[ by Charles Cameron — my latest for LapidoMedia gives Sunni, Shia background, & importantly the shift from Zarqawi to Baghdadi — followed by a chaser from Will McCants ]
My latest from Lapido, opening paras:
TO SENIOR military officers, intelligence analysts and policy-makers, blood and guts are more real than fire and brimstone.
To the followers of ISIS – which now calls itself the Islamic State – however, not only do the concepts of hell fire and the gardens of paradise seem real, the hope of heaven and fear of hell are powerful recruiting tools, morale boosters and motivating forces.
While the battlefield is real to them, to lose one’s life on that battlefield is viewed as victory, and as martyrdom rewarded with a painless death, avoidance of Judgment Day and a direct passage to paradise.
And that vivid expectation of paradise is accompanied by a sense that in any case, ‘the end is nigh’.
That is why the ‘caliphate’ established by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has named its English-language magazine after the town of Dabiq.
Indeed, Dabiq’s first issue opens with a quote from Abu Musa’b al-Zarqawi, the brutal founder of the group that became the Islamic State:
‘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.’
The town of Dabiq is obscure enough that you won’t find it indexed in David Cook’s Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, nor in French diplomat-scholar Jean-Pierre Filiu’s Apocalypse in Islam.
Will McCants, in his book The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State due out later this month, quotes a leader of the Syrian opposition as saying, ‘Dabiq is not important militarily.’
And yet Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, like Abu Musa’b al-Zarqawi before him, makes it a centrepiece of his strategy and propaganda.
Read the whole thing on the LapidoMedia site
Will McCants gave a useful response in his Sources & Methods podcast interview yesterday, at the 35.00 mark — answering a question about apocalypticism in IS:
I think it’s really important in terms of attracting foreign fighters from the west. If you think about what gets a foreigner motivated to leave their home and travel to an insanely violent conflict zone, there are few things that might motivate people more than the belief that the end times are right around the corner. So I see a lot of that apocalyptic propaganda from the Islamic State really directed towards foreign fighters. But also you know in the Middle East, after the Iraq war in 2003, apocalypticism began to get a lot more currency than it used to have. You know, before the war, apocalypticism among Sunnis was really kind of a fringe subject as compared to the Shia, for whom it’s been an important topic for centuries – for modern Sunnis, they kind of looked down on it, that’s something that the Shia speculate on, but that’s not really our bag. The US invasion of Iraq really changed the ways that Sunni’s thought about the end times. And then with the Arab Spring coming, and all the political turmoil that followed in its wake, it’s given an apocalyptic framework far more currency than it ever had as a way to explain political upheaval in the region.
Listen to the whole thing at Sources and Methods.