Today’s Top 7 Myths about Daesh/ ISIL

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The self-styled ‘Islamic State’ Group (ISIS or ISIL), the Arabic acronym for which is Daesh, is increasingly haunting the nightmares of Western journalists and security analysts. I keep seeing some assertions about it that strike me as exaggerated or as just incorrect.

1. It isn’t possible to determine whether Daesh a mainstream Muslim organization, since Muslim practice varies by time and place. I disagree. There is a center of gravity to any religion such that observers can tell when something is deviant. Aum Shinrikyo isn’t your run of the mill Buddhism, though it probably is on the fringes of the Buddhist tradition (it released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995). Like Aum Shinrikyo, Daesh is a fringe cult. There is nothing in formal Islam that would authorize summarily executing 21 Christians. The Qur’an says that Christians are closest in love to the Muslims, and that if they have faith and do good works, Christians need have no fear in the afterlife. Christians are people of the book and allowed religious freedom by Islamic law from the earliest times. Muslims haven’t always lived up to this ideal, but Christians were a big part of most Muslim states in the Middle East (in the early Abbasid Empire the Egyptian and Iraqi Christians were the majority). They obviously weren’t being taken out and beheaded on a regular basis. They did gradually largely convert to Islam, but we historians don’t find good evidence that they were coerced into it. Because they paid an extra poll tax, Christians had economic reasons to declare themselves Muslims.

We all know that Kentucky snake handlers are a Christian cult and that snake handling isn’t typical of the Christian tradition. Why pretend that we can’t judge when modern Muslim movements depart so far from the modern mainstream as to be a cult?

2. Daesh fighters are pious. Some may be. But very large numbers are just criminals who mouth pious slogans. The volunteers from other countries often have a gang past. They engage in drug and other smuggling and in human trafficking and delight in mass murder. They are criminals and sociopaths. Lots of religious cults authorize criminality.

3. Massive numbers of fighters have gone to join Daesh since last summer. Actually, the numbers are quite small proportionally. British PM David Cameron ominously warned that 400 British Muslim youth had gone off to fight in Syria. But there are like 3.7 million Muslims in the UK now! So .01 percent .000027 of the community volunteered. They are often teens, some are on the lam from petty criminal charges, and many come back disillusioned. You could get 400 people to believe almost anything. It isn’t a significant statistic. Most terrorism in Europe is committed by European separatist groups– only about 3% is by Muslims. Cameron is just trying to use such rhetoric to avoid being outflanked on his right by the nationalist UKIP. One of the most active Daesh Twitter feeds turns out to be run by an Indian worker in a grocery chain in Bangalore who lived in his parents’ basement and professed himself unable to volunteer for Syria because of his care giving chores. Daesh is smoke and mirrors.

4. Ibrahim Samarra’i’s ‘caliphate’ is widely taken seriously. No, it isn’t. It is a laughing matter in Egypt, the largest Arab country. There are a small band of smugglers and terrorists in Sinai who declared for Samarra’i, but that kind of person used to declare for Usama Bin Laden. It doesn’t mean anything. Egypt, with 83 million people, is in the throes of a reaction against political Islam, in favor of nationalism. It has become a little dangerous to wear a beard, the typical fashion of the Muslim fundamentalsit. Likewise, Tunisia voted in a secular government.

5. Daesh holds territory in increasing numbers of countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. But outside of Syria and Iraq, Daesh is just a brand, not an organization. A handful of Taliban have switched allegiance to Daesh or have announced that they have. It has no more than symbolic significance in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These converts are tiny in number. They are not significant. And they were already radicals of some sort. Daesh has no command and control among them. Indeed, the self-styled ‘caliph’, Ibrahim Samarrai, was hit by a US air strike and is bed ridden in Raqqah, Syria. I doubt he is up to command and control. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have a new agreement to roll up the radicals, and Pakistan is aerially bombing them.

