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What we talk about when we talk about ISIS

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As the U.S. prepares to re-engage more deeply in the Iraq War, including the likely deployment of ground troops to help retake Mosul from Islamic State, we are being asked to recommit to an ideological view of our military campaigns in the Muslim world. Roger Cohen fixates on “Islam and the West at War”, denouncing the “empty talk” of Western leaders who eschew his clash-of-civilizations framing. David Brooks proposes a poorly-defined “nationalist solution”, arguing that only “a more compelling heroic vision” can counter the glorious spiritual ardor of radical Islam. And a splashy cover story in The Atlantic, “What ISIS Really Wants”, offers an intellectual foundation for the reenergized War on Terror, presenting full recognition of ISIS’s “very Islamic” nature as a matter of urgent strategic significance.

This push to name the enemy of the West as Islam is in fact a defense of our own side’s troubled ideology. The guiding principle of post-World War II foreign policy — that the course of world events should be influenced, wherever possible, by force — is imperiled by the spectacular failure of the War on Terror, which actually succeeded in creating a transnational army of Islamic terrorists. That Islamic State rose in Iraq, then spread to Syria and Libya, threatens to give war a very bad name: it’s starting to look like destroying a country naturally empowers extremists.

The Atlantic magazine cover

The Atlantic magazine cover

One way to avoid confronting this reality — which might cause us to ask painful, demoralizing questions about who we are and what we believe — is to focus on the decontextualized ideology these newly empowered extremists profess so vehemently. This is The Atlantic approach. Author Graeme Wood gestures towards the importance of other factors in the rise of ISIS, with one eye-popping omission:

In the past, Westerners who accused Muslims of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics — notably the late Edward Said — who pointed out that calling Muslims “ancient” was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose — the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil.

Without acknowledgement of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says Allahu akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing it for religious reasons.

Missing from Wood’s list of “conditions” is the critical event that precipitated ISIS’s rise: the destruction of Iraq’s political order, which caused untold civilian suffering and left one-fifth of the population — the Sunni, with their ties to Saddam’s “security-obsessed totalitarian regime” — suddenly disempowered and vulnerable. This was a recipe for violent resistance.

Ignoring Iraq

“Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change,” observed Milton Friedman, who, whatever the merits of his economic theories, certainly understood practical politics. “When that occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” The U.S. occupation of Iraq, at once abusive and ineffectual, was an enormous crisis, especially from the perspective of the Sunni. And there happened to be a fighting ideology available to them, one that could draw from the strength of foreign fighters incensed by the spectacle of Muslim suffering at American hands: the Salafist jihadism of al Qaeda, which dreamed of a reconstituted caliphate but was in no position to make that happen as of 2003.

Although this ideology dates back decades, there was no jihadist movement in Iraq before the US invasion. Islam was not anathema to Saddam — after Gulf War I he launched a so-called Faith Campaign, to shore up support for his regime in the face of fundamentalist opposition and economic hardship — but religious extremism was his enemy. When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi entered Iraq in 2002, he found safe haven not in Saddam country but in semiautonomous Kurdistan, under the no-fly zone. It was the next year — when the Americans smashed the regime, disbanded the army, enacted de-Baathification, and created a Shia-dominated Governing Council — that al Qaeda operatives found an opening among Iraq’s Sunni tribes. As Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan recount in their new history ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, “Disenfranchised Saddamists, who had melted back into their native cities and villages along the Euphrates River, were only too happy to accommodate the new arrivals, seeing them as agents for the Americans’ expulsion and their own restoration. The jihadists, however, had different ambitions for Iraq.”

At first, al Qaeda was just one among many factions fighting the Americans, who gave Iraqis plenty of reasons to hate them. But the dynamics of the occupation, which played out like Osama bin Laden’s wildest fantasy, favored the jihadists. Zarqawi’s ruthlessness — he was a violent criminal before he discovered Salafism — gave his group a natural advantage, bequeathing to the world the revolting propaganda triumph of the beheading video. The resulting US emphasis on al Qaeda as the source of resistance in Iraq raised its profile further. And the prisons of the occupation, which housed countless young men caught up in the American dragnet, facilitated proselytizing and networking. Among those locked up was the previously unremarkable Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; according to an Islamic State commander who did time with the future self-proclaimed caliph at Camp Bucca, “If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.”

