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ISIS—the New Israel

Posted on Dec 15, 2014

By Chris Hedges

  Demonstrators chant Islamic State slogans last June as they carry the group’s flag in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul in Iraq. AP photo

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is our Frankenstein. The United States after a decade of war in Iraq pieced together its body parts. We jolted it into life. We bathed it in blood and trauma. And we gave it its intelligence. Its dark and vicious heart of vengeance and war is our heart. It kills as we kill. It tortures as we torture. It carries out conquest as we carry out conquest. It is building a state driven by hatred for American occupation, a product of the death, horror and destruction we visited on the Middle East. ISIS now controls an area the size of Texas. It is erasing the borders established by French and British colonial powers through the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. There is little we can do to stop it.

ISIS, ironically, is perhaps the only example of successful nation-building in the contemporary Middle East, despite the billions of dollars we have squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its quest for an ethnically pure Sunni state mirrors the quest for a Jewish state eventually carved out of Palestine in 1948. Its tactics are much like those of the Jewish guerrillas who used violence, terrorism, foreign fighters, clandestine arms shipments and foreign money, along with horrific ethnic cleansing and the massacre of hundreds of Arab civilians, to create Israel. Antagonistic ISIS and Israeli states, infected by religious fundamentalism, would be irreconcilable neighbors. This is a recipe for apocalyptic warfare. We provided the ingredients.

I and Loretta Napoleoni, the author of the book “The Islamic Phoenix,” spoke at a Dec. 2 event in Manhattan at the headquarters of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Napoleoni pointed out that the message imparted to Muslims by ISIS is radically different from that of other jihadist groups, especially al-Qaida. ISIS does not call for martyrdom and self-immolation. It has launched a jihad against secular and discredited regimes in the Middle East rather than against Western targets abroad. It is seeking to establish, as the Zionists did in Palestine, a utopian, religious state. It holds up the ancient Caliphate—which united Muslims throughout the Middle East in the seventh century and whose time is considered the golden age of Islam—as an ideal, much as Jews held up the biblical kingdoms chronicled in the Hebrew Bible. ISIS, to build its state, has called on engineers, doctors and technicians to immigrate to the area it controls. And ISIS, although devoted to a fundamentalist form of Salafist Islam, is thoroughly modern. It has mastered sophisticated forms of electronic communication and delivers its messages through social media. And unlike groups such as al-Qaida, which bans television sets and radios, it views the technical advances of modern society as an asset. The mixture of fundamentalist religion with modernity is a potent and intoxicating brew for disenfranchised Muslims. And ISIS has attained what peaceful uprisings in the Middle East have not—liberation from detested regimes, at least for now.

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“Modern technology and a clear understanding of how our multipolar world functions, however, are not enough to succeed,” Napoleoni writes of the uprisings known as the Arab Spring. “Is it possible that the ‘smartphone uprisings,’ including the Arab Spring, failed where the Islamic State has succeeded because the latter is managed by a professional elite, which guides the rank and file, while the former finds itself at the mercy of their constant interaction and participation? If so, is the Islamic State’s model of nation-building more modern than that of the Arab Spring?”

Terror, as was true for the Jewish fighters in Palestine in the late 1940s, is an effective tool to intimidate opponents and accelerate ethnic cleansing. The fear of ISIS is its most potent weapon. Iraqi army troops, although better armed than ISIS fighters and outnumbering them, drop their U.S.-supplied weapons and flee before ISIS. Shiites abandon whole villages to ISIS. And all the U.S. advisers sent to put some spine in the Iraqi government forces have so far been unable to significantly stem the advance.

Sunni militants in Iraq consciously orchestrated the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. This clash, as was true in the former Yugoslavia, is not the result of ancient ethnic hatreds. It was created for political expediency.When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian radical, arrived in Iraq, he founded al-Tawhid al-Jihad. His group used forged documents to infiltrate over 100 fighters from al-Qaida, most of whom had been in Afghanistan, into Iraq. Zarqawi’s goal was to spark, under the cover of fighting the Western coalition forces, a sectarian conflict with the Shiites. He understood that a unified Shiite and Sunni state would thwart the dream of a Sunni Islamic state. He had to ignite a religious war. His group, in 2004, eventually became al-Qaida in Iraq and declared its loyalty to Osama bin Laden, who had initially rejected Zarqawi’s tactic of attacking Shiites. Zarqawi was killed in 2006. His death was followed a year later by the so-called Sunni awakening. By 2010 the radical group was almost extinct.


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