Even in Syria and Iraq, Daesh holds territory only because the states have collapsed. I remember people would do this with al-Qaeda, saying it had branches in 64 countries. But for the most part it was 4 guys in each of those countries. This kind of octopus imagery is taken advantage of by Daesh to make itself seem important, but we shouldn’t fall for it.

6. Only US ground troops can defeat Daesh and the USA must commit to a third Iraq War. The US had 150,000 troops or so in Iraq for 8 1/2 years! But they left the country a mess. Why in the world would anybody assume that another round of US military occupation of Iraq would work, given the disaster that was the last one? A whole civil war was fought between Sunnis and Shiites that displaced a million people and left 3000 civilians dead a month in 2006-2007, right under the noses of US commanders.

In fact, US air power can halt Daesh expansion into Kurdistan or Baghdad. US air power was crucial to the Kurdish defense of Kobane in northern Syria. It helped the Peshmerga paramilitary of Iraqi Kurdistan take back Mt. Sinjar. It helped an Iraqi army unit take back the refinery town of Beiji. The US ought not to have to be there at all. But if Washington has to intervene, it can contain the threat from the air. Politicians should just stop promising to extirpate the group. Brands can’t be destroyed, and Daesh is just a brand for the most part.

7. Daesh is said to have 9 million subjects. I don’t understand where this number comes from. They have Raqqah Province in Syria, which had 800,000 people before the civil war. But the north of Raqqah is heavily Kurdish and some 300,000 Kurds fled from there to Turkey. Some have now come back to Kobane. But likely at most Daesh has 500,000 subjects there. Their other holdings in Syria are sparsely populated. I figure Iraq’s population at about 32 million and Sunnis there at 17%, i.e. 5.5 million or so. You have to subtract the million or more Sunnis who live in Baghdad and Samarra, which Daesh does not control. Although most of the rest Sunni Iraq has fallen to Daesh, very large numbers of Sunnis have fled from them. Thus, of Mosul’s 2 million, 500,000 voted with their feet last summer when Daesh came in. Given the massive numbers of refugees from Daesh territory, and given that they don’t have Baghdad, I’d be surprised if over all they have more than about 3-4 million people living under them. And this is all likely temporary. Plans are being made to kick them right back out of Mosul.

Related Video:

ABC News: “ISIS Recruiter Speaks”

73 Responses

  1. 3. .000027 percent should be .00011 or .011 percent.
    6. “ought to to” should be “ought not to”
    No need to post correction comment.

  2. An important article on ISIS is in the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic by Graeme Wood

    “What ISIS Really Wants”

    There are already over 2,000 comments on the article.

    Subtitle of the article

    The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.

    • The two are not mutually exclusive. I think what we saw in the burning of the Jordanian pilot was a descent into madness. Anyone who believes in the literal truth of ancient religious scribbling is crazy.

    • Good article. I agree with everything Dr. Cole writes in this piece, except the part about their motivations. According to Mr. Wood, Daesh’s moves are right out of the Quran. He makes a convincing argument, to me.

    • The article you refer is lengthy..wordy and makes no sense at all. It’s author may wish us to believe all that jazz in it but its clearly bogus. ISIS is no different than the James Gang or Bonnie and Clyde. They too claimed lofty motives..and Like ISIS were full of it.

  3. Mr. Cole, I first was introduced to you through your book on the Lucknow Shiite Kingdom…was a great piece of work.
    On your comment above, I have a couple of disagreements…
    1) I think the argument that you put forth saying “400 joined and the others have nothing to do with it” is disingenious…in almost all violent phenomena, those that actually pick up the gun or the sword are usually way less in number than those that subscribe to the ideology that leads to violence (combination of factors, fear, cowardice, insufficient motivation)…and it is that strand of hatred that is Wahabbi/Salafi inspired that is gaining currency….as a non-white, non-christian immigrant living in the USA (happily I must say), i do have to say that over time, we can sense this radicalization gaining currency
    2) You mentioned how the guy running the Twitter feed for these thugs that actually turned out to be someone in Bangalore…that I think is what makes the problem more global and hence more dangerous…thats part of the “We are part of the Ummah” mythology that the salafites have been able to sell….no conflict is local….in their minds, Kashmir becomes a holy cause for all Muslims, so does Kosovo, so does Bosnia(the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 were orchestrated by a caucasian american convert)…and thats what makes it so fearful for non-Muslims…to sweep the apprehensions and fears under the carpet as nothing but Islamophobia would be fool-hardy and counter-productive….
    Would love to hear your comments

