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27 March 2015


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July 4 1976 was the day of Israel's raid on Entebbe, where Yonathan Netanyahu was killed, an event which, in Benj. Netanyahu's own words, "changed my life."

July 4-5 1979 was the Jerusalem Conference where Benzion & Benjamin Netanyahu presented the blueprint for the global war on terror. (International Terrorism: Challenge and Response, Benjamin Netanyahu, ed. http://tinyurl.com/nduz9st )


ISIS destroyed ancient artifacts in Mosul and Nimrod.

Wasn't Abraham's first public act the smashing of all icons except one -- an act of "creative destruction"?


Just as a note:

The biographic elements of Baghdadi in the piece above contradict the ones in this recent piece on "The many names of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi" by Ali Hashem


That piece says that Baghdadi indeed studied in Baghdad and that he choose the name at a later point than claimed above.

Patrick Bahzad

Indeed, this is a different version of al-Baghdadi's biography, and there are quite a few going around, as I mentioned.
What is probably most interesting is not to know who's got it right, but the mere fact there are that many variations of it !
However, according to some credible jihadi sources (not very friendly to the IS though), the Baghdad chapter in his "student life" is not consistant with the truth.

dilbert dogbert

I found these maps interesting. The Med East is one confusing jigsaw puzzle.
Maybe some in SST can add some comments about them. I sure can't evaluate them.


As an academic, I should be favorably disposed toward exegesis. In the case, I am not. Quite to the contrary, I belief it is misleading to seek the explanation for the movement's genesis in its theology or symbolic expression thereof. In the first instance, we have to differentiate among Bakr al-Baghdadi, his senior companions, and their recruits. What moves one does not necessarily move the others. Second, viewing al-Baghdadi as foremost a prophet is to risk mixing motor force with its vehicle of expression. Were the leaders of the Crusades primarily prophets? Third, there is a salient political context in which all this is occurring. yet it gets short shrift. Fourth, there is a psycho-sociological aspect to the mindset and behavior of the rank-and-file that tends to be slighted.

None of this is meant to disparage the impressive scholarship and perceptiveness of Patrick Bahzad.

Whatever approach we take to interpreting the ISIL phenomenon, one thing is sure. The geniuses in Washington who are directing American foreign relations will not counteract it by massive leaflet drops over Iraq and Syria.

William R. Cumming

An informative post! Can we have some detailed info about Patrick B.?

What does seem clear is that although Islam is IMO a Western Religion it is difficult for non-followers to get their heads around it!

There does seem to be the case that Western Civilization is a fount of religious beliefs including Communism and Capitalism. And most of those religions can only survive by violence.


Good work, Patrick.

initially I struggled with verbal resistance here or there, but you managed to pull me in.


I'll check for my specific resistance-triggers once I read the basis of your critique. Thanks.



Patrick Bahzad

Interesting link thx !


Thank you for this excellent analysis!
Americans would be well served by noting the following:
" All ideological constructs, religions included, have a front-office handling the customers and the back-office handling the workload. They are both sides of the same coin, but they don’t represent the same image"
And how it applies to us.
I initially read the word coin as "con".
That would probably work. Especially if you consider many of the individuals involved as belonging to a sociopathic predatory sub species of human. The AbuBakr's, the Bibi's, the Vicki's.

Patrick Bahzad

Totally agree with you regarding over-estimation of symbolic interpretation of IS. My purpose was to shift the focus of such analysis on more founded elements rather than sticking to highly hypothetical representations that most of the ground troops of ISIS don't have a clue of.
However, from a psychological point of view, it is interesting to examine what kind of triggers the IS is trying to appeal to.

Patrick Bahzad

Just for the record, I am Roman Catholic by birth but I have spent many years in Muslim countries.
Getting your head around religion isn't easy, whether it is your own or the dominant one in the country you live in !

The Beaver

@ dilbert

Not to be jejune or be a smart aleck but I am surprised to see Iran and Afghanistan being bundled up with the ME.

Babak Makkinejad

It lacks the most crucial map of them all - that of the Seljuk Empire.

Jihadists live outside of that civilizational boundaries.



"Were the leaders of the Crusades primarily prophets?" I take it you mean the leaders of the first crusade. They did not think of themselves in that way. they considered themselves to be armed pilgrims, there was a cleric, a papal delegate who was titular leader of the first crusade. He stood in lieu of the Vicar of Christ. pl

Charles I

'trying to appeal to" . . good comment on the appeal to those more familiar with messianic Christian sects rather than Takfiri and Wahhabi groups. Indeed I'd wager most Atlantic readers knowledge of theology may be as pasty white as mine.

I recall being quite struck with the apocalyptic ascription to ISIS of what I am most familiar with. Which first made it seem reasonable, then generally ended my thinking i was so tickled by the nutty idea.

