The horrors perpetrated by ISIS have been the international story of the past two weeks. The barbarically savage murder of American reporter James Foley has galvanized America as few other recent events have. The media has gone nuts trying to find suitable adjectives for ISIS & its actions – militants, extremists, terrorists. Frankly, these terms fall short of describing the true nature of ISIS and distract analysts from recognizing the real danger ISIS poses, not just today but over the next several years. In this article, we provide a histrio-strategic perspective of ISIS, its religious fanaticism and savagery.
Frankly, this article was triggered by the commentary we heard from journalist Bobby Ghosh on MSNBC Hardball on Thursday –
- “an international association of sadists – which is what ISIS really is …it gives them the license to play out their worst fantasies, to slaughter people in cold blood, and add on top of that a layer of pseudo-religious justification; that last part, the religious justification part, in my view, is the cherry on the cake;”
This is drivel, utterly idiotic “secular” drivel, that minimizes the deep impact of religion, an impact that has made the difference between victors & vanquished since the beginning of known human history. As Robert Kaplan wrote in “Monsoon” back in 2010:
- “In the post-national West, we would do well to remember that morale is still the key to military victory; in particular a morale fortified by a narrow, unshakable conviction, which often has been the product of religion and nationalism.”
1. Freedom & Conquest – Early 16th century.
“al-Andalus“, also known as Muslim Spain or Islamic Iberia, was a medieval Islamic state occupying at its peak most of what we know today as Spain and Portugal. The Muslim rule in al-Andalus began in early 8th century and continued in various forms until January 1492, when Emir Muhammad XII surrendered to Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella I of Castille & her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Only six years later, Vasco da Gama began his voyage in 1498 around the horn of Africa into the Indian Ocean, launching a regime of hitherto unparalleled barbaric savagery on local populations. The history, context, & quotes below are from “Monsoon“, the terrific book by Robert Kaplan, now the Chief Geopolitical analyst at Stratfor.
- “the spirit of the crusades lingered much longer in Iberia than it did in Europe proper. … “Islam was the enemy and had to be fought everywhere“. This fact, more than any other, explains both the cruelty and ferocity of so much Portuguese behavior in the Greater Indian Ocean.”
- “Portuguese sensibilities were further brutalized by nearly a century of ferocious fighting for control of Morocco, which had turned their soldiery into a veritable frontier society.”
- “… as one Portuguese historian of the era, Joao de Barros writes, justifying the awful deaths meted out to local populations:
- “The Moors … are outside the law of Jesus Christ, which is the true law which everyone has to keep under pain of damnation to eternal fire. If then the soul be so condemned, what right has the body to the privileges of our laws?”
And how awful were such deaths meted out to local populations? Kaplan quotes British scholar J.H. Plumb:
- They butchered crews of captured Moslem dhows, slinging some from the yardarms for target practice, cutting off hands and feet of others and sending a boatload of bits to the local ruler, telling him to use them for curry. They spared neither women nor children. the soldiers of Christ followed the trade of blood, setting up their churches, missions and seminaries, for after all, the rapine was a crusade …. the next [world] would see them in greater glory.
Nothing ISIS has done so far comes close to the utterly barbaric savagery of what the Portuguese did in the Indian Ocean:
- Muscat was sacked and burned by D’Albuquerque in 1507. Portuguese freeboaters occupied parts of Ceylon and Burma, and sold tens of thousands of inhabitants into slavery.
- C.R. Boxer, the late British scholar, notes … The certainty that God was on their side, and that He would and did intervene directly on their behalf” was a pivotal factor … Believing themselves a chosen people destined to be the sword of the faith, the Portuguese show us a religious nationalism as doughty and often extreme as any in history.
By comparison, the actions of ISIS are those of a toddler. But what would ISIS, the teenager look like or ISIS the adult?
