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The ISIS Apocalypse:
The History, Strategy and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State

by William McCants

According to McCants:

The U.S. invasion of Iraq and the stupendous violence that followed dramatically increased the Sunni public's appetite for apocalypse explanations of a world turned upside down.

That invasion began in 2003. In 2002 and 2003 in Iraq was a militant Islamist organizer, al-Zarqawi. Before the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 he had been there training jihadists, seeing himself subordinate to Osama bin Laden and bin Laden's organization, al-Qaeda. Zarqawi hated the Shi'a and their narrative on the proper succession to the Prophet Muhammad. Zarqawi was trying to provoke a sectarian civil war in Iraq. He wanted a Sunni caliphate. Osama bin Laden thought it too soon for that. He advised Zarqawi to proceed slowly while gaining popular support. Bin Laden's deputy, Zawahiri, warned Zarqawi about actions such as beheadings. He warned that "we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our community." Zawahiri was interested in a strategy of hearts and minds and leaving the Shi'a alone.

The US killed Zarqawi in June 2006. His organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq, moved to carry out his dying wish. With the apocalypse on the distant horizon, in October Zarqawi's followers proclaimed the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq. It was based on a schedule associated with the coming apocalypse. Al-Qaeda in Iraq announced its insistence that Muslims in Iraq pledge allegiance to their new leader, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi and acknowledge him as "commander of the faithful" – in a word, the caliph. It was believed, writes McCants, that "the caliphate had to be in place to fight for the Mahdi, the Muslim savior, who might appear any day."

A US and Iraqi military operation killed Abu Umar al-Baghdadi in April 2010. In May, the Islamic State of Iraq had a new leader, a man also from Baghdad, named Bakr rather than Umar: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As a boy he had been a shy loner who focused on learning Islam. He acquired a doctorate in Islamic studies from a university in Baghdad, perhaps in the early 1990s. He became an activist and organizer hostile to the US invasion of Iraq.

The US killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Writes McCants:

Baghdadi made a public statement assuring the new head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, that the men of the Islamic State were "faithful" to him and al-Qaeda.

Many in his leadership circle had been killed or captured, and al-Baghdadi replaced them with former Ba'athist military and intelligence officers who had served during Saddam Hussein's rule, who became about one-third of his top twenty-five commanders.

Baghdadi accepted the strategy of instilling confidence in those whom they ruled. Writes McCants:

They could do this by protecting the people in lands they control and making them prosper, seeing to the needs of local governors and soldiers, selecting good executives and judges, ruling by Islamic law, implementing ... punishments stipulated in Islamic scripture, and distributing money from the treasury.

There was talk of the brutality of war and the need also an uncompromising violence, to frighten the enemy as had Genghis Khan in his expansion.

Scripture remained important. Writes McCants:

Although the Islamic State's soldiers might not know Islamic scripture very well, some of its leaders do...There are many stupid thugs in the Islamic State, but these guys are not among them...

It's certainly the case that the State's scholars pick and choose scripture to suit their biases and desires. But anyone who reads and acts on scripture does that...The Islam State's theology and method of engaging with scripture is nearly identical to Wahhabism, the ultraconservative form of Islam found in Saudi Arabia. It's very different from the kind of Islam you find in other parts of the world. In Wahhabism, religious innovation is bad; medieval scholarly authorities are respected but disregarded if need be; outside cultural influences should be expunged; and the definition of a good believer is very narrow. Wahhabi scholars might reach different conclusions from Islamic State scholars, but they start at much the same place...

The Islamic State's politics differ profoundly from that of most Wahhabis, who view the Saudi Kingdom as a legitimate Islamic government. As the State see things, no muslim-majority state in the world deserves to call itself Islamic. which is why it set up its own state and declared a caliphate. To achieve that end, the Islamic state had to wage an insurgency, which it justified with scripture.

McCants observes that the Saudi kingdom abhors so-called Islamic insurgencies, Wahhabi or otherwise, as described in Yaroslav Trofimov's The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of al Qaeda. (http://www.fsmitha.com/review/trofimov2.html)

The Islam State has diverged from al-Qaeda's strategy of hearts and minds. It has rejected the advised patient coalition building advocated by Zawahiri. The Islamic State writes McCants "doesn't believe a hearts- and-minds strategy is effective....This is not Bin Laden's insurgency."

Why was it so successful from 2013: "It was left alone."

Meanwhile, as written in Politico:

The End Times fill Islamic State propaganda. It's a big selling point with foreign fighters, who want to travel to the lands where the final battles of the apocalypse will take place. The civil wars raging in those countries today lend credibility to the prophecies.

Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.