Welcome to the 21st Century: Beheadings, Crucifixions, Mass Expulsions, ISIS and the New “Caliphate”…

Posted: August 12, 2014 in (Politics) CURRENT AFFAIRS
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“We are fighting devils, not ordinary people.” That was what an Iraqi police captain told Reuters after fleeing from ISIS’s invasion of Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein.
A few weeks ago ISIS made a formal declaration that would’ve sent shivers down the spine of anyone with a reasonable knowledge of Islam and Islamic history;  according to ISIS’s “chief spokesman” Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the intent of ISIS is the “Restoration of the Caliphate”.

Adnani said all jihadist organisations must now offer up their support to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has been declared “Caliph” of the new state. What does that mean? It means now in essence that the The Islamic State (IS), has declared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the spiritual leader of all Islam.

A declaration doesn’t equate to any legitimate basis in fact or theology, of course; but it is a declaration of intent nevertheless. Osama bin Laden, let it be noted, never claimed any title as grand as that for himself nor as all-encompassing a goal for Al-Qaeda; but then ISIS is an organisation so extreme that it has even been disavowed by Al-Qaeda.

As Charlie Cooper, a researcher for a leading counter-extremism think-tank, told the The Independent in the UK, “The Caliph is appointed as the only legitimate successor to Prophet Mohammed. The fact that ISIS has done this has huge ideological and theological implications…”

The great play made of the assassination of Bin Laden three years ago looks like a non-event by now; a minor symbolic ‘accomplishment’ in the War on Terror with far worse ahead. The people of Iraq, the minorities in particular, are now living with (and dying from) the direct consequences of the Iraq War; a war that could be considered farcical were it not for the horrific consequences of it.


So who are these bloodthirsty, flag-waving, Nike-trainer wearing, people that have made so bold a proclamation and what is their ideology? What is its intent? Where have they come from and what are the implications not just in Iraq but internationally?

Well firstly the best way to judge the nature of any entity is by its actions. The Iraqi police captain calling them “devils” is an understatement. We are looking at levels of depravity that actually brings to mind the term “inhuman”. It was already widely reported that ISIS had conducted mass executions in Iraq by the time the lobby group Human Rights Watch had confirmed it late last month. In June ISIS posted images on Twitter showing the massacre of 1,700 Iraqi soldiers after the capture of Tikrit. A UN human rights spokesperson confirmed some weeks ago that ISIS had broadcast dozens of videos showing inhumane treatment, beheadings and shootings of captured soldiers, along with police officers and people targeted because of their religion or ethnicity, including Shiites, Christians and other minorities.

Among these crimes was the execution of an approximated 480 prison Shia inmates in the ISIS-captured city of Mosul on June 10; a crime so bloody that “some detainees survived by pretending to be dead under the bodies of other detainees”. That particular story reminded me, disturbingly, of a very similar first-hand account of a Jewish survivor of Holocaust atrocities. This allusion to the SS and the rise of the Nazis has cropped up several times in the passed month in relation to ISIS’s actions, particularly the Kristalnacht echoes in the expulsion of Christian communities from Mosul. This is just the tip of the iceberg; graphic, distressing proof of ISIS’s crimes has been disseminated out of Iraq and Syria for several months. If we’ve seen some of them, then it’s a given that intelligence agencies and government officials in the US, the UK and other major world powers saw much more of them and long before we did.

It has been fascinating to observe that mainstream news channels and networks were for a time broadly glossing over or omitting key details of ISIS crimes either due to a deliberate agenda of covering them up or due to a wariness of broadcasting disturbing images or facts. But that began to change a few weeks ago and has now led to the US government deciding to take some measure of action against ISIS. This organisation, along with the most extreme elements of the Syrian rebel groups (yes, remember them? The guys our governments in the West were talking for a while about arming and supporting?), have over the course of the recent conflict been known to have done the following;

  • Committed mass executions, not only of Iraqi army or police personnel but of civilians.
  • Executed children, including by beheading (evidence of it widely available online).
  • During the Civil War in Syria literally eaten (repeat: eaten) the internal organs of their slain enemies. And boasted about it.
  • Literally crucified (repeat: crucified) Christian civilians and left them on public display as some sort of ‘ironic’ form of execution (again evidence widely available online; but seriously, don’t look it up unless you’re willing to be exposed to those sorts of images).


These are Crimes Against Humanity of a type we can barely imagine, not mere political terrorism. I could at this point show pictures or put in links to videos showing proof of some of these crimes, but I won’t. I’ve seen some of them already and they’re the kind of images that disturb you and stay in your mind – I don’t wish to subject any unwitting reader to such imagery. If you’re interested in seeing those kinds of images and videos simply type “ISIS” into either Google Images or You Tube and you’ll get plenty. I have never heard of an organisation as brutal as this before in my lifetime; and generally I’m not ignorant about the existence of violent organisations or extremist idealogies.

What’s also unsettling about these people is that a lot of them are Western educated people who can be seen wearing designer brands and expensive trainers and the like; don’t be fooled into thinking these are uneducated, rustic types who don’t know any better, such as might’ve been said about large swathes of the Taliban in Afghanistan.


It has seemed for a time that the major Western governments, along with the major news corporations, were reluctant to address these crimes or even fully acknowledge them. In the case of Syria it might’ve been because to do so would have conflicted with the prevailing agenda at the time, which was to portray the Assad regime as the villain in the equation, while in the case of Iraq there might have been a reluctant to admit how dire the situation had become in that country following the withdrawal of US forces.