Putting the Blame on Islam

Almost none of this history appears in Wood’s essay, which purports to answer (among other key questions) where ISIS came from. Instead of attending closely to the circumstances of the group’s creation, which are still highly relevant to the state of play in Iraq, Wood spoke with people in the West who admire ISIS or claim to be experts. The picture that emerges seems at times close to fantasy:

According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for the cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.”

If this characterization (by Princeton professor Bernard Haykel) sounds suspiciously sweeping and confident, there’s a reason: it does not match the reports of actual experts. Didier François, a French journalist who spent 10 months in an ISIS prison, has said that among his captors,

“There was never really discussion about texts or — it was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion. It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran. We didn’t even have the Quran; they didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”

According to Weiss and Hassan, “Those who say they are adherents of ISIS as a strictly political project make up a weighty percentage of its lower cadres and support base.”

This isn’t to suggest there aren’t many intensely religious ISIS fighters, including Baghdadi, who has a doctorate in Islamic studies and reportedly used to preach. But beyond a tidbit or two — like the significance of Rome and Dabiq in ISIS propaganda — Wood has little of interest to say about the group’s religiosity. When he writes, “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” he means simply that ISIS is fundamentalist — committed to literal interpretation of sacred texts and harsh enforcement of doctrinal laws — which comes as news to no one. But since cover stories are about getting attention, that familiar term appears not once in 10,000 words, nor does the related but less precise “extremist”. Instead, in keeping with The Atlantic’s editorial commitment to Islamophobia, there is an implicit claim that ISIS represents a more authentic version of Islam than does your garden-variety, non-bloodthirsty Muslim. Quoting Haykel, Wood informs us that these mainstream types “who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically…‘embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion’ that neglects what their religion has historically and legally required.’ Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an ‘interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.’” This is New Atheist-style churlishness, affording higher religious status to fundamentalism and thereby reproducing the position of ISIS itself.

It’s also philosophically incoherent. Wood goes on to quote an exasperated Haykel complaining that “People want to absolve Islam. It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such as thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Neither Haykel nor Wood seems to recognize the blatant contradiction: if there is no such thing as “Islam”, no authoritative interpretation, then what is it that mainstream Muslims have “a cotton-candy view of”? What is it that “historically and legally requires” the atrocities of ISIS? If it’s true that Islam is “what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts,” then given that the vast majority of Muslims don’t participate in ISIS-style barbarity, Islamic State must be “deviant” (as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the mentor of Zarqawi, has dubbed it), or un-Islamic.

Of course it isn’t, necessarily, because the world’s religions are all heterogeneous, defined by a core of characteristic beliefs but encompassing numerous sects, denominations, practices and styles. It’s very unlikely that the president doesn’t understand this; Obama is obviously practicing rhetoric, with an eye toward the very real intra-Islam struggle, when he says that ISIS isn’t made up of true Muslims. But for Wood, Obama’s public pronouncements “reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.” This is Wood’s justification of his inquiry, the claim that what he has to impart about Islamic State’s theology could make the difference between our strengthening the group or facilitating its self-destruction. And yet, despite his criticisms of Obama’s misunderstanding, Wood winds up endorsing the strategy the president has pursued so far: “Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears to be the best of bad military options.”

Give War a Chance

The case for escalation against ISIS based on Wood’s argument is obvious (he toys with it himself), and has been taken up by the usual suspects — Max Boot, for instance, writing for Commentary: “Wood is compelling in analyzing the ISIS threat — less so in suggesting a solution. His work points to the imperative for the US to do more to deny ISIS territorial control. That is why I have suggested the new [sic] for more than 10,000 US personnel to be deployed…”

Only a neocon could embrace the argument that heedlessness of the enemy’s Islamist ideology helped pave the way for ISIS. What about Gen. Stanley McChrystal, architect of the US killing machine in Iraq, who brought his counterinsurgency strategy to ISAF headquarters in Afghanistan? According to an army officer who was McChrystal’s roommate at West Point, “He was someone who saw this global ‘Caliphate’ as a tremendous enemy, and kept beating the drum for that.” The officer continued: “Boykin and Cambone and McChrystal were fellow travelers in the great crusade against Islam,” naming two Pentagon intelligence bigwigs in addition to the general. “They ran what was for all practical purposes an assassination campaign.” (See Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars, pp. 109-10.) And what did we gain by stacking up the corpses of al Qaeda commanders in Iraq? In a word, ISIS:

“Zarqawi was very smart. He was the best strategist that the Islamic State has had. Abu Omar [al-Baghdadi] was ruthless,” Abu Ahmed said, referring to Zarqawi’s successor, who was killed in a US-led raid in April 2010. “And Abu Bakr is the most bloodthirsty of all.

