Commentators in the UK are agreed that the Middle East is facing its worst crisis for decades. While they all condemn IS/ISIS/ISIL, they are also worried that the current situation somehow a) represents a crisis for the West and Western policy, and b) that the West is somehow responsible. The West is indeed responsible to a degree, but current events do not represent any kind of crisis for the West; the real crisis is actually being faced by the modern creed of political Islam. The disorder currently afflicting Syria, Iraq, Libya and to a lesser degree Egypt, is not a crisis of capitalism or of democracy. What is being revealed very starkly is:
1) the incompetence, inhumanity and unworthiness of jihadi ‘government’
2) the absence of proper accountability among Middle Eastern states, which are secretive and addicted to short-sighted policies of manipulating extreme, violent groups in misguided attempts to destabilise their regional enemies.
Another grisly and demeaning video of a beheading hit social media this morning. Yet again a group of young men have tried to portray themselves as powerful and dominant, whereas the effect in the mind of ordinary people everywhere is to demonstrate their pettiness, cruelty and unsuitability to hold power over anyone, ever, anywhere.
The essential flaw in Islamism is that the degraded version of Islam that it professes has no proper understanding of temporal power. This is an amplification of a flaw written into Islam as a whole, because the wielders of power within the Islamic tradition are expected to be pious, well informed and rightly guided, and therefore no attempts were made to diminish or dilute the power with which holy men were endowed. Why should this be done, when God’s will was known? The Prophet held unlimited power, and his successors were trusted with very much the same mandate, limited only by consensus among the faithful, and careful study of scripture, hadith and sunna. This was enough, within the tribal-feudal society of the early years, though it did not stop the historic Sunni-Shi’a split over the succession.
The enormous differences between those days and now comes in two areas. Firstly, the modern jihadis are social outcasts, not tribal elders. They are self-made men, much like gangsters who have killed and intimidated their way to the top of rickety, local empires of fear. Their followers are not bound to them, and vice versa, except by conquest and the hope of booty, loosely coupled to dreams of a better world (which they will rule) or hopes of a sex filled afterlife.
Secondly, these fanatics possess entirely self-certified religious credentials. Yet again, senior clerics across the Muslim world have condemned them, with a new ruling from the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia just yesterday. But the jihadi fighters have read their scripture, and have found what they wanted to find. They think they know what God wants. For those in the West who wanted Islam to have its own Reformation – here it is. Sola scriptura all over again.
These limitations – rootlessness, lack of social responsibility, self-validated holiness, addiction to violence – mean that jihadis can fight and rule, but will never be able to govern. Most of all they want to kill, or die, and somewhere further down the list they want to tell people what they should do. This is, however, only a small part of government.
The new video is designed to attract discontented Muslims all over the world to flock to the black flag of IS. See how strong we are! See how we slaughter the infidels! If I was setting up a new world order, I would not want to be recuriting the sort of people that are likely to show up in reponse to this kind of demonstration of power. I would, instead, put my efforts into discrediting my opponents’ propagada against me, by showing the quiet, undisturbed residents of Mosul going about their lawful daily business, safe and content under the strong hand of ISIS. Ah, but they can’t, can they? And if they can, and yet choose not to, then this only strengthens the idea that the caliphate is not about winning an argument or hearts and minds, but about the glorification of violence, pure and simple.
Nor have they shown us the respectable, educated souls that have been running Saddam’s giant dam, because there weren’t any. Like Pol Pot before them, the jihadis will find that they need book-learned types to run a modern government, and these are exactly the kind of people they most distrust and despise, and who are the least likely to join them. The Khmer Rouge sent teachers and accountants out to plant rice, and the result was that everyone starved, and the failure was punished by further executions. The Islamic State will go the same way, marooned by its own ignorance and intolerance.
The crisis is here and now for the Islamic State. Its creators have made a series of classic mistakes, born of arrogance – their certainty of their own rightness. First, they have ceased to be a gureilla force, and have decided to take on government and territorial holding. This opens them to military counter-strikes; they can be seen moving above ground, and superior, conventional weaponry will pick them off.
They are now also exposed to unprecedented public scrutiny. In the end Communists all over the world were deprived of the well-worn excuse that Marxism had never been tried, so how could we know it wouldn’t work. Similarly, the jihadi project has always been able to claim that Muslims would want to live under a caliphate, were they given the chance. Now we know what a caliphate looks like, and currently we see no exodus from anywhere of Muslims willing to live there; what we see is a stream of young dreamers going there to fight, a more attractive prospect from an Islamist perspective than living there in peace and planting radishes.
The Islamists have broken cover, and they will be attacked and judged as never before. They will lose the conventional war that follows, and they will never gain the hearts and minds of anyone apart from the most psychopathic and deluded. There is, therefore, some good news out there. The crisis is not of democracy. This is just the latest in a long string of crises – for violence.