    • You are squinting at the problem, instead of, I fear, being objective. Kashmir is a holy cause for the Indian Hindus and Palestine is a holy cause for the zionist Jews. The rapacious desire of these two groups to hold on to what is not theirs and in the process persecute others is what should make non-Muslims fearful.

  4. British PM David Cameron ominously warned that 400 British Muslim youth had gone off to fight in Syria. But there are like 3.7 million Muslims in the UK now! So .000027 percent of the community volunteered.

    (400/3,700,000)X100 = 0.01%, about 1 in 10,000.

    Not 0.000027%, which is about 3 in 10,000,000.

    • What percentage of the 400 are coming back and the percentage of their fans at home is the 6 million dollar question.

  5. Juan Cole forgets to mention that Prophet Muhammed as mainstream Islamic representative occupied land by force, beheaded, tortured und enslaved infidels–just as the IS did. Therefore to say IS had nothing to do with islam is historical nonsense.

    • To equate Mohammed’s quest to unify the scattered Arab states under one banner – consolidations via warfare similar to Alexander, Ceasar and Constantine – is ahistorical as a comparison to ISIL today. In the Judeo-Christian Biblical tradition, God told the Israelites to ‘purify’ the Promised Land of its indigenous dwellers through conquest and killing. The formation/consolidation of states in Europe was born in conquest and misery. ISIL is too late and out of sync with history.

      • I don’t think it’s too late for ISIS if they can consolidate where they’re strong and keep from overextending themselves they’ll have what they can hold. If they’re weak someone more ruthless will take the ground.

        • The Atlantic article mentioned above addresses this issue. If they are not expanding, they are not fulfilling their religious mandate. Consolidating territorial control is not their goal.

        • Rabbit is correct. Even if the ultimate goal of conquest is much larger. Consolidation of ground and build up of support of land taken then further expansion if the way empires are made. Look at what Alexander or the Khans did. Alexander unfortunately died before he could consolidate territory from Egypt to Persia.

      • ISIL is not out of sync. Infact, they will succeed at consolidating countries like Syria, Iraq and neighbouring countries under their own banner; sharia law unless someone stops them.

    • Your knowledge of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed PBUH seems to be limited and according to your convenience and that of many in the western world. What the IS is doing is not acceptable to any level minded Muslim, however generalisation of Islam the way you have and many others do is absolutely for reasons well known to the world. What’s happening in many parts of the Muslim world is created to suppress Islam and unity of Muslims.

      • Professor Cole does not have “limited” knowledge on Islam. He is a professor who knows multiple languages spoken by hundreds of millions of Muslims and knows Islam to a scholarly level. Professor Cole himself indicated that what IS is doing is as you say “not acceptable to any level minded Muslim.” So you did not read his articles correctly.

    • Christians, as Prof. Cole points out, were considered “People of the Book” and not infidels.

    • The remark on Prophet Muhammad is false.

      The Qur’an reverses the pagan pre-Islamic practice of beheadings, torturing, enslaving, etc by explicit commands.

      “…At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens…” (47. 4)

      The Qur’an explicitly forbids the injustice against any person, regardless of whether they are People of the Book or pagan or atheist…and in fact indicates that beyond justice, a Muslim should be kind to all non-Muslims. please see below.
      “Allah does not forbid you respecting those who have not made war against you on account of (your) religion, and have not driven you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly; surely Allah loves the doers of justice. (60, 8) There are many other verses like the above two.