“After Zarqawi was killed, the people who liked killing even more than him became very important in the organisation. Their understanding of sharia and of humanity was very cheap. They don’t understand the Tawheed (the Qur’anic concept of God’s oneness) the way it was meant to be understood. The Tawheed should not have been forced by war.”

This account, given by an ISIS commander who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed to The Guardian’s Martin Chulav, encapsulates a lesson the U.S. refuses to learn: in a conflict like the so-called War on Terror, our violence is counterproductive. Smash al Qaeda, and you get something worse. Smash Islamic State, and God knows what will happen. Wood may resist the conclusion, but it follows from his argument — ISIS is an implacable, apocalyptically-minded enemy — that there is no remedy for our latest predicament except more killing. Follow this reasoning, and we can expect the situation to deteriorate further (hard as that is to imagine now).

Abu Ahmed’s story also demonstrates the folly of presenting the phenomenon of ISIS as essentially Islamic. His complaint about declining religious standards among the leadership is echoed in Weiss and Hassan’s account of “the internal story” told by “two disgruntled al-Qaeda members”, several years after Baghdadi occupied the top spot in 2010:

The reason they were disgruntled was that their perception of the rise of al-Baghdadi, whatever his level of education, represented the takeover of the Salafist-Jihadist movement within ISI of people without strong Salafist-Jihadist credentials — Baathists.

That’s another word you won’t hear from Wood, though it’s critical to understanding ISIS’s takeover of so much territory. Islamic State went from an urban guerrilla group to a full-fledged army not because of Western recruits without military experience, but because of a rapprochement with the Baathists, including Saddam’s former officers. These were not jihadis, though some of them took up Islam in the wake of the U.S. wrecking ball. “It was never clear that he would turn out like that,” the governor of Anbar province said of one such officer, a former student of his who joined al Qaeda and spent time in U.S. detention. “He was from a simple family, with high morals, but all his brothers went in that direction… all those guys got religious after 2003.” Weird coincidence. Another commander, formerly a major general in an elite unit, tried to rejoin the Iraqi Army but was turned down because of de-Baathification. After ISIS sacked Mosul, he telephoned the official who rejected him: “We will reach you soon, and I will chop you into pieces.” Not exactly a religious scholar with esoteric motivations.

We should dismiss the fanciful notion that countering ISIS is primarily a matter of understanding Islam. Wood quotes “confidential comments” by the U.S. special ops commander in the Middle East, “admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal: ‘We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.’” As though the military would be capable of changing the personal convictions of foreigners, if only we could figure out out what those are. In fact, the appeal of ISIS is obvious enough (though no U.S. commander could admit this and continue to do his job): the grievances of Sunni in Iraq and Syria, and of their sympathizers worldwide, are not mysterious, and jihad is the recourse available to them. Even if every fighter were purely motivated by Islamic extremism, an ideology can’t be destroyed. Wood mentions Hitler and the appeal of fascism; decades after one of the most resounding political failures in world history, driven by crushing military defeat and incurring unparalleled disapprobation, there are still people who identify with Nazism. What we can do — or ought to be able to do, at least — is avoid creating or contributing to the crises that empower dangerous ideologues.

At present the U.S. seems poised to do the opposite. In Syria, bombing both ISIS and its wayward offshoot, Jabhat al-Nusra, seems like a policy designed to draw the two back together. In Iraq, pushing Baghdad to retake Mosul in a matter of months could well herald a return to the worst days of sectarian slaughter, given the record of the Shia militias. With characteristic grandiloquence, Wood mentions the prospect that ISIS will “self-immolate in its own excessive zeal,” but we seem determined to keep on fanning the flames in which extremist movements are hardened.

Eamon Murphy

Eamon Murphy is a journalist in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @epmurph.

