Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Tue, Apr 21st, 2015

The Un-Islamic State

How Islamic is the Islamic State known as ISIS, ISIL, IS, Daesh and the new caliphate? To the extent that any group claims to be Islamic, quotes the Quran and brandishes the rhetoric of the faith, ISIS is clearly presenting itself as an Islamic sect. To the extent that they have bastardized just about every other Islamic worldview, they are certainly not in the mainstream.

Their appeal is not to Muslims who know the history of their faith, but to the disgruntled youth of the West and traumatized youth of the region. And, most importantly, ISIS is, ironically, the revenge of Saddam Hussein. This calculating and blood curdling group was formed not by madrasa-trained clerics but by former intelligence and military cronies of Saddam’s regime.


Just a few days ago the former Vice President of Saddam’s Ba’ath regime, Izzat Al-Douri, was killed near Tikrit. He had formed one of the many opposition groups to the regime of al-Maliki, an upstart Naqshabandi Sufi group that evolved after the fall of Saddam. A year ago they foolishly joined with ISIS, but then were turned upon recently before Al-Douri was killed. A more prominent Saddam henchman was Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, known as Hajji al-Bakr, who had served in the air force intelligence and became a major behind-the-scenes power broker for ISIS. His papers detailing the making of ISIS have now come to light after his death in January in a major article published by Der Spiegel. The so-called caliphate was patterned after the model of the Ba’ath security system, using religion to masque the fear and extortion that would achieve the goals of retaking Iraq. It now appears the plot to form ISIS was created by Hajji Bakr and several other Saddam officials held in prison by the Americans.

So the Islamic State is actually an Un-Islamic State, one that uses a glitzy social media campaign to recruit those who have little knowledge of Islamic doctrine. It is the Borg-like metamorphosis of Saddam’s Ba’ath machine, a secular scenario couched in absurd interpretation of jihad, in which everyone who is not under their blood-soaked thumb is to be killed. The total lack of understanding Islamic theology and practice is evident on their official banner which reads “Allah Rasul Muhammad,” transposing in Arabic the well-known phrase that “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” to “Allah is the Messenger of Muhammad.” The mantra is fitting, since indeed Allah has become the servant of the men who created ISIS.

Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi taken by US armed forces while in detention at Camp Bucca in the vicinity of Umm Qasr, Iraq, in 2004.

Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi taken by US armed forces while in detention at Camp Bucca in the vicinity of Umm Qasr, Iraq, in 2004.

Much has been made of the apocalyptic intentions of ISIS, seemingly justifying their call to arms as another end-time scenario. There are few religious scams more notorious than the notion that the world is about to end in an Armageddon-like battle where the forces of good defeat the forces of evil. Candidates for the Christian Revelation scenarios of Antichrists, Beasts, horsemen and seven-headed dragons have been anointed since the very start of Christianity, merging Old Testament prophecy with New Testament fears. Muslims have their Yawm al-Qiyama (Day of Judgment) foretelling as well, no less creative than that of their sister faiths. One of these, convenient for ISIS, is that the final cosmic battle will take place at Dabiq in Syria, when Jesus will return to earth on the side of the true Muslims. The propagandizers of ISIS chose Dabiq as the title of their online magazine. But they seem to have little understanding of the actual history of the site. This is where the Ottoman Turks defeated the Mamluk Syrians in 1516 on their way to control all of Syria, with the help of the turncoat Mamluk governor of Aleppo.

ISIS is not only a post-Saddam house of horrors, but also an international media feeding frenzy. NBC News has created an ISIS Terror webpage, giving the motley band of terrorists the publicity they crave, as has CNN. One of the latest CNN reports is a gallery of 65 photographs on “The ISIS terror threat.” Even Iraqi sites in English have their ISIS page. ISIS is also all over Facebook [warning for strong images]. If the purpose of these dedicated sites is to prove that ISIS is a terrorist group, it is not clear who needs to be convinced. No one in the news organizations seems to think that such images actually make a good recruitment tool, glorifying the gore as though it is part of video game warfare. The more graphic the images, the more publicity that ISIS generates, the more appealing it becomes to those who are susceptible to its call.

The media should follow the World Meteorological Organization, which has recently removed ISIS from the possible names for future hurricanes.

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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