Growing zeal: what Baghdadi’s Islamic State fights for in Mosul

Growing zeal: what Baghdadi’s Islamic State fights for in Mosul, by Robert Manne. IS conquered Mosul in 2014, but the western global elite was clueless about the nature of Islam, thinking it merely a religion of a less-developed part of the world.

What was truly remarkable was how little in 2014 Western politicians or generals knew about ISIS. In January of that year, President Barack Obama dismissed the group contemptuously as the junior league partners of al-Qa’ida.

As evidence of the brutal behaviour of what is now known as Islamic State emerged, and as even Baghdad appeared to be under threat for a time, US general Michael Nagata admitted with great candour: “We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.”

What was not understood at that time and is not generally understood even now is that Islamic State is based on an ideology that has developed and hardened over the past 50 years. It is in ferocious defence of this utopian and apocalyptic ideology that the troops of Islamic State will be fighting during the battle of Mosul.

The idea for which IS fights so ferociously and brutally:

Qutb argued that the entire world, including the supposedly Muslim states, had fallen into a time of pre-Islamic ignorance, jahiliyyah, or pagan darkness. He called on the small number of true Muslims to form a revolutionary vanguard to bring the light of Islam to the world. Ultimately, the method was jihad, violent struggle on behalf of the faith. …

Political and military struggle on behalf of the faith — jihad — was the most profound duty Islam required of its followers. Jihad had to be waged to restore true Islam to the supposedly Muslim world, to those lands that had once been Islamic, and then to bring the blessings of Islam to the entire infidel world.

The central claim could not have been more urgent. The liberation of humankind from the era of near-universal ignorance rested on the success of the jihad of an Islamic vanguard. …

Technically, it is Salafi jihadism.

Ever since 9/11 there has been considerable uncertainty and debate about what the ideology that stretches from Qutb to Baghdadi should be called. Eventually, a genuinely accurate term was discovered for the followers of the Qutbist tradition over the past 50 years — Salafi jihadism — which scholars hostile to the ideology as well its most enthusiastic supporters generally speaking now embrace.

This near-universal acceptance of the term is not difficult to explain. The Salafis are those Muslims who regard the period of Mohammed and his companions as history’s golden age, which all subsequent generations of Muslims are obliged to learn from and to emulate. They are in addition to textual literalists who regard the Koran and the stories of the life and sayings of the prophet recorded in the authentic Hadith as providing ­together the source of all fundamentally important human knowledge.

The adherents of this ideology are Salafis, textual literalists who regard the Koran and Hadith as the source of virtually all fundamental knowledge. Equally, they are jihadists who believe there is an inescapable religious obligation to commit one’s life to violent struggle for the creation of a truly Islamic world.

Ideas matter.

The emergence of a genuinely new and significant ideology is one of the rarest events in political history. Salafi jihadism is the most recent example. …

It is easier to defeat an army than an ideology. As so often in history, ideas matter; ideas kill.

hat-tip Barry Corke