The Muslim pilgrimage is an elaborate set of time-sensitive, site-specific and labour-intensive rituals where even the most politically attuned would find it impossible to pay any attention, if at all, to whatever the mufti says.
This past Friday, the grand mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdelaziz al Sheikh, addressed over two million pilgrims gathered in Arafat and around Makkah, saying, “Your religion is targeted. Your security, ideology, strength and intellect are all targeted.” He was taking a dig at the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I am afraid he said too little, too late to help decimate ISIS and was too restrained to transform the Saudi regime. He was actually answering the call by King Abdullah to help confront ISIS. There is little doubt that ISIS and similar groups are but a culmination of the last several years of interventions by Saudi Arabia, its upstart competitor Qatar and the Islamist government of Turkey against Syria, Iraq and the Kurds, while the US pretended to look the other way.
The former Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan, is one of the key architects of the current mess in the Middle East. There is hardly any difference between ISIS’s creed and the ideology that the house of Saud imposed on the Arabian Peninsula and exported worldwide. Indeed, the practices of ISIS and the Saud clan are also remarkably similar. In their original foray into establishing regional hegemony, the Saudi-backed hordes pillaged the holy shrines at Karbala and Madinah’s Baqee cemetery the exact same way ISIS is doing now. The Karbala shrines were reconstructed later as the Saudi proxies were beaten back but they would not allow the rebuilding of the ones at Madinah, which remains firmly under their heel. As the mufti rumbled on, the Saudi government appointed minders at the Baqee cemetery continued very vocal takfir (apostatising) of the visitors in Urdu, Pashto, Persian and, of course, Arabic. Why the rhetoric then?
I happened to be in Arafat on the second day of hajj 2014 and remain pretty sure that we were not the target audience of Mufti Abdelaziz’s sermon. Most of the pilgrims do not even know that there actually is a sermon let alone understand it. The pilgrims are divided into groups and subgroups, and hold prayer sessions at an individual or group level. The hajj sermon does not reach the overwhelming majority of the pilgrims directly and hardly anyone listens to its translations aired on an FM radio channel. The Muslim pilgrimage is an elaborate set of time-sensitive, site-specific and labour-intensive rituals where even the most politically attuned would find it impossible to pay any attention, if at all, to whatever the mufti says.
Sheikh Abdelaziz was zeroing in on his domestic audience including the subordinate clergy, bureaucracy, armed forces, law enforcement agencies and the Saudi population at large, but also playing to the international gallery. The visiting leaders from Muslim countries and the diplomatic corps were then assembled on the third day of hajj at the royal palace in Mina and Crown Prince Salman bin Abdelaziz read to them a message from King Abdullah reiterating the Saudi intent to confront the “followers of a deviant ideology” and that “Saudi Arabia will not rest until completely stamping out terrorism and extremism.”
The Wahhabi kingdom has been the chief exporter of Islamist extremism since its inception — 17 of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi after all — and were it to reverse its patronage of terrorism it would be a most welcome move. Saudi anxiety is palpable but it is not out of compassion for the victims of ISIS’s grotesquely brutal war. Over 2,000 Saudi nationals have reportedly been fighting alongside ISIS and the Riyadh regime is worried about the twin threat that some of them or their fellow travellers within the kingdom and ISIS knocking at its northwestern borders might pose. This would not be the first time the house of Saud feels the heat from the jihadist fires it has been stoking as far out as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Saudi Ikhwan, sired by Emir Ibne Saud, before he re-established the Wahhabi kingdom, had rebelled against the regime in the early 20th century. After that came the infamous takeover of the Kaaba holy mosque by Juhayman al-Utaibi’s Ikhwan on November 20, 1979, which ended violently. As author Arif Jamal notes in his recent book on the Pakistani Salafist enterprise Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the call to transnational jihad, the Juhayman’s Ikhwan, had started off by smashing mannequins in shops in Madinah — something repeated by ISIS in the areas falling to it.
Both the Juhayman’s Ikhwan — they remain active in Saudi Arabia and as the JuD — the ISIS impugn the legitimacy of the Saudi regime on doctrinal grounds for not being Salafi enough and also consider it politically wayward. Little surprise then that ISIS teaches in its core curriculum the letters of Juhayman and writings of Ibne Wahhab al Najdi. Interestingly, Juhayman al Utaibi was the protégé of the then Saudi chief cleric, Sheikh Abdullah bin Baz. The most recent challenge to the Saudi monarchy was from al Qaeda. None of these rebellions deterred the Riyadh regime from consistently deploying violent jihadism as a key tool of its foreign policy. Indeed the Saudis bankrolled the so-called jihad in Afghanistan right after Juhayman’s rebellion. King Abdullah and Sheikh Abdelaziz’s words notwithstanding, there is little to suggest that the House of Saud will behave any differently now.
The Saudi regime has practiced its own version of good/bad jihadists: anyone posing a threat to Riyadh is evil but those who ravage Kabul, Karbala or Kurdistan are royal guests. The idea seems to be containment, not destruction, of ISIS. So long as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s caliphate remains focused on Iraq and Syria, the Saudis will continue to tolerate it despite having declared ISIS a terrorist outfit in March this year. The plan apparently is to make ISIS more manageable and keep it from turning on the kingdom. The monarchy is playing up the Saudi nationalist sentiment at home after sending every other Muslim country on the pan-Islamism wild goose chase.
While the monarchy’s pictures have been ubiquitous in public places for years, one now sees the added inscriptions like “al-watan fi quloobina” (homeland is in our hearts). The Saudi King and the grand mufti’s hajj 2014 messages appear carefully crafted to enlist international help to insulate only the Wahhabi monarchy against the ISIS threat. The litmus test of whether this represents a sea change in Saudi policy to promote jihadism across the world or a move at self-preservation will be the acceptance of diversity within Islam by the Riyadh regime and backing off from practicing and promoting Takfirism globally.
This US Air Forces Central Command photo shows an F-22A Raptor refueling in the US Central Command area of responsibility prior to strike operations in Syria on September 26, 2014. These aircraft were part of a large coalition strike package that was the first to strike ISIL targets in Syria. (Photo: AFP-US Air Forces Central Command via DVIDS / Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)
The majority of US pundits have not fallen into the trap of Gulf “magnanimity,” or believed the good intentions of the Arab states taking part in the anti-ISIS coalition. Those who are knowledgeable about the Saudi way of thinking were not charmed by the images of a Saudi prince as a pilot, nor did they content themselves with Barack Obama’s assertion that Washington “is not alone.” While this may be true, the states taking part in the US-led campaign are not fighting for the same goals, it seems.
