His­tory gives the heads up on IS bru­tal­ity

A new book re­veals the hor­ri­fy­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing de­tails of daily life un­der the Is­lamic State, writes ROBERT FISK

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

BE­FORE US pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s few dozen brave Spar­tans put their lit­tle bootees on the soil of the tiny bit of Syria that the Kurds hold, not far from Qamishli, they should learn a bit about Is­lamic State (IS) from the work of a Syr­ian his­to­rian.

They would find that Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi, the IS “caliph”, is not only a keen foot­ball fan, but in his youth cre­ated a soc­cer team for mosque reg­u­lars and even joked that he was Iraq’s Maradona.

They would dis­cover that he com­mu­ni­cates with his of­fi­cials through cell­phones, What­sApp, Skype and SMS, speaks English and de­mands that all pa­per in­tel­li­gence re­ports be printed on a sin­gle piece of A4 – pretty much what Churchill de­manded of his bu­reau­crats in Word War II – and also in­sists cit­i­zens work a six-day week.

There’s an IS postal sys­tem in his Syr­ian cap­i­tal of Raqqa and if you want to write to Bagh­dadi (orig­i­nal fam­ily name Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri) you have only to ad­dress a let­ter to al-Calipha Ibrahim, Raqqa. “Be as­sured it will ar­rive safely,” the writer of Un­der the Black Flag was in­formed.

He is Sami Moubayed, a his­to­rian and former scholar at the Carnegie Cen­ter in Beirut and he lives in Da­m­as­cus. He is a brave man and knows it.

“This book is very dan­ger­ous for me,” he told me. “It could take my life. It’s very dif­fer­ent from the kind of his­tory I’ve writ­ten about be­fore – it’s about a very dif­fer­ent Syria with very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics and it was very painful for me to write... You need to fight the rad­i­cals, yes, but bomb­ing th­ese peo­ple is not the an­swer.”

As Moubayed also says in his book, “The pre-Baathist Syria of the 1950s will never re­turn – nor will the Baathist one of 1963-2011... I have no sym­pa­thy with Is­lamists and pow­er­hun­gry sol­diers. What is hap­pen­ing to­day is a com­pletely new chap­ter in the his­tory of my coun­try. It is an ugly chap­ter, but one that will last much longer than any of us de­sires.” A pes­simist? Cer­tainly no Baathist. Moubayed should in­deed take care.

He’s been to Raqqa, talked to IS of­fi­cials, he’s even met their slick me­dia guys, one of whom, Abu alNada al-Faraj, a 25-year-old English grad­u­ate from Aleppo Univer­sity who treats the IS as “just an­other well-pay­ing em­ployer”, trans­lates for the IS’s grue­some mag­a­zine, Dabiq. All its staff are Euro­pean Mus­lims, Google ad­dicts with a list of crit­i­cal pub­li­ca­tions to read. The In­de­pen­dent is among them. But so is the Wall Street Jour­nal, For­eign Pol­icy and the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment news agency Sana.

Raqqa has an ef­fi­cient tax sys­tem and schools have re­opened – seg­re­gated, with a heavy em­pha­sis on re­li­gion – al­though it’s ironic to learn that exam pa­pers are for­warded across the front lines to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion in Da­m­as­cus. The allpow­er­ful IS, it seems, is not as allpow­er­ful as it seems.

In his scan­dalously un­der­re­viewed, but deeply re­veal­ing new book, Moubayed de­tails all of the IS’s cruel and in­hu­man pun­ish­ments and ex­e­cu­tions – war crimes in­deed – but is in­tent on plac­ing them in the con­text of a bloody his­tory. There are, for ex­am­ple, painful his­tor­i­cal prece­dents for the frightening “Is­lamic state” which now ex­ists, from the edge of Baghdad al­most to the Mediter­ranean. Sunni Mus­lims be­lieve a caliph must trace his ori­gins back to the Qu­raysh clan of Mecca, to which the Prophet him­self be­longed. Thus al-Bagh­dadi in­sists on us­ing two ad­di­tional names, “alQurashi”, and “al-Has­sani” (de­scen­dant of the Prophet’s grand­son, al-Has­san ibn Ali). The IS al­ways re­fer to him with th­ese names.

In the 14th cen­tury, Ibn Taymiyyah, a Mus­lim the­olo­gian, sought a re­turn to the pu­rity of Is­lam from moral cor­rup­tion, call­ing for a holy ji­had to cre­ate an Is­lamic state. In the 18th cen­tury, Mo­hamed Ab­dul-Wa­hab and Muham­mad ibn Saud – whose fam­ily now rules Saudi Ara­bia – went on head­chop­ping ex­pe­di­tions to ex­tend their purIest rule over Arab lands. Al- Saud’s his­to­rian, Uth­man bin Bashir al-Na­jadi, wrote af­ter 5 000 Shia Mus­lims were butchered in 1801: “We took Kar­bala and we slaugh­tered… With the per­mis­sion of Al­lah, we will not apol­o­gise for what we have done and we tell all kafir (un­be­liev­ers) ‘You will re­ceive sim­i­lar treat­ment’.”

Sound fa­mil­iar? It could be Ji­hadi John him­self. Nor is it sur­pris­ing that al-Bagh­dadi chose Raqqa as his cap­i­tal. He stud­ied three his­to­ries of the Syr­ian city, be­cause at the height of the Ab­basid dy­nasty, a Mus­lim em­pire stretch­ing from north Africa to cen­tral Asia was con­trolled from the very same city.

But Moubayed has also stud­ied the IS’s favourite Is­lamic texts and shows how while the Prophet is quoted as say­ing “when you kill, kill well, and when you slaugh­ter, slaugh­ter well” – in Ara­bic, darb al-rekab, hit­ting the neck – “IS seem­ingly for­gets that the Prophet adds ‘Let each of you sharpen your blade and let him spare the suf­fer­ing of the an­i­mal he slaugh­ters.’ In other words (the Prophet) was talk­ing about sheep and cat­tle – not hu­man be­ings.”

Quite a dis­sec­tion of IS for US Spe­cial Forces to pon­der be­fore they tip­toe over the Syr­ian bor­der. But they might also re­mem­ber that the Prophet or­dered the ex­e­cu­tion of pris­on­ers cap­tured in the bat­tle of Badr in 624, a prece­dent fol­lowed by later Mus­lim lead­ers; the Ot­tomans be­headed King Ladis­laus of Hun­gary and King Stephen of Bos­nia and his sons af­ter they sur­ren­dered. And those most obe­di­ent of Mus­lims, the Saudis, be­headed more than 50 peo­ple in one year alone. Yup folks, it’s those Saudis again – one of Amer­ica’s most loyal al­lies. – The In­de­pen­dent


CON­TEXT: Author Sami Moubayed, a his­to­rian and former scholar at the Carnegie Cen­tre in Beirut, places the IS’s cruel and in­hu­man pun­ish­ments and ex­e­cu­tions in the con­text of a bloody his­tory.

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