(al-Andalus in 1000 CE – src wikipedia) (ISIS vision of ISIS territory to be “liberated”)
2. Are Victories short-term & Is Conflict permanent?
Look at what is tormenting America’s establishment. The threat of USSR was deemed vanquished. Eastern Europe was thought of as solved forever. The victors tend to think so, but the defeated, the angry defeated, don’t accept permanent defeat. That is the story of the rise of Russia under Vladimir Putin who still feels the shame of Russia’s defeat in his bones. All of a sudden, the Western victory over USSR has proved ephemeral and the threat of long term competition, if not conflict, is very real.
If a modern, or at least a 19th century, man like Putin feels his people’s defeat so deeply, how deeply and intensely does a 8th century man like Abu-Bakr Al-Bagdadi feel his people’s defeat? You don’t have to guess. See the tweet below:
This tweet comes from an article titled Islamic State – We Will Take Spain Back. The article describes a social media campaign launched by Muslims in Spain in support of ISIS. The article also describes a video that features a jihadist speaking in a North African accent:
- “I say to the entire world as a warning: We are living under the Islamic flag, the Islamic caliphate. We will die for it until we liberate those occupied lands, from Jakarta to Andalusia. And I declare: Spain is the land of our forefathers and we are going to take it back with the power of Allah.”
The growing campaign in Spain for ‘liberation” of al-Andalus has been noticed by Spanish authorities. The article quotes Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz:
- “Clearly Spain forms part of the strategic objectives of global jihad. We are not the only ones but we are in their sights.”
The question is what is Spain doing about it? The bigger question is what can Europe do about it? This is a continent that could not even handle getting rid of Gaddafi’s & his decrepit military without help from the American air force.
There is only one country that can end the existence of ISIS at this stage and that is the United States of America. We were happy to hear the clear words of Secretary of Defense Hagel on Thursday:
- “they are an imminent threat to every interest we have … they are beyond just a terrorist group – they marry ideology, sophistication of strategic & tactical military prowess; they are tremendously well-funded; oh, this is way beyond anything we have seen “
But we still don’t see the crystal clear understanding that ISIS, while still a toddler, will soon grow into its adult version unless it is destroyed now.
3. Common Sense Returns to America’s Media Establishment?
We have been arguing for months that a partnership of America, Russia, Iran and Syria is vital to success in the Middle East. On June 28, 2014, we quoted Leslie Gelb, founder & chairman emeritus of CFR, make the same case publicly. Now, perhaps due to the utterly horrific murder of James Foley, others are coming to this simple reality:
- Colonel Jack Jacobs on MSNBC on Friday, August 22 – “the irony is that our ally in the whole thing is going to have to be Syria. … if we are going after ISIS at all our ally, oddly enough, has to be Assad, otherwise we are not going to be able to do it;it is going to require not only air assets, but also assets on the ground and that means Assad“
- Robert Kaplan in Stratfor on August 20 – “Reality can be harsh. In order for the United States to weaken and eventually defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, it could use help from both the Iranian regime and that of President Bashar al Assad in Syria“
- David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy magazine – “the mission against the Islamic State is being undertaken by what might be called the Alliance whose Name Must No Be Spoken. It brings together – with a level of coordination that must be greater than anyone will publicly admit – the strangest of battlefield bedfellows: the United States, the Kurds, the Iraqi regime, Iran, Russia, some NATO assistance, and Bashar al-Assad’s regime“.
While we are relieved somewhat, we do wonder whether the US has the appetite for another multi-year war of attrition against ISIS, a war that first needs to be fought in Iraq-Syria to destroy the military formations of ISIS, then in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Kuwait & Saudi Arabia to eliminate the financial backers of ISIS, and the supporters of ISIS within Europe. And this war needs to be fought with total dedication, cold deliberation, and with respect for the intense religious fanaticism of ISIS.
We remind readers what Robert Kaplan wrote in “Monsoon” back in 2010:
- “To a significant extent, American power will depend on how it confronts fanatical enemies who believe more firmly than it does.”
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Thanks for a well written article with historical perspective
and with some candid observations about why US need to
work with our enemies to defeat ISIS toddler before it becomes
Keep it up.
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