Only a week before it was announced that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, and Bahrain would take part in the US-led campaign against ISIS, the media was commemorating the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Articles were published recalling that 15 out of 19 individuals who carried out the attacks were Saudis, while others blamed Washington for failing to hold Saudi Arabia adequately accountable for what happened that day.
Some pundits preempted the US-Saudi alliance and wrote, “Let’s Be Realistic in Partnering with Saudi Arabia Against ISIS.” Lori Plotkin Boghardt, writing in the Congressional publication The Hill, addressed the partnership and questioned its realism, focusing on Saudi Arabia’s uneven record in the fight against terrorism and the kingdom’s efforts and achievements in this field.
Boghardt explained, “The country’s political leadership (the al-Saud royal family) and religious leadership (adherents of the austere Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam) have coexisted in a symbiotic relationship for more than two centuries. They have depended on each other for support and legitimacy among the population. Too much pressure from one on the other puts the power and influence of both groups at risk.”
Boghardt concluded, “Today…the Saudi political leadership views ISIS as a direct threat to the kingdom.” Therefore, Boghardt adds, Washington must recognize the benefits and limits of a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia and the small Persian Gulf states, as their political interests sometimes converge and at other times diverge from US interests.
Boghardt made two warnings that she said Washington must heed in the context of specifying an approach to the partnership question, namely:
First, “beyond the ISIS fight, it would be foolish to consider Saudi Arabia as a partner to help work toward a just political solution – including a democratic character – in Iraq and Syria,” because “Saudi Arabia is blatantly antipathetic to democratic agendas,” in Iraq, Syria, and Bahrain for example.
The second warning had to do with Saudi’s understanding of terrorism. Boghardt wrote, “When it comes to defining a terrorist, Saudi Arabia does not distinguish between deadly militants and nonviolent political activists.”
The new US-Saudi partnership was also the focus of an article in The New Republic, written by analyst and pundit Simon Henderson. The principal interest Washington has in Riyadh is to maintain low oil prices, Henderson wrote. But when it comes to the partnership on combatting terror, the writer returned to the Saudi conduct in this area, including “sending religious youth to fight in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, and elsewhere.” Add to this what Prince Bandar bin Sultan said regarding the instructions he received from King Abdullah when he was appointed intelligence chief, where “he stated that he was charged with getting rid of Bashar al-Assad, containing Hezbollah in Lebanon, and cutting off the head of the snake (Iran).” Bandar said at the time that “he would follow his monarch’s instructions, even if it meant hiring ‘every SOB jihadist’ he could find.”
Why is Saudi taking part in strikes against ISIS then? Henderson explained, “The House of Saud will likely continue to try to balance the threat of the head-chopping jihadists, while also trying to deliver a strategic setback to Iran by overthrowing the regime in Damascus.” From the perspective of Saudi Arabia, the journalist adds, “the move of ISIS forces into Iraq contributed to the removal of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, who they regarded as a stooge of Tehran.” Henderson continues, “Despite official support by Riyadh for the new Baghdad government, many Saudis who despise Shia probably regard ISIS as doing God’s work.”
So what warning does Henderson have for Washington in this context? He wrote, “As with the then-nascent threat of al-Qaeda in the late 1990s, Saudi Arabia’s view of self-preservation now (both toward the Islamic State and the looming prospect of a nuclear Iran) will probably involve policy hypocrisy toward Washington.”
This Saudi “self-preservation” against threats from ISIS, which criticizes the way the House of Saud implement Islamic law, was repeated across many press analyses. Gary Leupp, writing for Counterpunch, said, “Riyadh fears ISIL. It has now succumbed to Washington’s pressure and agreed to take part in some sort of alliance to defeat the Islamic State.” However, Leupp, like other writers, added another reason, namely, the Saudi fear of Iran. Leupp wrote, Saudi “has no rational fear of an Iranian attack…What Riyadh dreads is the prospect of a Shiite rebellion within the Saudi kingdom, backed by Iran,” for example in the oil-rich regions in a way that could lead them to declare independence from the kingdom. This is why, he added, “it should be obvious why Riyadh is concerned about the possibility that U.S. actions might advance Shiite interests at its expense.”
In addition to Saudi concerns, others wrote about Saudi ambitions. Analysts writing in The New York Times opined that Saudi and Gulf participation in the anti-ISIS campaign “has as much to do with the countries’ hope that the United States will eventually come around to helping oust Mr. Assad.”
Jamie Dettmer wrote it explicitly in The Daily Beast: “Attacking ISIS is only part of the game, and the monarchs flying with the U.S. have their own agendas.” Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for example, explains Dettmer, are “determined to use the intervention to undercut them [the Muslim Brotherhood] and regional rivals that back them: Turkey and Qatar,” after succeeding to dislodge the Islamist group from power in Egypt.
Regarding the price Washington would have to pay in return for these Arab countries’ participation in the anti-ISIS coalition, a Washington Post editorial from a few days ago said that this partnership could force the US to soften “pressure on regimes that responded to the Arab Spring’s demand for democratic change with brutal repression.”
The Washington Post editorial highlighted the dismal track record of some of the participants in the campaign in human rights and freedoms, focusing on Egypt and Bahrain in this regard. Addressing Obama, the editorial concluded by recommending that he “should…recognize a lesson Mr. Bush drew following the attacks of Sept. 11: While it may be tactically useful in campaigns like that against the Islamic State, alliance with repressive Arab regimes ultimately does more harm than good to US strategic interests.”
Advice for Obama: Seek an alliance with businesspeople and clerics
A report submitted by an expert on the affairs of the region to the White House recently quoted a Saudi source as saying that ISIS rules in the same way as the House of Saud, and on the same premises, therefore threatening the Saudi regime and the legitimacy of the ruling family, being a Sunni group that is spreading terror and recruiting supporters in an unchecked manner.
The report’s author argued that moderate Sunni support for the US-led campaign on ISIS was not guaranteed, and that Washington would be mistaken to believe that this support has to come from Saudi or the UAE, because Sunnis in Iraq and Syria would not wait for what the monarchies in the Gulf will say, but will look more inwardly. The author proposed that the White House and Washington, in the course of the war on ISIS, to resort to conservative and moderate Islamists, clerics, and dignitaries who represent Sunni businesses and interests, as well as leading families in cities.
LONDON — Breakfast last week in New York with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran was a cordial affair, bereft of the fireworks of his predecessor, whose antics made headlines and not much more. Rouhani, flanked by his twinkly-eyed foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was composed, lucid and, on the whole, conciliatory. He said a nuclear accord was doable by the deadline of Nov. 24 “if there is good will and seriousness.” He revealed that he had spoken last year with President Obama about “a number” of possible areas of collaboration in the event of an accord. He did not underplay the difficulties, or the implacability of a deal’s opponents in Iran and the United States, but suggested the “short-lived dustbowl” thrown up by any resolution would dissipate as win-win awareness grew. He even alluded to the aroma of roses. It was a polished performance full of the subtleties intrinsic to the Iranian mind. The question, as always with Iran, is what precisely it meant.
