It would appear that the barbaric Islamist who decapitated US journalist James Foley was a dude named John, probably from East London, who took a brief sojourn in Syria with his mates Mustafa and Aqueel in order to wage a bit of moderate Jihad against their smoking and drinking Ummah. But, you know Jihad: once bitten, never shy, never afraid, never wavering, and never averse to a bit of summary decapitation in the name of Mohammed for the glory of Allah, most gracious, most beneficient, most merciful.
It transpires that John had been captivated by the inspirational words of Winston Churchill, whom he encountered in the World War Two thematic module of his History GCSE: “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in Syria and Iraq, we shall fight on buses and the underground, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength with shoe-bombs in the air, we shall defend our Caliphate, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the deserts, we shall fight on the airports, we shall fight in the cities and in the streets, we shall fight in the mountains; we shall never surrender.”
There couldn’t be a clearer geo-political fons et origo to explain John’s theo-political praxis.
But if not Churchill, then who? Tony Blair? George W Bush? Adolf Hitler? Who galvanised John to pack a suitcase, drive to Heathrow, fly out to Damascus and wage war against the infidel, heretic and apostate for the establishment of the Islamic State? What cult controlled him? What creed captivated his mind?
President Obama says the Islamic State “speaks for no religion”, because “no faith teaches people to massacre innocents”. In this, he takes Baroness Warsi’s line that Wahhabi-Salafist Muslims are not Muslims at all, and the religion they follow bears no resemblance to any expression of Islam. The President adds: “No just God would stand for what (the Islamic State) did yesterday, and what they do every single day.”
He appears not to grasp the Islamist worldview, which is as theological as it is political; as historic as it is present. Allah is not merely a “just God”: he is perfect justice, and his prophet did no wrong. The people beheaded, tortured or massacred are not “innocents”: they are corrupted by idolatry; tainted by the blood on the hands of Western warmongers; and damned by perversions of liberal democracy and moral relativity. We will never eradicate this cancer unless and until our politicians and religious leaders can bring themselves to acknowledge that the Islamist inspiration is a virulent quranic doctrine of God which is based on a particular reading of Hadith literature and a singular understanding of the Sunnah. It may be offensive to our Western sensibilities to say so, but we are so steeped in mushy multicultural GCSE notions of ill-taught RE that we have ceased to have any ability to discern the spirits, determine right from wrong, or distinguish between the forces of good and the legions of evil.
Centuries of scholarship bear witness to the mutability and multiplicity of the Islamic faith, which is as diverse and disparate as the myriad of Christian denominations. The problem is the ascendancy and dominance of a particular interpretation of Islam – the Wahhabi-Salfist strain – which seeks to agitate, occupy, subjugate, inculcate and deny liberty and justice to all who do not adhere to its notions of societal perfection. The Islamic State adheres to this “pure and unadulterated” version of Islam. It is by no means believed by the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims, but it is practised by a disparate 10 million or so around the world, and that’s only a conservative estimate. Their political vision is acutely theological:
(They) see life as being divided between the world of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the land of conflict or war (dar al-harb). Through jihad, they wish to extend the Muslim world so that all of humankind can live under its umbrella. They harken back to the Great Caliphate, when the Muslim world extended from Spain (then called Andalusia), across North Africa and the Middle East, down the west coast of Africa, and across the Caspian region to India and the Philippines. At its height in the 1200s, the Caliphate was a highly sophisticated civilization, responsible for many inventions and innovations in mathematics and science”.
And so the vision of an Islamic Empire is revived. Its factions include Al-Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front, not to mention Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham, the Syria Free Army and the Abdullah Azzam Brigade. And let’s throw in Jund al-Aqsa, the Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade, Idlib Martyrs’ Brigade, Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union, Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade, Army of Mujahedeen, Ghuraba al-Sham, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood. And that’s just in one region: their platoons are trans-national and the fissures never-ending. They may lack a unifying commander-in-chief, but there is broad consensus on the religio-political strategy, which stems from a perception of Islamic appeasement, moral compromise and subjugation to the ‘Great Satan’. They cohere around the application of Jihad to defend the faith primarily against the evils of Zionism, Judaism, Christianity, secularism, and a plethora of corrupt manifestations of Islam. They consider it an unacceptable humiliation that the “Christian West” may demand concessions, impose conditions and dictate the terms of debate to the “Muslim world”.
All of this is undoubtedly political, but it is also acutely theological.
The Muslims of the Islamic State may not speak for all Muslims, but they plainly call themselves Muslims and profess to speak for Islam. They may not be President Obama’s type of Muslim or practise Tony Blair’s preferred brand of Islam. But to reduce their religious beliefs to the status of a non-religion is to subjugate their devout worldview to the very notions of Western-Christian arrogance and imperialism they wage Jihad to defeat. And in such political ignorance and religious denial lie the seeds of our own decline, defeat and destruction.