The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>
Authors Filter?
Razib Khan
Nothing found
 TeasersGene Expression Blog
/
Islamic State

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
🔊 Listen RSS

"Chop-chop square" in Riyadh

“Chop-chop square” in Riyadh

Like Joe Young, the Mormon missionary who becomes involved in the porn industry in the late 90s film Orgazmo, our involvement in the Mid-East is probably going to result in the violation of our purity (yes, that’s only in our self-conception as a nation; we’re mostly definitely only born-again virgins, not the real deal). It’s hard to read anything about the Free Syrian Army which portrays it as anything but hapless, disorganized, if often well meaning and milquetoast (well, when they’re not allying with the Nusra Front and being nasty to Alawites and Christians who support the regime which has been nasty to them). And of course this edition of the coalition of the willing involves our stalwart Western-leaning allies, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Yes, Bahrain, the sectarian regime dominated by a religious minority which suppresses the majority with foreign forces. Qatar, the Islamists’ number one ally in the Muslim world. The UAE, which is home to the dystopian techno-oligarchy that is Dubai, a glittering vision of the apotheosis of slavery coexistent with post-modernity. And of course there is Saudi Arabia, the only nation in the world which regularly decapitates individuals for capital crimes. Well, except of course the Islamic State if you count that as a state!

I won’t belabor the point. Let’s remember that the Saudi monarchy is quite notably medieval in its practices and institutional arrangement (it abolished slavery in the 1962). Our enemies, Iran, and the Syrian regime, are actually much closer to modernity as we’d understand it using the Saudis as the extreme case. As it is we have to ignore this because the Saudis are our bastards, neo-feudal creeps though they may be. And we’re trusting them to help train the Free Syrian Army? Of the 19 9/11 hijackers 15 were Saudi (a further two were from the UAE, our ally). This is not going to end well. We can’t admit that we’re helping the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Yes, he’s a murdering bastard, but he’s not our bastard.

The Islamic State is a nasty piece of work. Unlike Saddam Hussein’s late lamented dictatorship it also has the ability and ambitions to spread its tentacles of nastiness across the region right now. I won’t shed any tears over the pounding Raqqa is receiving from American cruise missiles. But let’s be clear that almost certainly this is going to benefit our Iranian enemies, as well as Hezbollah. Additionally, the Saudis and their Gulf allies will probably attempt to reshape the Sunni insurgency in their own image, which is not one which we in the West would term “moderate,” let alone free. Let’s go into this with eyes open, and acknowledge that it’s a choice between a bad option, and a worse option.

Shorter: America is on the side of the less evil guys. Go America! Also see this cri du coeur, The Barbarians Within Our Gates.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Islamic State, Saudi Arabia 
🔊 Listen RSS

Darwins-Cathedral-cover Recently Sam Harris rebuked President Obama’s assertion that the Islamic State is “not Islamic.” And also that “No religion condones the killing of innocents.” To not put too fine a point on it, these statements are either false or meaningless. I applaud Harris as far as it goes, as he is willing to unashamedly rip the veil off the sophistry which dominates much of our public discourse. But in many ways Sam Harris is to atheists what Thomas Frank is to liberals. He is sincere, but his power is in rhetoric rather than analysis.

On the face of it the Islamic State is clearly about Islam. Islam is in its name, and they gesture toward many of the traditions and tropes of that religion. But to reduce the Islamic State to something as vague and expansive as being due to Islam is not particular informative or insightful. This sort of civilizational-culturalist explanation resembles the aether in its formless ability to reshape itself to any phenomena. A key fact which I think is essential in attempting to understand the nature of the Islamic State is that ex-Baathist officers and functionaries have been essential in the operation of the nascent state. This is interesting because Baathism was notionally a secular ideology, co-founded by an Arab of Christian background. But one thing I have read is that even non-Islamist Sunni insurgents in Iraq in the aughts became progressively more religious in their orientation. The eventual absorption of this element into the Islamic State is then an evolutionary process of slow co-option of a marginalized component.