The interim agreement with Iran, reached in November 2013, has had many merits. Iran has respected its commitments, including a reduction of its stockpiles of enriched uranium and a curbing of production. The deal has brought a thaw in relations between the United States and Tehran; once impossible meetings between senior officials are now near routine.
The rapid spread over the past year of the Sunni jihadist movement that calls itself Islamic State has underscored the importance of these nascent bilateral relations: ISIS is a barbarous, shared enemy whose rollback becomes immeasurably more challenging in the absence of American-Iranian understanding. Allies need not be friends, as the Soviet role in defeating Hitler demonstrated. President Obama’s war against ISIS makes war with Iran more unthinkable than ever. Absent a “comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful,” in the words of last year’s accord, the drumbeat for such a war would almost certainly resume. From Jerusalem to Washington countless drummers are ready.
It is critical that this doable deal get done, the naysayers be frustrated, and a rancorous American-Iranian bust-up not be added to the ambient mayhem in the Middle East. The Islamic Republic, 35 years after the revolution, is — like it or not — a serious and stable power in an unstable region. Its highly educated population is pro-Western. Its actions and interests are often opposed to the United States and America’s allies, and its human rights record is appalling, but then that is true of several countries with which Washington does business.
An important recent report from The Iran Project — whose distinguished signatories include Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Thomas Pickering, Ryan Crocker, John Limbert (the former U.S. hostage in Tehran), Joseph Nye and William Luers — put the U.S. strategic interest in a deal well: “There is a strong link between settling the nuclear standoff and America’s ability to play a role in a rapidly changing Middle East.” A nuclear agreement, the report said, “will help unlock the door to new options.” From Syria to Afghanistan by way of Iraq, those options are urgently needed.
For them to be opened up, a workable narrative has to be found, one that satisfies Congress that Iran’s road to a bomb has been sealed off through curtailment and rigorous inspection of the nuclear program, and satisfies Iran’s hard-liners that the country’s ability to develop nuclear power for peaceful use has not been permanently infringed or its rights as a signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons irrevocably curtailed. That is a tall order. But subtlety and ingenuity are no strangers at this table. Both sides have an enormous amount to lose if talks fail.
Obama has put his personal prestige behind this effort. Collapse would amount to another Middle Eastern failure for him. He knows that the sanctions drive against Iran would likely unravel in the event of failure, as cooperation with Europe, Russia and China frays. He would be pushed once again toward military action against Iran. (Of course, he would also prefer to concentrate visible progress in the talks between Nov. 4 and Nov. 24, so that Republicans cannot brandish “softness” on Iran against the Democrats in the midterm elections.)
The difficulties are considerable. Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told me, “Those we talk to can’t deliver and those who can deliver can’t talk to us.” Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who does not do New York breakfasts, is a hard-liner. On issues from the number of centrifuges Iran is permitted to the duration of any deal, the two sides differ. Sadjadpour believes “managed irresolution” is the best that can be hoped for, a failure that preserves some gains. I think failure would be unmitigated: Renewed estrangement, war drift. A deal can and must be done for the simple reason it is far better — for Iran, the United States, Europe and Israel — than any of the alternatives.
Hundreds of young women and girls are leaving their homes in western countries to join Islamic fighters in the Middle East, causing increasing concern among counter-terrorism investigators.
Girls as young as 14 or 15 are travelling mainly to Syria to marry jihadis, bear their children and join communities of fighters, with a small number taking up arms. Many are recruited via social media.
Women and girls appear to make up about 10% of those leaving Europe, North America and Australia to link up with jihadi groups, including Islamic State (Isis). France has the highest number of female jihadi recruits, with 63 in the region – about 25% of the total – and at least another 60 believed to be considering the move.
In most cases, women and girls appear to have left home to marry jihadis, drawn to the idea of supporting their “brother fighters” and having “jihadist children to continue the spread of Islam”, said Louis Caprioli, former head of the French security agency Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire. “If their husband dies, they will be given adulation as the wife of a martyr.”
Five people, including a sister and brother, were arrested in France earlier this month suspected of belonging to a ring in central France that specialised in recruiting young French women, according to Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister.
Counter-terrorism experts in the UK believe about 50 British girls and women have joined Isis, about a tenth of those known to have travelled to Syria to fight. Many are believed to be based in Raqqa, the eastern Syrian city that has become an Isis stronghold.
Those identified by researchers at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at Kings College London are mainly aged between 16 and 24. Many are university graduates, and have left behind caring families in their home countries. At least 40 women have left Germany to join Isis in Syria and Iraq in what appears to be a growing trend of teenagers becoming radicalised and travelling to the Middle East without their parents’ permission.
“The youngest was 13-years-old,” Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told the Rheinische Post. “Four underage women left with a romantic idea of jihad marriage and married young male fighters who they had got to know via the internet.”
In Austria, the case of two teenage friends, Samra Kesinovic, 16, and Sabina Selimovic, 15, who ran away from their homes in Vienna to join jihadis in Syria, may be “only the tip of the iceberg”, said Heinz Gärtner, director of the Austrian Institute for International Politics. An estimated 14 women and girls are known to have left Austria to fight in the Middle East, according to the interior ministry.
The US does not have available data on women and girls joining Isis fighters in Syria, a senior intelligence official said in an emailed statement. “We do not have numbers to share on the number of women linked to [Isis] or fighting for them,” the official said.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a counter-terrorism expert at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, downplayed the issue in the US, saying the number of women and girls joining Isis was of concern, but not an epidemic. “It’s a threat, but it’s [one] among many potential threats coming out of Syria,” he said.
Karim Pakzad, of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said some young women had “an almost romantic idea of war and warriors.
“There’s a certain fascination even with the head and throat-cutting. It’s an adventure.” Some may feel more respected and important than in their home countries, he added.
But Shaista Gohir, of the UK Muslim Women’s Network, said little was known about the young women’s motivation or what happened to them after leaving home. “Some of these girls are very young and naive, they don’t understand the conflict or their faith, and they are easily manipulated. Some of them are taking young children with them; some may believe they are taking part in a humanitarian mission,” she said.
Social media plays a crucial role in recruiting young women to join Isis in the Middle East, according to many experts.
Some British women and girls have posted pictures of themselves carrying AK-47s, grenades and in one case a severed head, as they pledge allegiance to Isis. But they are also tweeting pictures of food, restaurants and sunsets to present a positive picture of the life awaiting young women in an attempt to lure more from the UK.