Thanks for your continued work on this, and my brain.

Babak Makkinejad

Many Muslims state that in Islam, politics and religion are inexorably intertwined. A religious project could consist of both political as well as spiritual contents.

The fact of the matter is that men and women from all over the world are inspired to go and join ISIS and might be sharing - to varying degrees - in the temporal and spiritual program of ISIS.

Those who fought against the Spanish Republic and those who fought for the Spanish Republic were almost certainly inspired by non-political ideas and ideals.

This in not any different, in my opinion.

The only qualitative difference that this is a religious war - sucking in Jews, Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Protestant Christians, Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Awaits, Druze, and others.

I think it will be a good idea to call things by their proper names.

Charles Cameron

Sadly, on the matter of IS eschatology, Patrick Bahzad would have done well to consult the magazine Dabiq itself. He writes:

"ISIS may have picked the name in reference to the battle of Dabiq in 1516, when the new Ottoman Empire achieved a decisive victory over Egyptian Mamluks"

On the contrary, the contents page of the first issue of Dabiq is headed with a quote from Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi:

"The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq."

That quote looks to the future, not to the past. And in the Introduction (p.4), the editor gives his own account of the choice of name:

"As for the name of the magazine, then it is taken from the area named Dabiq in the northern countryside of Halab (Aleppo) in Sham. This place was mentioned in a hadith describing some of the events of the Malahim (what is sometimes referred to as Armageddon in English). One of the greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders will take place near Dabiq."

Again, the reference is to the future, not the past.

It's worth noting that the emphasis on Dabiq rather than Khorasan (where another set of ahadith place their focus) corresponds to the shift between Afghanistan and AQC on the one hand, and Sham and IS on the other. The ahadith about Khorasan were useful recruitment tools for AQ, as Ali Soufan noted, whereas those about Sham, extensively described in the final, eschatological pages of Abu Mus'ab al-Suri's _Call to Global Islamic Resistance_, are more potent in the context of Iraq / Syria.

The two texts that Jessica Stern & JM Berger single out in their book, _ISIS: The State of Terror_, as central to IS ideology are Abu Bakr Naji's _The Management of Savagery_ and Abu Mus'ab al-Suri's _Call_.

Patrick Bahzad

Have to say I'm not very big on reading dabiq other than for information purposes and the reason I mentioned the alternative option as an explanation is because the hadiths don't refer to crusader armies but to the armies of Rome. What is stated in the magazine may very well refer to the future but it is twisting the wording one finds in the hadiths and therefore cannot be accepted without criticism.
So on this matter it is the editors of the magasine who proceeded to put ideology before scripture, just as I described.

Patrick Bahzad

Agree about religious dimension being the major one in this war but doesn't mean it's the only one ...

Patrick Bahzad

Just to make my point clearer, the fact there is mention of Dabiq in a certain context by a certain magasine doesn't mean one has to buy into the story, unless of course one doesn't know the other explanations and references that could be mentioned.
The thing with the ME is that you can look at it from thousand of miles away, restricting yourself to the various media channels available to analyze it, or you can add into the mix what people there say, think and preach. And then you start to realize that nothing is as simple as it seems and there always is a different way of looking at events and understanding them.
As for the IS itself, it is very aware of the kind of PR and propaganda it needs to use for various audiences it is targeting.


Thanks. Fascinating read.


So if either Aleppo or Mosul is lost by IS is there any significant loss to the ethos that has been created?

Charles I

no hero like a beleaguered hero

Patrick Bahzad

Aleppo isn't vital to the IS unless they consider that they need territorial continuity up to the Mediterranean, but that has not proven necessary up to now. Aleppo is also an area other opposition groups are trying to control.
Mosul on the other hand is absolutely necessary to the survival of ISIS and any defeat there - however unlikely - would have very serious consequences on the groups long term goals.
Right now they're trying to consolidate the territory they have won and are trying to administer it efficiently. Failure in that department would be worse than losing the area of dabiq in northern Syria as that would be of no consequence.
But losing Mosul and being pushed back and away from Baghdad and there only real political and military goal - taking back Baghdad - would take a big hit !

Patrick D

"The truth about the first Caliphs, the "rashidun", is that they may have been rightly guided, but that their rule was never undisputed. Out of these four Caliphs, three met a violent death, killed by religious opponents or disgruntled supporters."

Patrick and Col. Lang,

I took exactly 1 class in the political aspects of Islam as part of Middle Eastern Studies degree 30 years ago. I think I noted this in the first week or so of class.

To this day I am still puzzled as to why any Muslim would consider that period to be the Golden Age of Islam when faced with this widely known, undisputed fact. It is especially puzzling given such a Muslim would surely believe that all the transpires is the will of Allah. Is there any Islamic scholarship that tries to square that circle for the believers?

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