      • Except that is not what IS is practicing. They are committing heinous acts of barbarism eg beheading, crucifixions, immolation, stoning, mass shootings, thrown from building tops, etc. when no one pays their ransom.

    • Would you like to cite exact source of that incident. I’d like to know if you are one of the hatemongers or have some serious research to back up the claims you make.

    • Similarly, Christian Crusaders slaughtered 250,000 Eastern Christians in Istanbul’s Haggia Sophia, and are celebrated as savoiurs of Christendom

    • “Prophet Muhammed as mainstream Islamic representative occupied land by force, beheaded, tortured und enslaved infidels”…So did America’s “founding fathers”, and a lot more recently.

  6. Juan, I have a suggestion. The first sentence of each of your bullets is a “myth” that you then argue against in the rest of the bullet. I suggest distinguishing the myth from your rebuttal by some typographical convention, e.g., boldfacing the myth (and remarking on it at the beginning of the article) and leaving the rebuttal in plain text.

    • Was going to suggest this, too. The formatting does not help with reading the piece; hit the return key after the myth.

  7. This is an excellent post, Juan. Thank you. What I would like to read from you is a similar analysis of who is gaining in the West from whipping up fears about ISIL?

    • Arms dealers and military contractors are doing well ($500 million in arms sales in one bill alone, plus DOD contracts) and if you were one of the swing states in the 2014 elections– the GOP senate and house candidates who used ISIS in their ads. And those arms dealers are clearly selling to ISIS as well.

  8. Thanks for writing this. It’s very difficult for someone like me to separate what’s reasonable and what isn’t from what I read, or to get a sense of what things are well known, and what issues are being debated by serious and well informed people.

    A great example of this is Graeme Wood’s article at the Atlantic:

    link to

    It seems reasonable and well researched, but I really don’t know what knowledgeable scholars would say about it. It might be very much on target or completely biased and ill informed — I don’t know.

  9. I read Graeme Woods’ Atlantic article, “What ISIS Really Wants” with great interest. After reading it my 1st thought was “what would Juan Cole say about all this”. I hope you give us your appreciation soon, Dr. Cole.

      • If this is a response to Wood’s article, is your claim that Wood is saying “It isn’t possible to determine whether Daesh a mainstream Muslim organization, since Muslim practice varies by time and place”? I don’t see where Wood ever claims that ISIS is or could be “mainstream”; the claim he rejects is not “ISIS is not mainstream Islam” but “ISIS is not Islam, full-stop.” That has been said directly by, for one, Barack Obama, a non-Muslim. And I think Wood is right that for non-Muslims to get in the business of saying “that’s not Islam” serves nobody except the fringe cultists themselves.

        • Unfortunately Wood goes further than that–he basically claims that ISIS understands Islam correctly and moderate Muslims do not. It’s the same as saying that Russian pogromists understood the anti-semitic passages in the New Testament correctly and were the true exemplars of Christianity. This is a debateable point at best. The Bible contains passages that justify brutal conduct and compassionate conduct–I’ve not read the Koran, but I gather the same is true of it. Cruel people focus on the cruel passages.

  10. Like Don Utter I’d like to see your observations about Wood’s article in the Atlantic. In some ways it tracks nicely with what you say here, though in others it departs. I found it interesting precisely because of its focus on what might motivate some people to join and how those in ISIL justify their behavior. Since, as you note, there are crazy-seeming outliers in any religion (snake-handlers represent!) that justify their beliefs and practices through their own understandings of the relevant scripture it helped me see how ISIL followers might be doing it. I came here right after I read it since I pretty much drop in here regularly to read correctives to the MSM’s hysteria.

