic, describing clearly the religious ideology underlying ISIS, and identifying this movement as yet another outbreak of apocalyptic Mahdism.
Without a caliphate, for example, individual vigilantes are not obliged to amputate the hands of thieves they catch in the act. But create a caliphate, and this law, along with a huge body of other jurisprudence, suddenly awakens. In theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws. …
The caliph is required to implement Sharia. Any deviation will compel those who have pledged allegiance to inform the caliph in private of his error and, in extreme cases, to excommunicate and replace him if he persists. (â€œI have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility,â€ Baghdadi said in his sermon.) In return, the caliph commands obedienceâ€”and those who persist in supporting non-Muslim governments, after being duly warned and educated about their sin, are considered apostates.
[A sympathiser] said Sharia has been misunderstood because of its incomplete application by regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which does behead murderers and cut off thievesâ€™ hands. â€œThe problem,â€ he explained, â€œis that when places like Saudi Arabia just implement the penal code, and donâ€™t provide the social and economic justice of the Shariaâ€”the whole packageâ€”they simply engender hatred toward the Sharia.â€ That whole package, he said, would include free housing, food, and clothing for all, though of course anyone who wished to enrich himself with work could do so. …
For certain true believersâ€”the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battlesâ€”visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need. Of the Islamic State supporters I met, Musa Cerantonio, the Australian, expressed the deepest interest in the apocalypse and how the remaining days of the Islamic Stateâ€”and the worldâ€”might look. Parts of that prediction are original to him, and do not yet have the status of doctrine. But other parts are based on mainstream Sunni sources and appear all over the Islamic Stateâ€™s propaganda. These include the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and Baghdadi is the eighth; that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islamâ€™s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.
The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Dabiqâ€™s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Romeâ€™s Waterloo or its Antietam.
â€œDabiq is basically all farmland,â€ one Islamic State supporter recently tweeted. â€œYou could imagine large battles taking place there.â€ The Islamic Stateâ€™s propagandists drool with anticipation of this event, and constantly imply that it will come soon. The stateâ€™s magazine quotes Zarqawi as saying, â€œThe spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify â€¦ until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.â€ A recent propaganda video shows clips from Hollywood war movies set in medieval timesâ€”perhaps because many of the prophecies specify that the armies will be on horseback or carrying ancient weapons.
Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. …
The Prophetic narration that foretells the Dabiq battle refers to the enemy as Rome. Who â€œRomeâ€ is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. But Cerantonio makes a case that Rome meant the Eastern Roman empire, which had its capital in what is now Istanbul. We should think of Rome as the Republic of Turkeyâ€”the same republic that ended the last self-identified caliphate, 90 years ago. Other Islamic State sources suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the Americans will do nicely. …
Some observers have called for escalation, including several predictable voices from the interventionist right (Max Boot, Frederick Kagan), who have urged the deployment of tens of thousands of American soldiers. These calls should not be dismissed too quickly: an avowedly genocidal organization is on its potential victimsâ€™ front lawn, and it is committing daily atrocities in the territory it already controls.
One way to un-cast the Islamic Stateâ€™s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of Syria and Iraq now under caliphate rule. Alâ€‘Qaeda is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding. Former pledges could of course continue to attack the West and behead their enemies, as freelancers. But the propaganda value of the caliphate would disappear, and with it the supposed religious duty to immigrate and serve it. If the United States were to invade, the Islamic Stateâ€™s obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed, it might never recover.
The whole thing.
The obvious answer is for the United States to do to the contemporary “mad mullahs” the same thing Victorian Britain used to do to earlier specimens. As Hillaire Belloc noted long ago:
Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not.
Our “Maxim gun” advantage is far greater than Kitchener’s at Omdurman. The carnage on the Muslim side will be more appalling. But Islam, as Churchill noted, is to men as hydrophobia is to dogs, and outbreaks of demented Islamic fanaticism have to be put down with blood every so many decades.