[ by Charles Cameron — on the intersecting logics of IS, current and classical Islamic eschatology, and violent millennial movements in general ]
Ella Lipin, research associate for Middle East studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, blogged on the apocalyptic side of the “caliphate” a few days back under the title Understanding ISIS’s Apocalyptic Appeal:
To the outside world, this period of atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, such as the beheading of two American journalists, may be another defining moment in shaping the Middle East. But for many people in the region, ISIS’s message resounds and its arrival marks the end of days and the fulfillment of divine prophecy. To understand ISIS’s appeal and ultimately how to defeat it, the United States must recognize how the organization situates itself within Islamic apocalyptic tradition.
That’s good, that’s fine.
To back up a bit, Martin Dempsey said of IS almost a month ago:
This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.
I noted this with approval, and lamented the lack of earlier awareness of this point in my post The curious case of the unheard word “apocalyptic”.
And today, Terrence McCoy of the Washington Post quoted Ms Lipin in a piece about Dabiq magazine titled The apocalyptic magazine the Islamic State uses to recruit and radicalize foreigners:
This is not the beginning, the magazine says. It is the end. It is the culmination of a centuries-long war that has burned and simmered but never been extinguished — that will soon grow to consume everything. It is the apocalypse. And it is coming.
This is the chilling vision set out in the Islamic State magazine called “Dabiq,” published in several European languages including English.
Again, that’s good to see.
But what exactly are the implications?
I’ve posted my own detailed analysis of a mere 10 pages of Dabiq, focusing explicitly on implications regarding the Saved Sect and the Victorious Group, and the entire logical edifice IS has constructed to take us from the Dabiq hadith via the notion of hirah to the recruitment of a global force of jihadists, in Dabiq issue 3 part 1- Hijrah. Tim Furnish has blogged about this, as has J-P Filiu. Their work is of crucial importance, along with that of David Cook. And the posts I’ve linked here are far from all these scholars have written — each has been covering specifically Islamic apocalyptic for years.
But that’s the IS logic, and there are other logics that need to be understood.
One is the Islamic logic that views IS as Kharijites, “breakaways” and heretics who in an excess of religious fervor have broken away from the very religion they profess to follow. That’s a topic that should be addressed from within Islam, IMO. For now, here’s a link to a short video from a Manchester (UK) Salafist sheikh, who views both IS and JN as Kharijite. I’ll report here if I see this line of argument particularly well presented.
In strictly poetic terms, there’s Shadab Zeest Hashmi‘s Shade, posted in 3QuarksDaily — if you still have a heart for beauty in these grim times:
Allahu Akbar or God is Great, the anthem stolen by the wicked terrorist, whose attack is aimed at life, what holds life together for me— the zikr: Allahu Akbar, God is Greater, greater than prayer, greater than the spectacularly leaping science, the elegance of logic, the morality police, the lust of the spirit or the intellect, greater than the molten heart of a mother, a day laborer’s fatigue, greater than the beauty of discipline, the disciple of beauty, the ecstasy of disarray, greater than terra firma or the firmament, greater than sorrow.
If you still have a mind for poetry.
But there’s at least one other logic that needs to be understood — because it shows what the modifier “apocalyptic” can do to an already violent movement. It’s the logic explored by scholars like Jeffrey Kaplan, Michael Barkun, Catherine Wessinger, Michael Barkun, Richard Landes, Jean Rosenfeld, and John R Hall.
That’ll require a whole new post. But it’s the horse that pulls the cart of millennial and messianic / mahdist movements — and maybe we should understand the horse before the cart?