  11. ISIS seems more like a franchise. Anyone can open a branch. Except in a few places they’re spread pretty thin.
    If we did break them up some other group would take their place.
    We killed the top dogs and the pecking order won’t be established until we stop killing their leaders. Saddam managed to keep some kind of order but now he’s gone. Assad kept Syria one of the safest places for Westerners to visit for years. Now that’s over.
    Now that these strong leaders are dead or compromised, lesser figures/groups will fight it out until new top dogs come to the fore. It’s as simple as that. A genuine leader won’t want to risk their position by messing with the West or so logic would dictate.
    Our looser leaders are just pandering to greed because they can sit back, far removed from the carnage.
    It’s just human nature. Fighting against that is stupid.

  12. Daesh is made up of lightweight gangsters blown way out of proportion by American politicians and the media. They are desperate for cash. Daesh is the perfect group for keeping the war fever fires boiling.. Cutting off heads will do that.

    The Manson family +Al Capone= DAESH.

  13. Theology is not my strong suit; that’s why I hold theocracy in contempt. I am interested in the mechanics of war and how they change over time.

    What ISIS seems to have done is refine the myth of the Afghan mujahedeen and their successors into a formula so ridiculously simple that no one knows how to defeat it. Under the nation-state system, you knew your enemy’s territory; thus you knew that patriotic young men in that territory would travel to military depots, get equipped and trained, then get moved to the battlefield followed by a long, complex supply chain. All of that can be targeted by airstrikes. Now that is all invalidated.

    It works because the recruitment and movement of troops is inverted; by rejecting national sovereignity, these Islamists restore the demand that the entire umma rise up to defend the birthrights of any individual member anywhere on Earth. If that happens, you are obligated to drop what you’re doing and get yourself to that battlefield if you must cross a dozen borders.

    It’s kind of a sick joke, but years ago I was thinking about how convenient it would be if you could just tell all your supporters where the battlefield would be, and then just like Woodstock, 600,000 kids would mysteriously show up. These guys have figured out how to do this.

    The catch is, they cannot be properly trained or supplied, so they are killed quickly. But out of over one billion Moslems, most of them poor by any humane standard, it’s only necessary for a few hundred young men a week to be disgruntled enough to make the trek to becoming cannon fodder. And with the fantastic inequality of wealth caused by the oil economy, a few fanatic sheikhs in Saudi or some other kingdom can pay for more surplus weapons out of their pocket change.

    So the fact that the people living under ISIS soon learn to hate it is irrelevant – which was never the case for the guerrilla movements of the past, whose ideologies were built on local organization. ISIS is the least interested in competent local government of any regime we’ve ever seen. The whole point is to draw in outsiders to keep fighting, thus creating more publicity which draws in more foreigners, until the entire world is at war.

    So it’s like real estate bubbles or a hot streak in Vegas; it mushrooms until it collapses completely. Yet we keep having more real estate bubbles and gamblers in Vegas, because we selectively view the evidence of what happens to others with a bias for victory.

  14. I just wrote a comment about “The power of nightmares” see link to
    This three-part documentary shows how fear works all too well to manipulate publics whether Western or Middle Eastern; it was used during the Cold War, with Russia as the boogie-man. It was used after 9/11 to twist our country into a vengeful irrational mood that allowed just enough public belief in the Bush-Cheney administration’s lies that we threw our riches into invading the wrong country and undercut diplomacy and democracy in the world. Fear is powerful. ISIS is using it most effectively to appear more powerful than they are. And yet…beheading 21 at once, Coptic Christians from Egypt…makes us deeply fearful and helplessly depressed.
    I see this as a canny strategy to suck one more country into further chaos, which only benefits the gangsters. And yet I cannot accept the dispassionate tone, the reassuring approach of this piece, Dr. Cole. I am afraid of them even if they are just opportunistic gangsters.

  15. Who exactly is going to kick ISIS out of Mosul? Certainly not the Iraqi Army, that pack of lily livers couldn’t chase a kitten away from a bowl of milk. With lots of close air support, the Kurds might be able to do it, but that’s far from a sure thing.