Mia Bloom, a security studies professor at Massachusetts University and author of Bombshell: Women and Terrorism, said the recruitment campaign painted a “Disney-like” picture of life in the caliphate. Some young women were offered financial incentives, such as travel expenses or compensation for bearing children.
Women already living amid Isis fighters used social media adeptly to portray Syria as a utopia and to attract foreign women to join their “sisterhood in the caliphate”, she said. “The idea of living in the caliphate is a very positive and powerful one that these women hold dear to their heart.”
But the reality was very different, she said. Both Bloom and Rolf Tophoven, director of Germany’s Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy, said reports indicated that women had been raped, abused, sold into slavery or forced to marry. “[Isis] is a strictly Islamist, brutal movement … the power, the leadership structure, are clearly a male domain,” said Tophoven.
Messages between a British Isis fighter in Syria and his common-law wife, read in a UK court last month, revealed that many fighters are taking several wives.
“For example, the United Nations last month estimated that [Isis] has forced some 1,500 women, teenage girls and boys into sexual slavery. Amnesty International released a blistering document noting that [Isis] abducts whole families in northern Iraq for sexual assault and worse.
“Even in the first few days following the fall of Mosul in June, women’s rights activists reported multiple incidents of [Isis] fighters going door to door, kidnapping and raping Mosul’s women.”
• Nora el-Bathy was an ordinary French schoolgirl who wanted to be a doctor. She was 15 but looked young for her age: a slight, smiling youngster in jeans and trainers posing for a photograph under the Eiffel Tower.
When Nora left her family home in the southern French city of Avignon one morning last January, with her school bag, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But, when her classes ended that day, Nora did not return home. Instead, she took a train to Paris, withdrew €550 (£430) from her savings account and changed her mobile phone to cover her tracks. She boarded a flight for flew to Istanbul, and from there took an second internal flight to the Syrian border.
Back in Avignon, her parents – practising but not strict Muslims – reported Nora missing to the police.
Her eldest brother, Fouad, trawled local hospitals convinced she had been in an accident, searched his sister’s bedroom, and examined her Facebook account for clues. There were none, except her hijab, which she had started wearing a few months before, in the wardrobe.
It was only when Fouad quizzed her closest school friends that the reason for Nora’s disappearance emerged.
The el-Bathy family discovered that found she had opened a second Facebook account where she was in contact with “jihad recruiters” in the Paris region and had posted videos of women appealing for recruits to go to Syria. In one picture, a completely veiled woman, brandishing a Kalashnikov, appeared with the caption: “Yes, kill! In the name of Allah,” in French.
Fouad, a former French soldier, was devastated. “She had a second Facebook account on which she spoke of making hijra [going to live in an Islamic country], and a second mobile phone to call the ‘sisters’,” Fouad told his local paper.
Nora had begun talking of wearing the full veil and of helping the wounded in Syria, particularly children; and shortly before she disappeared, she asked her parents if she could have her passport, claiming she had lost her identity card.
But nobody in the el-Bathy family imagined she was planning to run away to war. “We absolutely didn’t see what was coming,” Fouad said.
Three days after her disappearance, Nora telephoned her family. Police traced the calls to the Turkish-Syrian border. She told them she was fine, eating well, happy and that she did not want to return to France.
She also sent Fouad a text message to say she had arrived in Aleppo, Syria, and that she “preferred being there”. The family received two further phone calls: one from a man speaking Arabic and a second from a man speaking French. The caller asked them to give their permission for Nora to marry. Her parents refused.
Fouad decided to go to Syria to rescue his sister, but was turned back at the Turkish border. While there, he received a call from Nora. In the brief conversation, she described how she had learned to shoot, but promised she would not be fighting.
Fouad later succeeded in getting to Syria and seeing Nora. Afterwards, he said she had told him: “‘I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life.’
“She was thin and sick. She never sees any light. With other women she has to look after young children, orphans, but she lives surrounded by armed men.”
The el-Bathy family is now taking legal action for their daughter’s kidnap, believing that while Nora went to Syria of her own free will, she had been brainwashed by extremists.
Their lawyer, Guy Guénoun, told journalists that her recruitment and disappearance appeared to have been well planned. “It’s obvious she’s been taken in hand by a very intelligent and structured network,” he said.
The girls – whose parents came to the UK as refugees from Somalia – passed their GCSEs last summer after attending Whalley Range high school for girls in Manchester and went on to study at Connell sixth-form college.
They left home in the middle of the night and were reported missing by their parents. Now both are reportedly married to Isis fighters.
A social-media account believed to belong to Zahra shows her in a full veil posing with an AK-47 and kneeling in front of the Isis flag. Recent postings describe how she had lost her kitten, after her husband threw it outside.
Mahmood, 20, has described the difficulty of telephoning her parents from the Turkish border to tell them she wanted to become a martyr and would see them again on judgment day.
In her blog she wrote: “The first phone call you make once you cross the borders is one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. Your parents are already worried enough over where you are, wether [sic] you are okay and what’s happened.
“How does a parent who has little Islamic knowledge and understanding comprehend why their son or daughter has left their well-off life, education and a bright future behind to go live in a war-torn country.”
In a post earlier this month she described the type of young women who, like her, had joined Isis from all over the world.
“Most sisters I have come across have been in university studying courses with many promising paths, with big, happy families and friends, and everything in the Dunyah [material world] to persuade one to stay behind and enjoy the luxury. If we had stayed behind, we could have been blessed with it all from a relaxing and comfortable life and lots of money. Wallahi [I swear] that’s not what we want.”
She made a direct appeal on 11 September this year for others to join her. “To those who are able and can still make your way, hasten hasten to our lands … This is a war against Islam and it is known that either ‘you’re with them or with us’. So pick a side.”
Earlier this month her parents, Muzaffar and Khalida Mahmood, publicly appealed for their daughter, who was privately educated and went to university, to return home. Her father said: “If our daughter, who had all the chances and freedom in life, could become a bedroom radical then it’s possible for this to happen to any family.”
Shannon Conley’s plan to serve as a nurse for Islamic State militants in Syria ended in April when the Colorado teenager was arrested on the runway at Denver airport.
A 19-year-old nurse’s aide, Conley had converted to Islam. According to court documents, her family was shocked to find she was interested in “violent jihad”.
Conley was reported to police in October 2013 by a local pastor, after church staff became suspicious of her. For the next five months, Conley had a series of open conversations with undisguised federal agents, during which she repeatedly told them she intended to “wage jihad” overseas. “She also intended to train Islamic jihadi fighters in US military tactics,” the complaint said.
Agents said they attempted to dissuade her from taking up the violent cause, even suggesting she turn to humanitarian efforts instead.
Conley told investigators she planned to marry an Isis member she met online in early 2014. Agents believe this man is 32-year-old Yousr Mouelhi of Tunisia.
