Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Fri, Jan 29th, 2016

The Islamic Anti-State in Yemen

It is hard to imagine a greater hell than the one that once Happy Arabia is currently undergoing. Food, medicine and basic supplies are denied to the majority of the population by a sea and air blockade, bombs are dropped daily on civilian targets, mosques and factories have been destroyed, young boys are given kalashnikovs and told to shoot their countrymen: nowhere is there a safe haven because it seems no one can be trusted.


As the situation becomes more and more desperate, people resort to actions they would never dream of doing in a time of peace.  The city of Taiz, like Aden was earlier, has become Dodge City on steroids. For the victims of this humanitarian crisis Yawm al-Qiyama has already arrived.

Adding to the hellfire is the absurd anarchical suicide bombings of Daesh, the so-called “Islamic State.” Call it ISIS or ISIL or simply IS, but the fact of the matter is that it is really an Islamic anti-state, fueled in part by disgruntled foreigners. Thursday there was a blast in Aden near the well-guarded presidential palace to which President-in-name-only Hadi has returned. Seven people were killed and fifteen wounded by a bomb set off in a speeding car. Daesh claimed responsibility and identified the bomber as Abu Hanifa al-Hollandi. Was he really Dutch? I strongly suspect he did not have a son called Hanifa. Consider the irony of a Daesh bomber named after the scholar who established the first major Sunni law school. Daesh respects none of the tradition of Islamic theology, nor do they follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (who never advocated suicide and forbade mutilation of enemy bodies), nor do they follow a serious interpretation of the Quran.

Daesh is political anarchy. It is as likely to attack a Zaydi mosque in Sanaa as it is to target the propped up government of Hadi in Aden. It was bred in the same anti-Salih climate that allowed for the creation of AQAP (Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula) and its transformation of sorts into Ansar Shariah. Both extremist groups seem to have erupted as spontaneous combustion unrelated to the diverse and rich tradition of Islamic culture in Yemen. Neither Daesh with its anarchy mantra nor Ansar Shariah with their feeble attempt to form a local form of governance follow on local religious views. But there is a direct stimulus and it is the logical extension of several decades of Wahhabi Salafi influence, promoting the kind of intolerance that if not controlled by a formal state structure will inevitably lead to a political nightmare. Ali Abdullah Salih thought he could control the Salafis in Yemen’s north and use them as a buffer against his exaggerated fear of a Zaydi revival.  But in the end this was a snake bite from which he is not likely to recover.

Daesh is addicted to anarchy because it is devoted to fighting for the sake of fighting. It will never succeed to establish any kind of state, let along a viable Islamic one. The creators of this monstrous ideology were henchmen of Saddam Hussein’s regime, not scholars trained in al-Azhar. Far from being orthodox, they revel in the unorthodox to the point of justifying rape and enslaving of war victims. They reign through fear and attract individuals who prefer to be mercenaries in a lost cause to being marginalized and unemployed at home. Daesh in Yemen is a parasite, drawing on the widespread dissatisfaction with the way in which the corrupt Salih regime figuratively raped the former Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen. It is hard to gauge the number of Daesh in Yemen, but it is surely far less than their stronger rival, Ansar Shariah. It is doubtful that these two extremist anti-state forces would join together, given the extent of the rivalry, but individuals may shift from one to the other as circumstances warrant.

The actual ability of Daesh to alter events in the current war, apart from periodic highly publicized suicide bombings, is slight. There is no Daesh army. There is not even an Ansar Shariah army, but rather loose coalitions that are more interested in fighting against than fighting for a cause. The anti-Huthi propaganda campaign has shielded both Daesh and Ansar Shariah from the danger they pose to any future government. Thousands of Saudi bombing runs have targeted so-called Huthi and Salih sites but I am not aware of any attacks by air or on the ground on either Daesh of Ansar Shariah. Before the war started, neither the Huthi leadership nor Salih wanted to overthrow the Saudi regime; both Daesh and Ansar Shariah desire just such a change. If the GCC and Saudis want to prevent an unstable and dangerous situation in Yemen, then the failure to deal with both Daesh and Ansar Shariah is only contributing to that. This war is not only about battles on the ground, which can never yield a victor, but battles for the minds of a very diverse Yemeni population. To the extent the anarchists play their game in a strategic alliance with Hadi and the Saudi coalition, the instability will only increase.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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