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26 Responses

  1. Laurent Weppe on February 27, 2015, 4:36 pm

    the critical event that precipitated ISIS’s rise: the destruction of Iraq’s political order

    Iraq’s political order was a parasitic autocracy which would have eventually collapsed under the weight of its own corruption, and there’s reasons to believe that Saddam’s regime dying of “natural causes” would have led to the emergence of something similar to Daesh: the US most certainly did a lot of harm, but the Sunni/Shia feud which fueled Maliki’s revanchist policies thus driving a non-negligible fraction of the Sunni population into Daesh’s arms existed before the invasion.

    • epmurph on February 27, 2015, 5:33 pm

      It’s possible, but I doubt it. The insurgency, especially in its initial stages, seems to have been largely the result of contingency planning by the regime for its own overthrow, probably (in Saddam’s imagination) as the result of a domestic uprising. But that never happened, in large part I think because civil society was so devastated by sanctions & previous military actions. In any case many Iraqis have testified that the sectarian divide was not a prominent feature of their lives before the US invasion, the sudden destruction of the state by a foreign occupier is what unleashed it. Imagine what sort of hell could break out in this society under similar circumstances

    • Marco on February 28, 2015, 12:20 am

      “Iraq’s political order was a parasitic autocracy which would have eventually collapsed under the weight of its own corruption”

      No, we cannot make any confident assertions about Iraq if the March, 2003 invasion never occurred. It’s ludicrous to even try. Suppose North Korea’s government was overthrown over a decade ago, it’d be easy to assume it’d be gone by now in any event.

      The destruction of a nation-state, as we witnessed in Iraq in the 2000’s, is a genuinely rare thing. Normally, regimes are simply replaced by successor governments along the same approximate borders and with the same approximate bureaucracies. The 2003 invasion led to something more cataclysmic – the violent disaggregation of Iraq and subsequently neighboring countries by ethnic-confessional lines, in keeping with the Yinon plan.

  2. ToivoS on February 27, 2015, 4:58 pm

    Nice summary of what ISIS is and isn’t. I found Wood’s article appealing because he does finally come to the conclusion that the US should even attempt to destroy ISIS militarily for the simple reason that this would make the problem even worse. Not just Iraq but Libya is a good example — our interventions provide the cause that mobilizes opposition to our intervention.

    Eamon’s suggestion in this piece that the core of ISIS’s military strength derives from the remnants of the defeated Iraqi baathists military makes sense. These are people who see themselves as representing the Iraqi Sunni minority that held power underSadam Hussein. They are struggling to rebuild a new army. Why not appeal to the most primitive instincts in order to build a new army?

    Col. Patrick Lang at Turcopieler noted last year that the ISIS forces that over ran Mosul last year were being led by officers that he knew from his active duty time as officers in Sadam’s army. These guys are certainly not Islamists.

  3. traintosiberia on February 27, 2015, 6:54 pm

    Blaming Islam is like blaming the Democracy for the intentions,plannings,and conducts and the results of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In the “name of the democracy” Bush conducted the wars after initial reasons offered, had been exposed to be contrived .
    It was in parallel to Saddam who “in the name of Islam” tried to cement the cohesiveness ,consolidate his reign,and infuse a sense of ethno- religious patriotism after his tribal clan based domestic and Pan Arab based foreign policy had come to an abyss of black hole

  4. pabelmont on February 27, 2015, 7:31 pm

    “the critical event that precipitated ISIS’s rise: the destruction of Iraq’s political order”

    Same thing happened in Yugoslavia, as all know and USA should not have forgotten when it decided to overthrow Saddam. But our presidents are essentially pirates (win that election however you can), not scholars.

    Get rid of the dictator who holds a disparate country (usually a recently-manufactured country) together, and you have chaos as the parts re-split-up. In Iraq, Sunnis, Kurds, and Shia seem to be the building blocks — unless there is a break-away group of modernists (neoliberals? capitalists? ) to form a fourth part.

    • Laurent Weppe on February 28, 2015, 8:40 am

      Same thing happened in Yugoslavia

      There’s a major difference: Yugoslavia collapsed on its own because its political system, taylor-made for Tito, proved incapable of handling its succession: once the dominant autocrat was replaced by a college of apparatchiks and technocrats, the most dishonest and ambitious among that crowd, realizing that none of them had the slightest chance of becoming the sole ruler of Yugoslavia, decided to play King of the Hill: “better be the uncontested princeling of a tiny province than a mere elected official in a larger country” was a popular idea among local politicians at the time. By the time western powers became involved militarily, the local belligerents where already pulling a Daesh: hiring foreign fighters to assist them in the slaughter and forced displacement of minorities as well as the industry-sized campaign of rapes.