Mouelhi reportedly encouraged her to receive additional training so she could assist fighters once she arrived in Syria. In February, she attended a US army Explorers cadet training camp in Texas to learn US military tactics and practice shooting. In March, Mouelhi organised Conley’s flight, arranging for her to travel from Denver to Germany, and then to Turkey. At the time of her arrest, Conley was carrying a list of contacts, a National Rifle Association certificate and a first aid manual. In her bedroom, investigators found literature on al-Qaida and other jihadi groups.
Earlier this month, Conley pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaida and other terror groups such as Isis. She faces up to five years in a US prison and a $250,000 (£154,000) fine.
The images of two young smiling schoolgirls – Samra Kesinovic, 16, and her friend Sabina Selimovic, 15 – have become symbols of Austria’s concern about young people being radicalised and going to fight in Syria.
The girls, whose families came to Austria from Bosnia, ran away from their Vienna homes in April to fight in the “holy war”, telling their families in a note: “Don’t look for us. We will serve Allah – and we will die for him.”
It is thought the girls were radicalised after attending a local mosque run by a radical preacher, Ebu Tejma. Samra’s school confirmed that before her disappearance she had been a vocal advocate of the “holy war”’, writing “I love al-Qaida” around the school.
Recent reports in Austrian media suggested that one of the girls had died, although police have not been able to confirm this and it was contradicted by a WhatsApp message from Sabina to friends that said: “Neither of us are dead.”
Police believe both the girls were married to Chechen fighters shortly after arriving in Syria and it is suspected that they are both now pregnant, as their names on social media have been changed to include Umm, the Arabic word for ‘“mother”. However, Austrian police have warned that it is likely their social media accounts are being controlled by men.
Samra and Sabina have been described as “jihad poster girls” whose story is inspiring other young women to join the holy war; earlier in September the government said they stopped two other young girls – a 14- and 15-year-old – from leaving the country on their way to fight. Authorities said they had been lured by “false promises” of a beautiful country and houses and had no intention of carrying out terrorist acts, although it was reported that one of the girls said she wanted “to support Isis – it doesn’t matter where”.
In October 2013, Sarah O, 15, did not come home from school in Konstanz, southern Germany. Her father reported her missing two days later. Soon after, she posted pictures of herself on various social-media sites holding a machine gun, wearing a burqa and black gloves. She said she was being trained to use the gun, and that her day consisted of “Sleeping, eating, shooting, learning, listening to lectures.” She also wrote: “By the way, I’ve joined al-Qaida.”
Sarah, who is half German, half Algerian, called her father a few weeks later with a young man, Ismail S, an Isis fighter from Germany. He asked her father for permission to marry Sarah; the father refused, demanding that she return home. She stayed in Syria and married Ismail in January.
WHEN Malcolm X visited Mecca in 1964, he was enchanted. He found the city “as ancient as time itself,” and wrote that the partly constructed extension to the Sacred Mosque “will surpass the architectural beauty of India’s Taj Mahal.”
Fifty years on, no one could possibly describe Mecca as ancient, or associate beauty with Islam’s holiest city. Pilgrims performing the hajj this week will search in vain for Mecca’s history.
The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.
The “guardians” of the Holy City, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the clerics, have a deep hatred of history. They want everything to look brand-new. Meanwhile, the sites are expanding to accommodate the rising number of pilgrims, up to almost three million today from 200,000 in the 1960s.
The initial phase of Mecca’s destruction began in the mid-1970s, and I was there to witness it. Innumerable ancient buildings, including the Bilal mosque, dating from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, were bulldozed. The old Ottoman houses, with their elegant mashrabiyas — latticework windows — and elaborately carved doors, were replaced with hideous modern ones. Within a few years, Mecca was transformed into a “modern” city with large multilane roads, spaghetti junctions, gaudy hotels and shopping malls.
The few remaining buildings and sites of religious and cultural significance were erased more recently. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, completed in 2012, was built on the graves of an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical significance, including the city’s few remaining millennium-old buildings. Bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night, displacing families that had lived there for centuries. The complex stands on top of Ajyad Fortress, built around 1780, to protect Mecca from bandits and invaders. The house of Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, has been turned into a block of toilets. The Makkah Hilton is built over the house of Abu Bakr, the closest companion of the prophet and the first caliph.
Apart from the Kaaba itself, only the inner core of the Sacred Mosque retains a fragment of history. It consists of intricately carved marble columns, adorned with calligraphy of the names of the prophet’s companions. Built by a succession of Ottoman sultans, the columns date from the early 16th century. And yet plans are afoot to demolish them, along with the whole of the interior of the Sacred Mosque, and to replace it with an ultramodern doughnut-shaped building.
The only other building of religious significance in the city is the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived. During most of the Saudi era it was used first as a cattle market, then turned into a library, which is not open to the people. But even this is too much for the radical Saudi clerics who have repeatedly called for its demolition. The clerics fear that, once inside, pilgrims would pray to the prophet, rather than to God — an unpardonable sin. It is only a matter of time before it is razed and turned, probably, into a parking lot.
Slide Show | Mecca Over the Years A changing view of Islam’s holiest city.
The cultural devastation of Mecca has radically transformed the city. Unlike Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, Mecca was never a great intellectual and cultural center of Islam. But it was always a pluralistic city where debate among different Muslim sects and schools of thought was not unusual. Now it has been reduced to a monolithic religious entity where only one, ahistoric, literal interpretation of Islam is permitted, and where all other sects, outside of the Salafist brand of Saudi Islam, are regarded as false. Indeed, zealots frequently threaten pilgrims of different sects. Last year, a group of Shiite pilgrims from Michigan were attacked with knives by extremists, and in August, a coalition of American Muslim groups wrote to the State Department asking for protection during this year’s hajj.
The erasure of Meccan history has had a tremendous impact on the hajj itself. The word “hajj” means effort. It is through the effort of traveling to Mecca, walking from one ritual site to another, finding and engaging with people from different cultures and sects, and soaking in the history of Islam that the pilgrims acquired knowledge as well as spiritual fulfillment. Today, hajj is a packaged tour, where you move, tied to your group, from hotel to hotel, and seldom encounter people of different cultures and ethnicities. Drained of history and religious and cultural plurality, hajj is no longer a transforming, once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience. It has been reduced to a mundane exercise in rituals and shopping.
Mecca is a microcosm of the Muslim world. What happens to and in the city has a profound effect on Muslims everywhere. The spiritual heart of Islam is an ultramodern, monolithic enclave, where difference is not tolerated, history has no meaning, and consumerism is paramount. It is hardly surprising then that literalism, and the murderous interpretations of Islam associated with it, have become so dominant in Muslim lands.
REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House Last year President Obama held a historic phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it was the first time leaders of the countries had spoken in over 30 years. Both Presidents have sunk significant political capital into the success of the talks.
Since November 2013, the Obama administration has engaged with Iran in tense, drawn-out nuclear negotiations which optimists hope could bring an end to decades of hostility and mistrust.
Throughout it all, Congress has threatened to play the spoiler, with a tough sanctions bill passing the House and looming in the Senate which would almost certainly scuttle the fragile talks over the Iranian nuclear program.
Now, as the deadline for the end of the talks approaches, a coalition of legislators, advocacy groups, and White House officials are working to hold Congress back from the brink of thwarting what they see as a historic window of opportunity. They’re fighting against legislators and conservative groups like The Heritage Foundation and The Free Enterprise Institute who are pushing for the US to take a hawkish stance.
Legislators, led by Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, have been maneuvering quietly behind the scenes in Congress to keep the talks alive. At the same time, officials from the White House have been leaning heavily on Senate Democrats to refrain from bringing a sanctions bill to the floor.
On the outside, a diverse range of pro-diplomacy groups, led by organisations like the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and the liberal Jewish organization J Street, have found a common cause and rallied together to lobby for restraint. Even the Quakers are energized
NIAC Unconventional Allies: Trita Parsi, founder of the NIAC with Dylan Williams, Director of Government Affairs at J Street.
“This is a do-or-die moment, either we succeed, or we go in a much more negative direction,” said NIAC co-founder Trita Parsi at the group’s annual conference last weekend.
Parsi sees the negotiations as a historic moment during a narrow window of opportunity. Presidents on both sides have sunk significant time and energy into the talks and Parsi believes the current leadership in both countries is more likely to make a deal than those who came before — or might come after.
“The next president, whatever political party they’re in, is not going to spend precious political capital battling Congress… [Obama] is the guy,” Parsi said.
Supporters fear that failure of the talks could trigger increased sanctions, the rise of hardliners in Iran, and relations spiraling toward military confrontation.
For his part, Congressman Ellison said he was urging fellow members to restrain from exploiting domestic fears with inflammatory rhetoric.
“What you say on the floor of the house in Washington DC is going to be heard in Tehran,” he told the NIAC conference.
NIAC Representative Keith Ellison says J Street is crucial in convincing legislators that there’s more than one way to be a friend to Israel.
Some of the organizations that support the talks have been working on grassroots campaigning while others are utilizing personal connections at higher levels.
“There’s been a perception for decades now in Washington DC, that if you step out of line on Middle East issues, in the sense that you fail to enunciate the most hawkish issues, there will be a significant punishment,” said Dylan Williams, Director of Government Affairs at J Street.
William’s told the conference that while the perception certainly existed, the reality was false. More than 80 significant political donors had written to political leaders to warn them against disrupting the ongoing negotiations, Williams said.
“It is in both Israel’s and America’s interests to ensure that diplomacy succeed… the vast majority of Jewish Americans understand that and the vast major to Jewish Americans support that,” Williams added.
Congressman Ellison said the role of J Street was critical to “helping congress see that there is more than one way to be a friend of Israel.”
AP President Rouhani has spoken of the US—Iranian relationship as an an “old wound, which must be healed.” The reformist president will likely loose influence to Iranian hardliners if negotiations fail.
As well as pushing back against increased sanctions, the groups have been responsive to diplomatic hiccups, and have been fastidiously laying the groundwork for a potential deal. The deadline for the talks runs out Nov. 24.
Williams said J Street was committed to seeing diplomacy succeed. Supporters must “make sure congress doesn’t screw it up at the eleventh hour,” Williams said.
For his part, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has suggested the “short-lived dustbowl” kicked-up by opponents of the negotiations would dissipate as awareness a deal could be a win-win grows on both sides.
Congressman Ellison says representatives have to be prepared for compromises in the deal, “it doesn’t matter if you’re negotiating international diplomacy or buying a cow, you never get everything you want, that’s the nature of a deal.”
Urging congressional support, Ellison said, “Whatever comes out of the deal on November 24, it’s better — in my opinion — than what is going on now.”
Editor’s note: The other day, we published a post about whether Bahrain exists or not. We argued that Bahrain may have been existing as a country where sporting events take place, but Bahrain as a country with human beings does not exist because the suffering of the Bahrani people are seldom reported in the media. The people of Bahrain are ruled by a family which is baked by the Saudi Royal family. Bahranis live in sub-human conditions, politically speaking. Here is an instance of how a Bahraini human rights activist has been arrested by the Bahrani authorities. Sadly, the West led by the United States has been supporting Bahrani and Saudi Salafi ruling elites. This shows how bogus the Western claim of supporting democracy all over the world is.
Why is Nabeel Rajab being punished by the Bahraini rulers? He is exposing the Pakistani Takfiri Deobandi mercenaries, hired by the pro Takfiri Salafi Deobandi rulers of Bahrain to control the Shia Majority in Bahrain, are now joining ISIS.
Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, had just returned to the country after an advocacy tour abroad. He had served two years in prison for organising anti-government protests before being released in May.
Despite being a majority Shia country, Bahrain’s government is Salafi Wahhabi and has faced ongoing protests since 2011. Mr Rajab was often seen in the forefront of those demonstrations and is a vocal critic of the ruler, King Hamad al-Khalifa.
He is also a prominent voice on social media, with almost 240,000 followers on Twitter.
The Gulf Center for Human Rights confirmed that Mr Rajab had been arrested on Wednesday.
He was summoned for questioning at Bahrain’s Cyber Crimes Department before being detained overnight, the statement said.
Bahrain’s interior ministry confirmed that Mr Rajab had been summoned and said that he had “acknowledged the charges”.
He is due to appear before the public prosecutor on Thursday, the interior ministry said in a statement.
It did not mention which Twitter postings the charges related to.
In a tweet made on Sunday, however, Mr Rajab said that many Bahrainis who had joined the Islamic State (IS) militant group had come from state security institutions.
These institutions served as the “ideological incubator” for IS, the tweet alleged.
Before his imprisonment in July 2012, Mr Rajab was repeatedly detained in connection with the pro-democracy protests that erupted the previous year.
Senator McCain mentioned Elizabeth O’Bagy’s op-ed during the Senate hearings, when he wasn’t playing poker, and tweeted it. That should come as no surprise, considering that O’Bagy is credited with arranging McCain’s infamous photo op with the Syrian rebel leadership.
The Wall Street Journal lists O’Bagy’s role as the Institute for the Study of War. It leaves out the fact that she is the political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force making her an activist.
O’Bagy doesn’t matter much. She’s a friendly Western face plastered over a foreign organization. Of more interest is Mouaz Moustafa, the smiling man in the Keffiyah on the far right of McCain in this photo.