  16. Just maybe – We should be discussing the negative impacts of medieval religiosity and mythology in humanity’s pathetic fits and starts at trying create a sustainable world worth living in and why it seems to be such a dismal failure in our advanced, technology-based societal dream become nightmare.

    • I am not an expert on Islam, but I have read large parts of the Koran and studied history.

      It is my understanding that Mohammed went to Medina at the invitation of quarreling factions and also because he and his followers were targeted by the tribes in Mecca. There was war. Idol worshippers vs. followers of Mohammed. Polytheism vs. monotheism. People were killed.

      Since when are wars using religion as an excuse unique to Islam? Crusades. Constantine building the Holy Roman Empire. The God of Israel commanded his followers to cleanse the Promised Land of its indigenous people before the Chosen People took over. Wars in Europe between kings claiming ‘divine right’. There always seems to be a territorial (temporal) component to religious warfare as well which confuses an historical view. Mohammed sought to unify the constantly warring tribes of Arabia in the seventh century.

      Wars were up front and personal during the seventh century. Beheadings were probably part of the tactics of war . Most tribal warriors obliterated a defeated enemy. Taking them as slaves was ‘reform’ in those days.

      ISIL are ahistorical ‘freaks’ trying to conflate the early history of Islam to suit their extreme and brutal behavior. ISIL seeks to justify its actions by the standards of warring tribes over 1500 years ago! Theology to them is almost non-existent. They are products of the late 20th and 21st centuries.

      Maybe the real questions is: why now?

  17. It is worth pointing out the myths that are prevalent in the Middle East as well, such as the widely held belief (reported in Arab media) that ISIS is in fact a US/Zionist invention.

  18. What ISIS/Daesh represents is a reaction to the implosion of the Islamic world. It is Sunni v Shia, Arab v Persian, etc. and the winner will take all (or most) of the Middle East spoils. Its basically the Muslim version of the Christian Wars of the Reformation of the 16th & 17th centuries, but about 400 years late. Libya, Yemen, Iraq and possibly even Syria and Nigeria will disappear. For the West, its best to keep away from this impending geopolitical whirlpool until it all blows over in about 50-60 years time.

  19. What would happen if the U.S. put together a marketing team, launched a propaganda attack on ISIlL to make them appear weak. Go Brian Williams & make up stories like “3 Russian men kidnapped 11 members of ISIL, made them put on pink wigs & squeal like pigs……….

  20. ISIS is as dangerous as the Nazi, don’t minimize the extent of their power. While your numbers are small, even one “convert” is too many. Muslim? NO!

  21. Who gave rise to this monstrosity? Try pointing the finger once towards Bush Sr. and Jr. And while the finger is pointing , you might want to direct it a bit towards Reagan for nurturing the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Russian Invasion. And Bin Laden (read Al-Qaida) was seeded there and now branched to IS/ ISIS. It was the American myopic (worse than Mr. Magoo) handling of the fighters and the country using the train-fund-drop like used condom approach that devastated one country after another. They could have well left Saddam and Gaddafi alone and there might still be some semblance of peace in the middle east.

    • So the Bushes over threw Gaddafi… I didn’t know that. Thanks for the history lessons. I guess you would have been OK with Saddam keeping Kuwait and possibly taking the Arabian Peninsula?

      • Gaddafi – It is a continuation of the American middle east policy that I was referring to. So how do you explain the US supporting Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war to overthrow Ayotollah Khomeni? In 1982, the US removed Iraq from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism in order to supply weapons to Iraq against Khomeni. Could it not foresee Saddam’s ambitions then? Of course, when he took Kuwait, America’s oil interest was directly affected as he would restructure the powerplay enjoyed by the chief allies – Saudi, Kuwait and UAE. And he became the bad guy and later a bad guy with WMD. If Kuwait’s primary exports were dates, not sure if the war would have happened.

  22. As usual, the media loves to embellish and doesn’t research as Cole did in this article. If you disagree, do your duty and research before spouting your sensationalistic garbage!