      Yugoslavia didn’t need western intervention to collapse, which is actually one of the reason I’m pretty sure that even if the US hadn’t invaded (and lied about their motives, and supported a revanchist government, and closed their eyes to how woefully inadequate the new iraqi army was), the eventual post-Saddam era would have faced similar problems.

  5. JLewisDickerson on February 27, 2015, 7:34 pm

    RE: “This push to name the enemy of the West as Islam is in fact a defense of our own side’s troubled ideology. The guiding principle of post-World War II foreign policy — that the course of world events should be influenced, wherever possible, by force — is imperiled by the spectacular failure of the War on Terror, which actually succeeded in creating a transnational army of Islamic terrorists.” ~ Eamon Murphy

    SEE: “The Reckless Lies of War Mongers; Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue”, by John Pilger,, Feb 27-Mar 01, 2015

    [EXCERPT] . . . Like the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome: thanks to an omnipresent, repetitive media and its virulent censorship by omission. Take the catastrophe in Libya.

    In 2011, Nato launched 9,700 “strike sorties” against Libya, of which more than a third were aimed at civilian targets. Uranium warheads were used; the cities of Misurata and Sirte were carpet-bombed. The Red Cross identified mass graves, and Unicef reported that “most [of the children killed] were under the age of ten”.

    The public sodomising of the Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi with a “rebel” bayonet was greeted by the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, with the words: “We came, we saw, he died.” His murder, like the destruction of his country, was justified with a familiar big lie; he was planning “genocide” against his own people. “We knew … that if we waited one more day,” said President Obama, “Benghazi, a city the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

    This was the fabrication of Islamist militias facing defeat by Libyan government forces. They told Reuters there would be “a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda”. Reported on March 14, 2011, the lie provided the first spark for Nato’s inferno, described by David Cameron as a “humanitarian intervention”.

    Secretly supplied and trained by Britain’s SAS, many of the “rebels” would become ISIS, whose latest video offering shows the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian workers seized in Sirte, the city destroyed on their behalf by Nato bombers.

    For Obama, Cameron and Hollande, Gaddafi’s true crime was Libya’s economic independence and his declared intention to stop selling Africa’s greatest oil reserves in US dollars. The petrodollar is a pillar of American imperial power. Gaddafi audaciously planned to underwrite a common African currency backed by gold, establish an all-Africa bank and promote economic union among poor countries with prized resources. Whether or not this would happen, the very notion was intolerable to the US as it prepared to “enter” Africa and bribe African governments with military “partnerships”.

    Following Nato’s attack under cover of a Security Council resolution, Obama, wrote Garikai Chengu, “confiscated $30 billion from Libya’s Central Bank, which Gaddafi had earmarked for the establishment of an African Central Bank and the African gold backed dinar currency”. . .


    • seafoid on February 27, 2015, 10:24 pm

      “the Western powers (the United States and its subaltern European allies) have made their choice: they have given preferential support to the Muslim Brotherhood and/or other “Salafist” organizations of political Islam. The reason for that is simple and obvious: these reactionary political forces accept exercising their power within globalized neoliberalism (and thus abandoning any prospect for social justice and national independence). That is the sole objective pursued by the imperialist powers.

      Consequently, political Islam’s program belongs to the type of fascism found in dependent societies. In fact, it shares with all forms of fascism two fundamental characteristics: (1) the absence of a challenge to the essential aspects of the capitalist order (and in this context this amounts to not challenging the model of lumpen development connected to the spread of globalized neoliberal capitalism); and (2) the choice of anti-democratic, police-state forms of political management (such as the prohibition of parties and organizations, and forced Islamization of morals).

      The anti-democratic option of the imperialist powers (which gives the lie to the pro-democratic rhetoric found in the flood of propaganda to which we are subjected), then, accepts the possible “excesses” of the Islamic regimes in question. Like other types of fascism and for the same reasons, these excesses are inscribed in the “genes” of their modes of thought: unquestioned submission to leaders, fanatic valorization of adherence to the state religion, and the formation of shock forces used to impose submission. In fact, and this can be seen already, the “Islamist” program makes progress only in the context of a civil war (between, among others, Sunnis and Shias) and results in nothing other than permanent chaos. This type of Islamist power is, then, the guarantee that the societies in question will remain absolutely incapable of asserting themselves on the world scene. It is clear that a declining United States has given up on getting something better—a stable and submissive local government—in favor of this “second best.””