However, the sheer scale and *nature* of the crimes, along with the difficult-to-ignore reports from UN and Human Rights Watch sources and the sheer amount of photographic and video evidence widely available both on the Internet and via ISIS’s own social media channels (these people don’t seem concerned about hiding their crimes – rather the opposite; like ancient barbarians they seem to want to revel in their acts and glorify them), has eventually forced even the most reluctant eyes to begin focusing more meaningfully on the medieval situation unfolding in the Cradle of Civilization.

While I hate involuntarily coming across distressing images or videos, which tends to happen quite often, we do now live in a cyber age where evidence of such things flows quickly and it becomes more difficult for institutions to cover things up or control the flow of information like they used to; the fallen regimes of the Arab Spring learnt that a few years ago. Of course it helps when the people committing the atrocities are merrily broadcasting their crimes  themselves.

But it puts the US government in an untenable situation as far as its moral standing goes if it it seen to ignore the atrocities being committed in Iraq – a situation that it is largely responsible for; so these airstrikes presently being carried out against ISIS targets, whether they accomplish anything strategically useful or not, are a necessity in as much as the US needs to be seen to be doing something about a catastrophic situation that it is itself largely responsible for.

Unfortunately Barak Obama, who generally has been keen to portray himself as a President not interested in foreign entanglements and interventions, has nevertheless inherited the mess left behind by his predecessors. The sense is that he doesn’t want to have to send US Forces back to the apocalyptic nightmare that the previous administration created in Iraq, but is now in a position where he can’t legitimately not do so. The irony is that for all the lack of legitimate reasons for invading Iraq in 2003 (to the extent that reasons had to be fabricated), there are substantial legitimate reasons for militarily returning to Iraq now – the sheer humanitarian justification for one thing.

Another danger is of ISIS’s ideology spreading to other countries, countries even beyond the Middle East, and becoming a lionised, even romanticised, call-to arms bound up in notions of religious heroism like some nightmarish 21st century Crusades for bored young men indoctrinated in religious zealotry and intolerance and radicalised by images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

Even as it already stands, these aren’t just Iraqis, by the way; in fact the majority of them in all likelihood aren’t Iraqis and certainly the leadership isn’t Iraqi – that makes ISIS essentially a foreign invasion army, made up of fighters and terrorists from Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries, including – most ironically – Libya (or more to the point post-Gadaffi Libya). There have also been recruits who’ve travelled to Iraq and Syria from the UK, Australia and other distant countries. The problem is that US-led foreign policy has created several breeding grounds for terrorist and militant groups and the flourishing of extremist idealogies; in Iraq and Libya especially, both countries that, though not democratic, were highly stable and were both despised by Al-Qaeda.

This element to the situation – the infiltration of foreign militants into the country – had precedent in the Libya Civil War and Syrian Civil War, both of which saw foreign agents and criminals guiding the worst excesses of those uprisings. If we shift the paradigm of the mainstream news narrative, it could legitimately be claimed that Colonel Gadaffi and his regime was overthrown by foreign agents just as much as by Libyan freedom fighters and that President Assad’s regime in Syria has been fighting a bloody war for three years now against a foreign army even if the initial rebellion was launched by Syrians.

This would partly further explain why some of the brutal crimes against civilians occurred; foreign criminals and terrorists wouldn’t have the same regard for Syrian, Libyan or Iraqi lives as native Syrians, Libyans and Iraqis would.

If anti-American feeling in the region was high prior to the Iraq War, it has certainly multiplied substantially in the years since, with the events of that misadventure and some of the more publicised excesses of US troops being used to radicalise even those who might otherwise not have been sympathetic to the extremist idealogies. It is important to note also that the US-backed Shia government is accused of wilful neglect and provocation of Sunni-dominated areas and thought to have contributed substantially to the climate in which sectarian violence has thrived. There have been accusations that they too have committed some war crimes.

I read a statement somewhere recently that the Middle East is “on the edge of an abyss”.  There are various demonstrable causes that have brought the region to this bleak road; the Invasion of Iraq, the fall of Gadaffi in Libya, the Civil War in Syria, the destabilisation of Pakistan (where so much terrorist training and radicalisation is known to have taken place), the spread of extremist Islamist idealogies. I would be tempted to also go back further to events following the First World War, the setting up of the Saudi Kingdom and its Wahabist doctrine and marginalizing of the much more moderate Hashemite Royal Family that also had a legitimate claim in Arabia.

The Hashemites ruled Iraq and Syria at points in the first half of the 20th century; the only remaining Hashemite Kingdom is Jordan and it is no coincidence that ISIS have formally threatened to execute Jordan’s King.

The creation of Ibn Saud’s kingdom in Arabia after World War I and the sidelining of their Hashemite rivals, along with the creation of the State of Israel, is a subject I am currently writing a separate post about because it is very, very relevant to the current situation in the Middle East and to this present centenary of the First World War. As the saying goes, what’s past is also prologue.

But getting back to the point, ISIS is an organisation that cannot be reasoned with. Cannot be negotiated with. Because essentially, unlike a Colonel Gadaffi or a Bashar Assad, they are not power-hungry in the traditional sense and they are not a ‘regime’ with various logistical or economic concerns; they are a unified idealogy with a single-minded mission guided by a zealous religious belief. They answer to no one and nothing but that idealogy.

There isn’t any ambiguity or grey area in regard to what they stand for or in regard to their intent. It is bleakly simple: their existence is aimed at the creation of a nation-spanning Islamic Super State based on an utterly intolerant, uncompromising version of Wahabist-inspired Islam. It is an aim accompanied by a willingness to eliminate anyone and everyone who doesn’t share that idealogy and who refuses to convert to it.

How perverse to think that there must be millions of people spread across several nations at this point who must be longing for the long gone and comparatively idyllic days of their old dictatorships. Welcome to the 21st century.

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