  23. Long time reader and fan, and I’ve even had a few brief conversations with you via email.

    I’m curious about one point:

    – if 150k ground troops coUldn’t stop a civil war, but airstrikes can meaningfully stop ISIL…well there seems to be a bit of a disconnect there.

    What is the long term strategy for the airstrikes and can it suceed considering the dire straights Iraq is in..?

    I’m not wanting ISIS to suceed – obviously – but defensive bombing seems to be very.. It doesn’t seem like a strategy.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    • You can’t stop an urban back alley ethnic cleansing campaign with a few US troops.

      You can give one military force an advantage over another with close air support, as with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, 2001-2

      • Are you setting us up for “U.S. to Give Some Syria Rebels Ability to Call Airstrikes”
        link to
        In the afghan war many civilian died because of personal and tribal vendetta. If and when the curtain drops for the thugs in Iraq and Syria, what would become of them, would Yemen and Libya look attractive to them, especially if Italians get mixed up in Libya and how would the survival of the chain of supply “an army to feed an army” be explained after years of aerial warfare.

      • I do appreciate that air strikes can buy time, but assuming Daesh doesn’t destroy itself, and assuming that the U.S. won’t bomb them indefinitely, what’s a reasonable strategy?

        As you have pointed out so many times, Iraq isn’t about to be stable or unified any time soon. Neither is Syria or Libya.

        What sort of actual strategy can be used to stop Daesh long term?

  24. Genghis Khan was doing this kind of thing on a much larger canvas nine hundred and some odd years ago but relatively few people heard of it at the time. Today, news of Daesh/ISIL massacres reaches the internet almost as soon as they happen. Whether these modern barbarians are Moslem or not is simply a question of what they are called or what they call themselves, any effort to be more precise on the issue is a matter of theological dialectic. How they came about is a subject for historians. It is fashionable today to devote often considerable care and effort picking a path back in time from now to some antecedent moment in order to turn it on its head and argue the reverse was how a current situation came into being, Things tend to have more discernible evolutionary patterns if we are not directly involved with them; once subjected to outside involvement, particularly our own, they become all but impenetrable as unraveling their motives increasingly requires us to examine ours as well.

  25. isis robbins

    @kimoco Wish more journalists were as insightful as Juan Cole! Also thanks for not calling them by the goddess I’m named after!

  26. Many interesting comments on Juan’s article, one thing that stands out that has not been discussed regarding the quick rise of Isis is it has happened in a vacuum in other words in failed states. There are billions of Muslims living in countries, whether you agree with their politics or not, that remain relatively stable without the violence and destruction we see in Iraq, Syria and now spreading to Libya and Yemen. We can try an bomb them into oblivion but any resolution can only come about with the re-established of stability within these countries all the rest really is just interesting rhetoric without an answer.

    • You are, of course, absolutely right. However, if you wish to extend the perception it becomes a matter of how the vacuum occurred. Myself, I take refuge in the notion that cause and effect are simply the comforting way we account for the progression of cloud illusions through time.

  27. Wow, the self-hatred in these comments are pathetic. Most of you seem to think IS is some myth made up by the US gov’t for nefarious purposes. Hopefully, you all have enough tinfoil to go round. You would all get beheaded or set on fire, stop pretending like you would be down with IS.

    • Zach. Your comment is not based on reality, it is a bizarre attack based on a fiction of your own imagining. You cannot have read the comments and come to your conclusion unless you are more than a little ‘hard of thinking’. Try harder next time.

  28. Philosopher Alain Badiou’s recent comments on the topic: “The world is subject to the ruling international oligarchy and enslaved to the abstraction of money – the only recognised universal…A mediocre intellectual conformism has established itself…– a both plaintive and complacent form of resignation that goes hand in hand with the lack of any future. Any future, that is, other than rolling out what already exists in repetitive fashion.

    “And now we see the emergence of its counterpart. This is a logical and horrifying reaction, a hopeless and fatal one, a mix of corrupt capitalism and murderous gangsterism. Giving subjective form to the death drive, it maniacally retreats into the most varied identities. This identitarian retreat in turn sparks arrogant, identitarian counter-identities.