      • JLewisDickerson on March 1, 2015, 8:16 am

        Thanks, seafoid. An excellent article!
        “The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism”, by Samir Amin,, 2014, Volume 66, Issue 04 (September)
        LINK –

        P.S. JOHN PILGER:

        In his lauded and much quoted book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the godfather of US policies from Afghanistan to the present day, writes that if America is to control Eurasia and dominate the world, it cannot sustain a popular democracy, because “the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion . . . Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilisation.”

      • JLewisDickerson on March 2, 2015, 6:07 pm

        P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Fascism Is Coming Alive Again” ~ by Eric Margolis ~ February 28, 2015
        LINK –

  6. JWalters on February 27, 2015, 8:15 pm

    Another factor that is completely omitted in these discussions is the factor of justice. Last night Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed New York Times’ Mona El-Nagga on the motives of a radicalized, educated, middle class Egyptian. At one point she said, “He thinks he’s fighting for a just cause.” O’Donnell instantly steered the discussion away from that idea.

    Why might he think he’s fighting for justice? Perhaps because of the glaringly unjust slaughter of Muslims that has been ongoing since the inception of the “Zionist project”? Perhaps the unjust driving them from their homes and lands that continues to this day? All of which ramped up considerably in the U.S. invasion of Iraq? This is not to condone the barbarous actions of ISIS, but no honest inquiry into their motives can so thoroughly and summarily ignore this factor.

    O’Donnell, like the rest of the U.S. mainstream media is clearly on a very short leash regarding any discussion of the justice factor.

  7. CitizenC on February 27, 2015, 8:24 pm

    Bernard Haykel has issued his own disclaimer about Wood’s use of his ideas

  8. Walid on February 28, 2015, 12:47 am

    Wood’s article has all the markings of a press release intended to move the spotlight away from what ISIS actually is and who nurtured it into becoming what it is. For his authority on the article within another article about what makes al-Baghdadi tick, he refers on 2 occasions to another article of a supposedly former jailmate of Baghdadi, an “Abu Ahmed” that describes their imprisonment at the Bucca military prison camp with the colour-coded prisoner uniforms as somthing just short of Club-Med, which is absurd. Equally absurd in this romantic recounting of how al-Baghdadi’s wicked streak came into being, was how the inmates wrote each other’s phone numbers on the elastic waistband of their boxer shorts that months or years later after their release, they would hasten to cut up to get to the phone numbers to call each other to form terrorist cells. We are to believe that whatever ink they used to write down the phone numbers on their boxer shorts withstood months of washing or wearing until the inmates were released.

    In recounting the history of al-Baghdadi, which forms an important part of Woods’ piece, he doesn’t mention that al-Baghdadi’s prison term lasted a whole 10 months before he was released from Bucca, or that at the time he was caught in the American dragnet, he had been simply a mild-mannered and somewhat meek company clerk and not as he is described as having already formed his own small and insignifant terror cell. Abu Ahmed’s testimony doesn’t make sense.

    I will re-post here a US-made 12-minute video I had put up on Kate’s thread yesterday that details the origins of ISIS, how it remained almost insignificant until last summer and what was behind its rapid success. It sheds a not so pleasant light on American involvement, something the Woods article does not discuss. Either the Woods article is bogus or the accusatory video below is bogus. Maybe both are.

  9. Real Jew on February 28, 2015, 6:11 am

    Can’t help but notice that the picture of the 2 ISIS fighters above look suspiciously caucasian

    • Walid on March 1, 2015, 2:04 pm

      Real Jew, there are reportedly many thousands of Caucassian volunteers that joined the ranks of ISIS. Many of them are from Chechnya. In Syria, it was surveyed that fighting among ISIS and its associates, there are people from 80 different countries.

  10. Bandolero on February 28, 2015, 8:41 am

    What a great nonsense.

    Wood carefully misses the main point about ISIS, and this article based on super extremist Zionist Michael Weiss does miss the main point about ISIS, too.