Mouaz Moustafa is a Palestinian Arab and the Executive Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force which arranged for McCain’s visit.
Senator McCain called Moustafa a “patriot”, but it’s not clear which country he’s a patriot of, since it’s not Mouaz Moustafa’s first time around on the regime change bus tour.
Before the Syrian Emergency Task Force, Moustafa was the Executive Director of the Libyan Council of North America, which like the SETF existed to help push regime change. Before that, he mentions working with “rebels” in Egypt. On his Twitter feed, he denounces the overthrow of Morsi making it rather clear which side he was on.
His Twitter account frequently features anti-Israel material, including calls for a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. On his YouTube account, he “liked” a video featuring Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, “crying while praying”.
He also Favorited an anti-Israel video from a channel titled “JewsExposed”
Predating his international period, Mouaz Moustafa did stints as a Field Organizer for the Democratic National Committee and a senate staffer. On Instagram, he calls himself a Freelance Revolutionary.
Mouaz Moustafa, patriot of four countries, none of which is the United States, appears to be holding McCain’s hand on Syria through the Syrian Emergency Task Force. And the Syrian Emergency Task Force appears to be funded by “prominent” Syrians in the United States. It’s not technically a foreign organization. Technically.
And that’s just from a casual glance at a disturbingly incomplete list of names and functions.
Mouaz Moustafa’s message is that United States must arm the Syrian terrorists without asking questions, and claims that most of the Al-Nusra Front’s members are not really Al Qaeda or enemies of America.
“Let’s look at the Jabhat al-Nusra. Didn’t exist, then existed. Came up to numbers [of] about 5,000 or 6,000. Then we put them on a terrorist list — increase their profile and people stood with them. I think the way they were thinking is, ‘you don’t support us, you don’t give us arms, you don’t give us anything, but then you tell us whose good and whose bad within us?’ So first support, then dictate.”
While advocating for greater intervention in Syria, Moustafa says he has gone to Tampa to meet with Central Command, to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and to the White House “every couple of months” to meet with staff of the National Security Council.
And if you are wondering who is sorting through the Syrian morass to find groups that are suitable for American aid — in other words, not members of al-Qaida — Moustafa says it’s a task his group performs as well.
“What we try to do is make sure is that the aid is going from the State Department is going to the right people,” he said.
And these are the politicians he claims are most helpful to his cause
Among the legislators who have been most helpful to his cause, he said, are McCain, New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, as well as Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
It’s strange that no one has called attention to the fact that a group headed by people with such extreme ties and beliefs is dominating American foreign policy on Syria and controlling the itinerary of senior senators like McCain.
CAMBRIDGE, England — IN the last few years, there has been a dramatic rise of a seemingly new type of polity: the Islamic rebel state. Boko Haram in West Africa, the Shabab in East Africa, the Islamic Emirate in the Caucasus and, of course, the Islamic State in the Middle East, known as ISIS, or ISIL — these movements not only call for holy war against the West, but also use their resources to build theocracies.
Though in some respects unprecedented, these groups also have much in common with the Islamic revivalist movements of the 18th century, such as the Wahhabis on the Arabian Peninsula and the great jihadist states of the 19th century. They waged jihad against non-Muslim powers, and at the same time sought to radically transform their own societies.
One of the first groups to engage in anticolonial jihad and state-building was the fighters led by Abd al-Qadir, who challenged the French imperial invasion of North Africa in the 1830s and 1840s. Qadir declared himself “commander of the faithful” — the title of a caliph — and founded an Islamic state in western Algeria, with a capital in Mascara, a regular army and an administration that enforced Shariah law and provided some public services. The state was never stable, nor did it ever encompass a clearly defined territory; it was eventually destroyed by the French.
Equally short lived was the Mahdist state in Sudan, lasting from the early 1880s to the late 1890s. Led by the self-proclaimed Mahdi (“redeemer”) Muhammad Ahmad, the movement called for jihad against their Egyptian-Ottoman rulers and their British overlords, and it established state structures, including a telegraph network, weapon factories and a propaganda apparatus. The rebels banned smoking, alcohol and dancing and persecuted religious minorities.
But the state was unable to provide stable institutions, and the economy collapsed; half of the population died from famine, disease and violence before the British Army, supported by Egyptians, crushed the regime in a bloody campaign, events chronicled in “The River War” by the young Winston Churchill, who served as an officer in Sudan.
The most sophisticated 19th-century Islamic rebel state was the Caucasian imamate. Its imams rallied the Muslims of Chechnya and Dagestan into a 30-year holy war against the Russian empire, which sought to subdue the region. During the struggle, the rebels forced the mountain communities into a militant imamate, executing internal opponents and imposing Shariah law, segregation of the sexes, bans on alcohol and tobacco, restriction on music, and the enforcement of strict dress codes — all hugely unpopular measures. Czarist troops confronted the imamate with extreme brutality, eventually shattering it.
In all of these cases, there were two distinct, though intertwined, conflicts, one against non-European empires and one against internal enemies, and both struggles were combined with state-building. This pattern is in fact not unique to the emergence of Islamic rebel states. The sociologist Charles Tilly once identified war as one of the most crucial forces in the formation of states: The foundation of a centralized government becomes necessary to organize and finance the armed forces.
At the same time, Islam was at the center of these movements. Their leaders were religious authorities, most of them assuming the title “commander of the faithful”; their states were theocratically organized. Islam helped unite fractured tribal societies and served as a source of absolute, divine authority to enhance social discipline and political order, and to legitimize war. They all preached militant Islamic revivalism, calling for the purification of their faith, while denouncing traditional Islamic society, with its more heterodox forms of Islam, as superstitious, corrupt and backward.
Today’s jihadist states share many of these features. They emerged at a time of crisis, and ruthlessly confront internal and external enemies. They oppress women. Despite the groups’ ferocity, they have all succeeded in using Islam to build broad coalitions with local tribes and communities. They provide social services and run strict Shariah courts; they use advanced propaganda methods.
If anything, they differ from the 19th-century states in that they are more radical and sophisticated. The Islamic State is perhaps the most elaborate and militant jihad polity in modern history. It uses modern state structures, including a hierarchically organized bureaucracy, a judicial system, madrasas, a vast propaganda apparatus and a financial network that allows it to sell oil on the black market. It uses violence — mass executions, kidnapping and looting, following a rationale of suppression and wealth accumulation — to an extent unknown in previous Islamic polities. And unlike its antecedents, its leaders have global aspirations, fantasizing about overrunning St. Peter’s in Rome.
And yet those differences are a matter of degree, rather than kind. Islamic rebel states are overall strikingly similar. They should be seen as one phenomenon; and this phenomenon has a history.
