ISIS says it represents the true Islam, while many in Islamic circles deny that saying it’s created by the Jews. What’s the truth?
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has got a lot to do with Salafi-Wahhabism. Whether the Salafis accept it or not, ISIS draws theological legitimacy from the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah and Abdul Wahhab and the praxis of their immediate followers. Wahhabism denounced many of the popular beliefs and practices prevalent among the Arabs in the 18th century as un-Islamic. Wahhab rejected Muslims worshipping the dead or having any saints and making pilgrimages to tombs or shrines. He asked his followers to return to the “fundamentals” of Islam, condemned practices of Shia, Sufi and other syncretic sects as invalid interpretations of the religion, and emphasised that his version of Islam alone had validity. It doesn’t mean that all Wahhabis are proponents of violence. A section among them used the teachings of Wahhab and followed the doctrine of Salafism, which in simple terms was following the forefathers of Islam, to justify their violent, sectarian jihadist project.
When the ISIS bombs a Shia mosque, the group calls the mosque “un-Islamic”. When it destroys a tomb or an ancient statue, its argument is that such properties do not have a place in Islam. Minorities are being targeted because they are “apostates”. ISIS’s obscene savagery has parallels, too. It was Muhammad Ibn Saud, a tribal chieftain in central Arabia, who first used Wahhab’s ideas to mobilise socio-political power in 18th century. His son, Abd al-Aziz Ibn Muhammad, used takfir (the practice of declaring a fellow Muslim to be kafir, which was used by Ibn Taymiyya, the 13th century cleric during the Mamluk-Mongol wars) as a weapon to silence resistance to his political ambitions. In the early 19th century, he attacked Karbala in Iraq, a Shia holy site, and slaughtered thousands of Shias. ISIS does the same today with Shias. During the World War I, when the Saudis started mobilising power under another Abd al-Aziz, Wahhabism gained political relevance again. His Bedouin army, known as the Ikhwan, was infamous for its barbarity. It used brute force in the war, routinely massacred “apostates” and often slit the throats of male captives. This savagery actually helped the al-Saud family gain political power and eventually establish the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. ISIS has been emulating the Ikhwan.
Was ISIS created by the Jews?
It’s a weak conspiracy theory that lacks any material evidence. A few months ago, Canada-based Global Research had run a story quoting Edward Snowden as saying ISIS was a Mossad creation. Several publications ever since have repeated this claim. In the most recent example, Madhyamam, a daily Malayalam newspaper run by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, carried a report saying Snowden had revealed the Israel-Mossad link. Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the Snowden story, had tweeted when this report first emerged on the internet that Snowden hadn’t said anything of that sort. “I’ve never heard him say any such thing, nor have I ever heard any credible source quoting him saying anything like that.” A few days later, he tweeted again: “I’ve never seen anywhere where he said that, nor any documents that suggest it.” At exactly the same time, Snowden’s lawyer Ben Wizner posted a single-word tweet, “Hoax”, referring to such reports.
The “Jews-created-it” lobby says one thing to lend credibility to its argument. ISIS hasn’t attacked Israel. While that statement is true, it doesn’t mean that Israel has created ISIS, does it? Criticising the state of Israel’s foreign policy and its brutal occupation of Palestine can be understood. But blaming everything on the “Jews” is sheer anti-Semitism. ISIS not attacking Israel could be because of a number of reasons: The fear of retribution — Israel is not really bothered about civilian lives in counter-attacks; Two, Operating as a terror module within Israel, a tiny, walled-off security state, is not easy (for that matter, ISIS has realised that operating within Iran, its number one regional enemy, is also very difficult); Three, In countries where terror cells can’t operate, local citizens-cum-ISIS sympathisers carry out mass attacks — like the 2016 Orlando shooting. ISIS may not be able to do that in Israel because the Muslim citizens of Israel may have better things to do. The conspiracy theorists are discounting all these possibilities.
Is ISIS a threat to India?
ISIS is a threat not just to any particular nation, but to the entire humanity. It’s the opposite of modern civilisation. The group’s organisational presence outside the Middle East is limited. But its ideology has penetrated where its organisational networks hasn’t. Its ability to turn lone-wolves violent and wreck havoc was on display in San Bernardino, Colorado and elsewhere. That it could attract jihadists from around the world also shows the magnetic power of its deadly worldview. The chances of ISIS winning over a majority of Muslims is next to nil (no jihadist groups have historically had mass base). But the group is trying to overcome this support deficit through excessive use of violence in the name of Islam, which helps them meet their political goals.
Is RSS an equivalent of ISIS?
Too simplistic a comparison it’s. RSS and ISIS may be similar in their exclusive mentality. But their modus operandi is different. RSS is a sophisticated majoritarian project. Their goal is to subvert today’s India gradually. They waited 90 years to get political power. Despite an RSS offshoot being the ruling party, India is still a democratic country where the right to dissent is being respected to an extent and the rulers are elected by the people through a free and fair electoral process. It doesn’t mean that RSS doesn’t pose any threat to the republic and its social milieu. It does. But you have a chance to defeat the RSS’s evil designs through the political process, and the long-term fight against them should continue through political and social means. If you need a counterpart for RSS in the Islamist spectrum, it’s either the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and elsewhere or the AK Party of Erdogan in Turkey. ISIS by nature is more (or the most) violent. For ISIS, killing the innocent people comes very first. You can’t negotiate with them. You can’t defeat them politically because it’s not a political movement, it’s a death cult. So invoking RSS to play down the threat of ISIS or contextualise its violence is not a desirable methodology of addressing the “Caliph” and his killers.