    ISIS ideology is takfiri Wahhabism just as it is preached in about every Saudi school and mosque. How did the takfiri Wahhabism did manage to takeover the Arabic peninsula? The British Empire supported the ideology and it’s proponents in a guerilla war to destroy the Ottomans a hundred years ago. Since then the Americans took over the job of protecting the dominance of takfiri Wahhabism in the arab peninsula. And more recently, the Zionists and Neocons took over the job of protection the dominance of takfiri perversion of Islam in the arab peninsula, because the ruling Saudi takfiri extremists are the best buddies of Israel.

    Ever since the takeover of the Arab peninsula by takfiri wahhabi proxy forces of the western empires, the takfiri wahhabi perversion of Islam has spread throughout the world and wreaked havoc whereever it put it’s feet in. How did the takfiri wahhabi perversion spread throughout the world while it’s Saudi center is protected by the US empire? With billions over billions of petrodollars. Who nurtured and financed the “takfiri Wahhabi movement” in Iraq after the US troops left, that eventually put up a flag of ISIS about it’s long-held strongholds like Mosul? The Saudis did it, with tacit support of Israel, with the intention of harming Iran.

    It’s simple as that. However, don’t expect Wood or Weiss to say this.

    If you want this opinion in a bit more nuanced and with more details, I recommend this article:

    What the mass media hide about the Charlie Hebdo terror attack: Wahhabism, Takfirism, and Saudi Arabia

    • Mayhem on February 28, 2015, 9:29 am

      @Bandolero, you are the one spewing the nonsense.
      You can’t conflate the Saudi government which is <a href=""desperate to stop ISIS from starting a sectarian war in their own country with ISIS today.

      The ideological roots of wahabism may have been born within Saudi Arabia but you can’t consequently blame the Saudi government for what is happening today and implicate Israel in the process. It’s false logic. Osama bin Laden was a Saudi but ultimately a sworn enemy of the Saudi regime.

      When weeds appear in a nurtured lawn you try and remove them, but you don”t solve the problem by blaming the gardener because he created an environment where weeds might grow. You look to poisoning the weeds so they don’t harm your lawn excessively. So it is with any society in which evil forces develop – the government seeks to find the dangerous elements that threaten its well-being and eliminate them.

      • Walid on February 28, 2015, 12:34 pm

        Very gentlemanly of an Israeli to come to the defense of Saudia.

      • Bandolero on February 28, 2015, 3:51 pm


        The problem is that the Saudis don’t grow a nice lawn where there is sometimes a bit ugly weed, but they grew the whole lawn of weed only.

        The ISIS terrorist ideology of Wahhabism was not only born in Saudi Arabia, but it is still the proud official ideology of the Saudi state. And that is why the Saudi state behaviour looks so similar to IS “state” behaviour. The top Saudi cleric two years ago demanded in a fatwa to destroy all churches (and other non-wahhabi religious sites) in the Arab world and ISIS does it. Of course, there are today no churches anymore destroyed in Saudi Arabia, because the Wahhabis did already destroy them all a century ago. Saudi state clerics day, women are inferiour properties to men and must be veiled, and IS does it as well. The Saudi regime loves whipping people for their unpleasant opinion about the ruler and beheading people for crimes like “sorcery” and IS does it as well. And so on, and so on. Read the references in the article I linked above. For example:

        Karen Armstrong: Wahhabism to ISIS: how Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism

        That the Saudis grow their weedy takfiri Wahhabi terrorist ideology for have it dominate Saudi Arabia, wouldn’t have to disturb the world much except for humanitarian reasons, but the problem is that the Saudi pay a lot of money to export the weed and poison other countries with this. See what Reza Aslan says, also linked in the article above:

        “And as we all know, Saudi Arabia has spent over $100 billion in the past 20 or 30 years spreading this ideology throughout the world.”

        And, yes, the Saudis also nurtured and financed ISIS, though they today maybe see it as a mistake. See The Atlantic: ‘Thank God for the Saudis’: ISIS, Iraq, and the Lessons of Blowback.

        Of course, after the declaration of the caliphate by IS the Saudis were shocked, because the declaration of the caliphate means that Caliph Ibrahim is legitimate and the Saudi king is illegitimate in the view of IS. There can only be one ruler in the Wahhabi doctrine. But the Saudis and IS don’t have many ideological differences, they just differ about the question who should rule.

        Also from that article above you can see that the principal backer of the Saudi support for the terrorists is the top JINSA-crowned US Israel lobbyist John McCain. And Israeli officials are on the record saying Israel’s policy is to prefer takfiri terrorists ruling Syria instead of an Iranian-backed government. It’s not hard to do the math, that the Saudis and Israel work together supporting ISIS and other Al Qaeda terrorists to weaken Iran.