If the function of the Islamic State as a state, as opposed to a diffuse terrorist network, is contingent upon the resurrection of the old Baathist power elite, then one can posit the hypothesis that its emergence was contingent upon the total dispossession of that elite after 2003. Clearly the Sunni Arab hegemony of the Baathist period was not sustainable, but the total dissolution of all the old institutions, and the marginalization of stakeholders, was not inevitable. A falling back to old, atavist, identities by these officers is not entirely surprising. Consider the ethnic nature of most prison gangs. These men on the run, stripped of all material comforts, naturally were drawn to a less concrete, more ‘aspirational,’ ideology.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Islamic State 
🔊 Listen RSS

Woman_in_niqab,_Aleppo_(2010)USA Today is blasting a headline, More British Muslims fight for Islamic State than Britain, based on the fact that a conservative estimate suggests that 800 fighters for the Islamic State hold British Passports. It turns out that 600 Muslims serve in the British armed forces, which number 200,000. A separate article in The New York Times gives ballpark figures of 10 to 20 thousand as the number of fighters for the Islamic State overall. That means that 5 to 10 percent of the forces of the Islamic State are British.

There are about 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. That means 0.17% of the world’s Muslims are British. About 1 out of 600. Let’s say that 5% of the fighters for the Islamic State are British. 1 out of 20. British Muslims are represented at a 30-fold greater rate in the Islamic State than their world-wide representation among Muslims. Overall about 2,000 Europeans are believed to be serving in the forces of the Islamic State. About 20 to 45 million Muslims live in Europe (this is dependent on whether you’re talking about the European Union only, or include Russia). So at most 3% of the world’s Muslims are European nationals. But they make up 10 to 20 percent of the fighting forces of the Islamic State, depending on how you gauge the figures.

I review these numbers because I believe they are a place where we can start to grapple with the facts that confront us. It is easy to say “Islam is the problem,” but that is as informative as saying that all phenomena can be reduced to physics. That is true on some level, but it is useless in a practical sense. The gross over-representation of European Muslims is of interest, because if it was simply Islam then there wouldn’t be an over-representation. On flip side it seems hard to deny that Left multiculturalism which presupposes that accommodation and acceptance will serve as a balm against all separatist inclinations among Muslims simply is hard to support. Britain arguably is the most accommodating of European nations to Islam and the Muslim community, but it is contributing far greater than its quota to the forces of the Islamic State. These issues are complex, but they need to be confronted without qualms. The chickens are going to come home to roost soon.

Addendum: “European Muslims” includes a diverse array of individuals and populations. There are European ethnic groups which are historically majority Muslim, such as Albanians and Bosnians. Then there are the immigrant communities. And finally there are the converts.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Islamic State 
🔊 Listen RSS

Above is part 1 of a VICE documentary on what it is like inside the Islamic State. Listening to what seem like the sincere voices from within the domains of the Islamic State I am struck by how detached from reality they are. And yet the fact is that a few months ago we would have thought the idea of a polity spanning eastern Syria and northwest Iraq, and leaning upon social-political paradigm notionally from the 7th century, was pure delusion. From the perspective of those who believe that they have the only access to truth, and whose victories defied the expectations of their opponents, it seems natural that dreams of grandiosity would ensue. They believe that they have the mandate of heaven.

It has been expectation that with the conquest of the northern part of Iraq the Islamic State would recapitulate the overreach by its predecessor organization, al Qaeda in Iraq. In short al Qaeda’s brutality toward those under its rule resulted in a rebellion of the people who it purportedly aimed to liberate. But the Islamic State has already forged a path which is different al Qaeda in Iraq. It has won victories on the field of battle, and created not just a shadow state, but the outlines of a true state. Social conformity is a powerful human instinct.

Update, part 2:

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Islamic State 
No Items Found
Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com"