    The general plot of this story is the West – homeland of the dominant, civilised capitalism – clashing with ‘Islamism’ – the reference point of bloody terrorism. Appearing against this backdrop we have, on the one hand, murderous armed gangs or individuals with stockpiles of their own, which they wave around in order to force everyone to honour the corpse of some deity; on the other hand, savage international military expeditions mounted in the name of human rights and democracy, which destroy entire states (Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Sudan, Congo, Mali, the Central African Republic…). These wars have thousands of victims, and they never achieve anything more than negotiating a precarious peace with the worst bandits in order to secure the oil fields, mines, food resources and enclaves where big business can prosper.”

    link to

    This view coincides with the one predicted by American geopolitical strategist Philip Bobbitt a few years ago: “Terrorism in the era of the market state will reflect the nature of the market state” since contemporary terrorism is itself an outgrowth of “the transition from nation states to market states.”

    The paradoxical particulars of the ISIS economy reflect this: “Where does Islamic State get its money? In an interview, terrorism expert Louise Shelley says it operates like a run-of-the-mill crime syndicate in which ideology takes a back seat to money making.” There is apparently little they will not traffic in, least of all pornography.

    link to

    ISIS’s whole operation seems to be a particularly pestilential and attritive form of capitalism–akin to the one adopted by the narcocracies of Mexico and beyond.

  29. 1- {Like Aum Shinrikyo, Daesh is a fringe cult.} . This is true and we know, looking at history, most of fringe cult are constructed and supported by CIA/Mossad/MI6 like MEK, Jundullan, Al Qaeda and much more. ISIS is US army in the region. That’s why cannot be ‘destroyed’ by a country where has more than 48% of WMD. It is a joke and only dummies are going to believe

    2-{Lots of religious cults authorize criminality.} true, like MEK where is supported and trained by CIA/Mossad

    3-{But outside of Syria and Iraq, Daesh is just a brand, not an organization.} It is true again. The reason behind CONSTRUCTION OF ISIS by CIA/Mossad is to destabilize the region and draw a new map meaning to divide Iraq, Syria to construct ‘kurdistan’ to create tension for ever/like creation of Israel/ to keep the population of the region at each other while they are rubbing the resources to keep the regional states WEAK not to able to defend themselves. But they will NOT be able to do it and they have to get out soon with shame.
    4-{Why in the world would anybody assume that another round of US military occupation of Iraq would work}
    A good question. The answer is simple. There are too many dummies including in the ARMY.

  30. Hi
    Regarding Daesh being a Moslem versus none ? – everything they’ve done so far is ways from Islam , not only slaying the Christian Egyptian plain workers . In Islam for me as a born Moslem in a society with mixed ethnicities & minor groups ? It goes like this :- As a first to fourth elementary student during my childhood , one Jordanian teacher taught us both Arabic & religion ( of course Quran and so on ) this teacher is a Christian Jordanian and I’m assuring you’ll he did in a way I have never forgotten how he corrected our reciting the Quran . Later ?? the teacher ended up as one of my patients , this man died with so many of his students around him in an intensive care unit somewhere in a town few kilometers away from Daesh . So , in my humblist words :- we did not have daesh or any extreme fundamentalists in 1980’s ,however they were made and exported to us as an end product for American led wars on different known & unknown enemies .

  31. Daesh springs from Wahabism which is an 18th century movement in response to the conditions of the time. It is “modern” and as such—ISIS/Daesh is “modern”. Wahabism is not classical Islam—it is what one would call “Purist”—these types of “radical reformists” movements began in response to colonialism and other such conditions of modernity.
    It would be better to call ISIS/Daesh a “Takfiri” rather an “Islamic” ideology because this would serve to de-legitimize its claim. (Takfirism-declaring others apostate—a tactic used by Daesh to kill Muslims)

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