      • Taxi on March 1, 2015, 12:49 pm

        The saudi system of governance has two branches – has been thus since the 1920’s:
        1- House of Saud, who are in charge of State Affairs, petrodollar economy and investiments etc.
        2- Wahabi zealots, who are in charge of the administration of religious law; in charge of religious tourism and religious pilgrimages.

        Most of the House of Saud, though religious conservatives, are actually wary of the Wahabis, but over time, Wahabis have infiltrated into the House of Saud.

        The last king was somewhat at odds with the wahabis. The new king is in bed with them

      • Taxi on March 1, 2015, 2:00 pm

        I forgot to add that the Saudi army is a wahabi army, which is why the House of Saud has it’s own army too (just in case the wahabi army attempted a bloody coup against the House of Saud).

        Yes folks, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world with two completely separate and potentially antagonistic armies. Two Saudi armies pointing guns at each other, as well as at Iran.

        Get the picture?

  11. kalithea on March 2, 2015, 11:31 am

    The U.S. crossed the Rubicon as far as ISLAM is concerned some time ago and there is no turning back. Islamophobia is on the rise in Western countries everywhere. The U.S. and Israel have claimed ownership to the War on Terror narrative and it is a terrible, racist and destructive narrative that won’t change because together with the media, that they both control, they have managed to brainwash the masses with fear of Islam. Some might say the terrorists did this, but the terrorists are the primal reaction to U.S. and Zionist imperialism in the Middle East therefore the latter two are responsible and will be responsible for the catastrophic outcome for the rest of the world.

    ISIS is spreading not only among Muslims who are impoverished and disenfranchised in Western countries as our leaders claim, but among well-educated middle-class Muslims. How can that be? Simple. The destructive American/Zionist narrative driven by fear that is fueling Islamophobia on its way is what is inspiring Muslims of all classes to join the ranks of the Islamic State. Who can blame young people who are sick and tired of the destruction of their lands of origin and the humiliation against their people for risking all to participate in oblitering this threat? How can they see hope when Western masses are devouring this ignorant fear and hate narrative that has only caused destruction to their lands and people and made understanding and respect unattainable and non-existant? It is this narrative that has brainwashed the masses in Western countries that pushed them to this edge of despair and now our leaders are prepared to punish them further.

    But to make matters worse we have another Zionist narrative that will bring Muslims of all stripes Sunni and Shia to take up arms against us. This narrative is the ideological bomb that Netanyahu outlined at the U.N. that he intends to drop on Congress (pardon the imagery, but that’s how I see it). I once stated that this man was the greatest threat to global stability and I meant it. This man is painting Iran as the great evil monster in the Middle East; as the source of all terror in the Middle East and is trying to convince the world that crushing Iran economically and militarily and humiliating and bringing to its knees a nation of 70 million will be to our benefit. Instead what it will do is turn yet legions of millions more Muslims (Shia Muslims) to retaliate in a way we haven’t yet witnessed, and our leaders will be solely responsible. Netanyahu is determined to unleash his self-fulfilling prophesy! Netanyahu is right now spewing his toxic mix and spreading the other part of the fear and hate narrative that will cement our destruction. America’s alliance with Zionism has lead to the toxic narrative, ideology and foreign policy whose destructiveness we are all witnessing and in my opinion this situation has become irreversible because we are in the minority and the mass ignorance created by this hate and fear mix will rule the day.

    • annie on March 2, 2015, 12:25 pm

      that’s an excellent comment kalithea but i don’t agree it is irreversible nor do i agree his narrative “will cement our destruction”. i think we’re stronger than that and i think the muslim world is much stronger than that. this too shall pass.

      • kalithea on March 5, 2015, 1:13 am

        I hope you’re right, but all wars no matter how long end someday. But this War on Terror just seems to escalate devastating one country after another in the Middle East, and fuels seething resentment and chaos leading to more violence, and I have to ask: how will this end? And I don’t see a good answer as long as we don’t defeat the fear and loathing narrative that sustains this war and stop these multiple violent interventions that have caused so much destruction and killed so many. And because the guardians of the war on terror narrative are so powerful and so effective at brainwashing the masses, it seems pretty hopeless. Every year more countries on both sides get pulled into this War on Terror and that’s not a good sign.

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