Monday, 24 August 2015

The Politics of a Tyrant State

Islamic State militants have destroyed Palmyra's ancient temple of Baalshamin, Syrian officials and activists say. Syria's head of antiquities was quoted as saying the temple was blown up on Sunday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that it happened one month ago.

Last week, it emerged that the 81-year-old archaeologist who had looked after Palmyra's ruins for four decades had been beheaded by the militant group. The group has also published photos of what they said was the destruction of two Islamic shrines near Palmyra, which they described as "manifestations of polytheism"

-- BBC News

The destruction of shrines by Islamic extremists is a demonstration of power, of the ability to take over the world and mould it in their own image.

But it is also a sign of fear. The very existence of anything which could contradict the strict puritanical variety of Islam is something they fear, because it shows that people at different times have believed different things.

That’s why they also go to lengths that actually pervert Islam, beheading an 81 year old. What could he do? He could speak. He could tell people about the past.

There is a sense of deja vue. If you look at the old photographs of party officials and leaders in Russia, particularly in the Stalinist era, you will see that photos are touched up to change history to the official line. History is rewritten to erase the past, just as is happening here.

That, of course, is picked up in Orwell’s 1984, where people who fall out of favour become “non-persons” and are erased. It is a world where there is only one way to think, no dissent is permitted, as Orwell notes:

“It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live. It is a world in which every word and every thought is censored. . . . Even friendship can hardly exist when every . . . man is a cog in the wheels of despotism. Free speech is unthinkable…. You are not free to think for yourself. Your opinion on every subject of any conceivable importance is dictated for you.”

And like 1984, there needs to be someone to hate – in the case if ISIS, anyone different, including - let us not forget - other varieties of Islam.

There’s another interesting comparison, pointed out in an article entitled “Islamic State’s ‘medieval’ ideology owes a lot to revolutionary France” by Profession Kevin McDonald. He points out that the originator of the term “Islamic States”, Abul A’la Maududi, looked to the French Revolution for inspiration “which he believed offered the promise of a “state founded on a set of principles” as opposed to one based upon a nation or a people.”

“This universal citizen, separated from community, nation or history, lies at the heart of Maududi’s vision of “citizenship in Islam” (Islamic Way of Life). Just as the revolutionary French state created its citizens, with the citizen unthinkable outside the state, so too the Islamic state creates its citizens. This is at the basis of Maududi’s otherwise unintelligible argument that one can only be a Muslim in an Islamic state.”

And there are other similarities, which are just beginning to reach the outside world. Like the Terror, internal dissent is stamped out, but what counts as dissent is sifting as internal power groups vie for control. As one source revealed in June 2015:

“ISIS militants are divided into several competing groups: Some are extreme hardliners originally attracted by the harsh application of Sharia law; others are Syrian militants who now complain that they bore the brunt of the months-long fighting over the border town of Kobani and are reluctant to be used to reinforce ISIS units in neighbouring Iraq. Still others are Gulf Arabs jealous of the power held by hardcore Iraqi militants who form the inner coterie of the ISIS leadership around Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Gulf Arabs, many of whom are veterans from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, feel excluded from overall decision-making.”

There have been quarrels and executions internally. An example is the following:

“North African recruits say they have been used as cannon fodder, especially in the battle for Kobani. Last week, four Tunisian recruits who joined ISIS months ago were executed in the neighbourhood of Rumaila in central Raqqa, say opposition activists. They were described as traitors. Two other Tunisians, possibly along with family members, were executed in the Eddekhar neighbourhood of Raqqa.”

Jamie Dettmer comments:

“The quarrels and executions trigger more cycles of revenge as commanders and groups compete and jockey for power and survival.”

Some terror groups face an internal crisis and survive . As Martin Kramer observes: “All Islamist movements have such potential conflicts. Hezbollah, for example, was a coalition of Shiites from two very different regions of Lebanon (Bekaa versus South), but it never split because Iran mediated the differences.”

But Dettmer asks: ““The question is who within ISIS is mediating differences and whether internal conflict-resolution can contain the terror army’s mix of multiple groups and nationalities.”

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