The American Sunday talk shows alternate between discussing ISIS and the ebola epidemic, however none of those I caught mentioned the latest news about ISIS, which is that the Pakistani Taliban have pledged allegiance to it.
During this past week much of the ISIS focus has been on the fear of jihadis returning to their Western countries of origin to kill people. And although American TV channels have mentioned Vice-President Biden’s criticism of the Saudi and other Gulf monarchies’ role in the training and financing of jihadi groups.
Biden also mentioned the madrassas that blanket the Middle East. Their existence has of course long been known, but after the initial reaction to 9/11, surprisingly little has been made of them, so Biden was right to bring them back to our attention. The Vice-President’s quiet outburst probably has three functions: as a message from the administration to ISIS’s Gulf backers, as well as to the jihadi leadership, and as a message from the White House to Senator McCain and his followers who have been intimately involved in securing US weapons for what were presented as anti-Assad fighters but were in reality jihadis.
As yet, however, no major figure that I have seen has tackled the question of what to us is astonishing support for the Islamic State across the Islamic world. The Pakistani pledge makes that an urgent task. In my previous post I presented evidence of support by individuals and groups across the Arab world gathered by a researcher on hte Middle East, but the pledge of a major entity has different implications.
I see it first of all as a response to what, to many Muslims, is an exciting idea, that of, the revival of a border-erasing state that really did exist - and persist - for centuries, and which some Muslims will undoubtedly see as having been, in its time, much more significant than U.S. global dominance today. Just the simple idea that ‘yes we can’ do this, that our disparate bands of warriors can, with the right support, and under inspiring leadership, impose an ancient morality on populations that are not only deprived of their potential wealth, but degraded by Western mores, is likely to bring new groups into Baghdadi’s fold with each passing day.
It looks as though Baghdadi’s pitch has two basic strands: the intensely personal element that stresses the degradation of human dignity inherent in the West’s ‘cultural’ message, and which has been shown to attract highly educated people across Europe and the United States, and the political element that addresses the West’s seemingly unstoppable momentum toward global domination based on profit and consumerism.
Once again, the daily headlines show how intertwined events are: today in France major demonstrations are taking place against the government’s recent recognition of same sex marriage, while in the U.S. the Supreme Court is deciding whether it will take up the same issue in the coming year’s judicial calendar.
It would be a mistake to take these events for mere coincidences. However trite the expression may be, they are ‘a sign of the times’. We can no longer see events in different countries as self-contained: the continued resistance in the West to legislation endorsing same sex marriage - and, in the case of France, violent opposition to the legality of assisted reproduction for the benefit of same sex couples - rejoins the opposition among Muslim populations to the relaxation of Western sexual mores, which in part fuels enthusiasm for ISIS’s goal of recreating the Caliphate.
I would venture to say that today’s Jihadis see their mission in terms very similar to those that brought American - or rather English - Pilgrims to the New World to found a ‘City Upon a Hill’, where extreme puritanism would reign under what was, in fact, a theocratic government. Puritanism’s legacy is still alive and well among large swathes of the American population, and one has to wonder what the opinion of Born-Again and other fundamentalist Christian groups would be to Baghdadi’s moral pitch - if they knew about it.