Created under wartime conditions, and operating in a constant atmosphere of internal and external pressure, these states have been unstable and never fully functional. Forming a state makes Islamists vulnerable: While jihadist networks or guerrilla groups are difficult to fight, a state, which can be invaded, is far easier to confront. And once there is a theocratic state, it often becomes clear that its rulers are incapable of providing sufficient social and political solutions, gradually alienating its subjects.
In this light, the international community should continue to check the expansion of groups like the Islamic State, and intervene to prevent widespread human rights abuses. But given that the United States and its allies are unlikely to commit the massive military resources necessary to defeat the Islamic State — let alone other jihadist states — the best policy might be one of containment, support of local opponents and then management of the groups’ possible collapse.
We need to recognize what these groups really are. Referring to them as a “cancer,” as President Obama has, is understandable from an emotional standpoint, but simplifies and obscures the phenomenon. Jihadist states are complex polities and must be understood in the context of Islamic history.
BAGHDAD — Caliph Ibrahim, the leader of the Islamic State, appeared to come out of nowhere when he matter-of-factly proclaimed himself the ruler of all Muslims in the middle of an otherwise typical Ramadan sermon. Muslim scholars from the most moderate to the most militant all denounced him as a grandiose pretender, and the world gaped at his growing following and its vicious killings.
His ruthless creed, though, has clear roots in the 18th-century Arabian Peninsula. It was there that the Saud clan formed an alliance with the puritanical scholar Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab. And as they conquered the warring tribes of the desert, his austere interpretation of Islam became the foundation of the Saudi state.
Much to Saudi Arabia’s embarrassment, the same thought has now been revived by the caliph, better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the foundation of the Islamic State.
The Saudis and the rulers of other Persian Gulf states — all monarchies — are now united against the Islamic State, fearful that it might attack them from the outside or win followers within. Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have all participated with Washington in its attacks on the Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria.
For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group’s territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.
This approach is at odds with the more mainstream Islamist and jihadist thinking that forms the genealogy of Al Qaeda, and it has led to a fundamentally different view of violence. Al Qaeda grew out of a radical tradition that viewed Muslim states and societies as having fallen into sinful unbelief, and embraced violence as a tool to redeem them. But the Wahhabi tradition embraced the killing of those deemed unbelievers as essential to purifying the community of the faithful.
“Violence is part of their ideology,” Professor Haykel said. “For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself.”
The distinction is playing out in a battle of fatwas. All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticizing the Islamic State as deviant, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void and, increasingly, slamming its leaders as bloodthirsty heretics for beheading journalists and aid workers.
The upstart polemicists of the Islamic State, however, counter that its critics and even the leaders of Al Qaeda are all bad Muslims who have gone soft on the West. Even the officials and fighters of the Palestinian militant group Hamas are deemed to be “unbelievers” who might deserve punishment with beheading for agreeing to a cease-fire with Israel, one Islamic State ideologue recently declared.
“The duty of a Muslim is to carry out all of God’s orders and rulings immediately on the spot, not softly and gradually,” the scholar, Al Turki Ben-Ali, 30, said in an online forum.
The Islamic State’s sensational propaganda and videos of beheadings appear to do double duty. In addition to threatening the West, its gory bravado draws applause online and elsewhere from sympathizers, which helps the group in the competition for new recruits.
That is especially important to the Islamic State because it requires a steady flow of recruits to feed its constant battles and heavy losses against multiple enemies — the governments of Iraq and Syria, Shiite and Kurdish fighters, rival Sunni militants and now the United States Air Force.
For Al Qaeda, meanwhile, disputes with the Islamic State are an opportunity “to reposition themselves as the more rational jihadists,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The Islamic State’s founder, Mr. Baghdadi, grafted two elements onto his Wahhabi foundations borrowed from the broader, 20th-century Islamist movements that began with the Muslim Brotherhood and ultimately produced Al Qaeda. Where Wahhabi scholars preach obedience to earthly rulers, Mr. Baghdadi adopted the call to political action against foreign domination of the Arab world that has animated the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and other 20th-century Islamist movements.
Mr. Baghdadi also borrowed the idea of a restored caliphate. Where Wahhabism first flourished alongside the Ottoman Caliphate, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded shortly after that caliphate’s dissolution, in 1924 — an event seen across the world as a marker of Western ascent and Eastern decline. The movement’s founders took up the call for a revived caliphate as a goal of its broader anti-Western project.
These days, though, even Brotherhood members appear almost embarrassed by the term’s anachronism, emphasizing that they use caliphate as a kind of spiritual idea irrelevant to the modern world of nation-states.
“Even for Al Qaeda, the caliphate was something that was going to happen in the far distant future, before the end times,” said William McCants, a researcher on militant Islam at the Brookings Institution. The Islamic State “really moved up the timetable,” he said — to June 2014, in fact.
Adhering to Wahhabi literalism, the Islamic State disdains other Islamists who reason by analogy to adapt to changing context — including the Muslim Brotherhood; its controversial midcentury thinker Sayed Qutb; and the contemporary militants his writing later inspired, like Ayman al-Zawahri of Al Qaeda. Islamic State ideologues often deem anyone, even an Islamist, who supports an elected or secular government to be an unbeliever and subject to beheading.
“This is ‘you join us, or you are against us and we finish you,’ ” said Prof. Emad Shahin, who teaches Islam and politics at Georgetown University. “It is not Al Qaeda, but far to its right.”
Some experts note that Saudi clerics lagged long after other Muslim scholars in formally denouncing the Islamic State, and at one point even the king publicly urged them to speak out more clearly. “There is a certain mutedness in the Saudi religious establishment, which indicates it is not a slam dunk to condemn ISIS,” Professor Haykel said.
Finally, on Aug. 19, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti, declared that “the ideas of extremism, radicalism and terrorism do not belong to Islam in any way, but are the first enemy of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims, as seen in the crimes of the so-called Islamic State and Al Qaeda.”
Al Qaeda’s ideologues have been more vehement. All insist that the promised caliphate requires a broad consensus, on behalf of Muslim scholars if not all Muslims, and not merely one man’s proclamation after a military victory.
“Will this caliphate be a sanctuary for all the oppressed and a refuge for every Muslim?” Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, a senior jihadist scholar, recently asked in a statement on the Internet. “Or will this creation take a sword against all the Muslims who oppose it” and “nullify all the groups that do jihad in the name of God?”
Another prominent Qaeda-linked jihadist scholar, Abu Qatada al-Falistini, echoed that: “They are merciless in dealing with other jihadists. How would they deal with the poor, the weak and other people?”
Both scholars have recently been released from prison in Jordan, perhaps because the government wants to amplify their criticism of the Islamic State.