Current Affairs History Military Politics

The Rise Of The Islamic State

A fighter from ISIS, now the Islamic State or IS, armed with a Croatian RBG-6 multiple grenade launcher. And no doubt thanking Croatia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States for their generosity (Íomhá: Brown Moses)

Reading Tom Holland’s stupendous (if controversial) history of the foundations of Islam, In the Shadow of the Sword, I was struck by how current events in the Middle East can find distant parallels in the political and religious convulsions of the sixth and seventh centuries. In particular the rise and spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, now simply the Islamic State (IS), echoes in some ways the part-legendary growth of Islam amongst the disparate peoples of the Arabian peninsula and the manner in which several Islamic states filled the void left by former powers in the region, from the Sasanian Empire to its Byzantium rival. I’m sure those parallels are not lost on history-conscious Arabs of the Moslem faith.

The emergence of IS is every bit as dramatic as some tabloids would have it. It is history in the making as the old, Western-imposed borders of the Middle East are rubbed out or redrawn. Like the Late Antiquity period it also makes for some interesting and unlikely allies. The Islamic State is currently fighting in Iraq against the central, Shia-majority government, while allied with a disparate set of partners, from Saddam-era Baathists to a rag-bag collection of (Sunni and some Shia) militias from local communities (I won’t use the term “tribe” to describe such communities with all its pejorative baggage that we know from anglocentric Irish history). Individual alliances are fluid, as often made as unmade, and there seems little trust anywhere. Meanwhile it is also combating the military forces of the recognised, autonomous Kurdish region in north-east of Iraq and the self-declared but de facto autonomous Kurdish region in the north-east of Syria. Of course the Syrian Kurds are also fighting some Syrian Opposition groups in their own country. Groups who are also fighting IS. And this while all three are battling against the Syrian government (though in some places the Islamic State and the Assad dictatorship in Damascus seem to have agreed some ceasefires in order to secure local territories or face down rival groupings).

The internecine conflict in Syria is slowly spilling over into Lebanon where IS also has a presence. And Lebanon, at least in the form of the state-within-a-state that is Hezbollah, is supplying the cutting edge of Assad’s fight back against the disunited rebel opposition. Islamic State fighters and Lebanese soldiers have been battling each other in recent weeks on the northern border, though IS seems on the back foot (for the moment). Sooner or later the Islamic State will subsume or suppress all of the anti-Assad groups in Syria. Until then they continue their complex game of fight/no-fight with the Syrian military. Of course when IS becomes the Syrian Opposition it will also gain more of the arms and munitions taken from the donations bequeathed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others to their favoured “rebels”.

So we will witness more Islamic militants armed with former Yugoslavian arms from Croatian stockpiles shipped by Jordan and paid for by Saudi Arabia in a deal negotiated by the United States. Which of course will be used, if possible, against all of the above (well, maybe not the Croatians, unless you want to include Bosnia-Herzegovina in the approaching Gotterdammerung). Meanwhile Russian jets, flown by Iranian pilots, are dropping American bombs on Islamic State convoys in the name of the Iraqi Air Force to support troops from Kurdish militias that both the Iraqi and Iranian governments regard as enemies but which the Americans regard as close allies.

Good luck to the historian who has to make sense of all this five hundred years from now.

15 comments on “The Rise Of The Islamic State

  1. an lorcánach

    i was thinking more closer to home….

    patrick cockburn on rté radio one this morning – ‘The Jihadis Return : ISIS and the new Sunni uprising’


    • I shall certainly be getting that Cockburn book. For all the criticisms still a keen eye on developments in the Middle East.

      I wouldn’t be over-worried about “blow-back” in Ireland. Not this side of two or three generations of failed multiculturalism if a more integrationist approach is not taken to social and community cohesion in the coming decades. The British, French and Germans have far more to worry about in the short term having adopted segregation under the guise of multiculturalism.

      Hotheads and extremists are everywhere. Fortunately they are more rare than common. And age usually brings wisdom.

      As for Mark Humphreys… Don’t get me started!! 😉


      • an lorcánach

        thanks very much for that, sionnach: i wouldn’t be so sure – the economy here is based solely on profit, engendering huge competition for low wage jobs at one end, and on the other the naked neoliberal opportunism in exploiting the failed education systen, importing graduates in the sciences and modern languages – Russian, Urdu and Arabic – can’t be many Leaving Cert results out today on those – Gaeilge is up in numbers but non-education/language ‘indigenous’ private businesses aren’t interested in providing corner-shops, bookshops, fish’n’chip shops, chemists, just ordinary shops available through the medium of Irish, seemingly….


        • True.

          I read somewhere that Irish-speakers find it easier to learn Arabic than English-speakers. Must find that reference.


          • an lorcánach

            haven’t heard that – i’d imagine increasing number of arab and british-indian muslim population in dublin, cork, galway…. doubtless getting leaving cert results today (with irish dispensation perhaps)


  2. 500 years from now it will look like this: Ordo Ab Chao. Global bankers used the weakening State sovereignty of the superpowers (their doing)for war profiteering at one level, and created an internal/external enemy to help centralize some totalitarian power as the “savior.”

    As we hear on the news in the US “IS is coming for us next, after they kill all the Christians in the Middle East” Why wont the US intervene decisively? Because the US created the situation. Why? Because all the players are pawns on Zbigniew Brzezinski’s chess board.


  3. john cronin

    I would suggest a rather better book: “The Sword of the Prophet” by Serge Trifcovic (ok, he;s a Serb, so a certain level of anti-Mozzie sentiment has to be factored in – Get it on on Amazon for £5. Read it. Then read it again. Then read it a third time. Then buy 10 copies for your friends, and tell them to buy ten copies for their friends.

    Then read Richard Spencer.

    The Prophet Mohammed was basically L Ron Hubbard with an army. Islam was no more than the ideological wing of Arab imperialism. The reason that the mid east IS predominantly Moslem is that the Christians were massacred. ISIS are doing no more than what the founder of the ghastly cult told em to do.


    • Looked that up. I have to say Srđa Trifković’s bio doesn’t fill one with confidence for an even-handed approach to Islamic history. Read through some of the book reviews and I wouldn’t be as pessimistic as some seem to be on the development of Islam. It is a faith several hundred years younger than Christianity and look where that religion was in the 1500s. Five hundred years from now Islam could be to Arabs what Christianity is to the average European: a cultural or historical phenomenon and little more than that.

      The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are English-speaking because of events three or four hundred years ago. Everyone has historical baggage. Hopefully Arabs will overcome theirs.

      That said ISIS/IS is a dreadful movement. An Islamic Khmer Rouge. The stories emerging from Iraq match those in Syria. Barbarisms as ideology.


  4. john cronin

    “I wouldn’t be over-worried about “blow-back” in Ireland. Not this side of two or three generations of failed multiculturalism if a more integrationist approach is not taken to social and community cohesion in the coming decades.”

    Yeah. You’ll change your tune when your daughter is gang raped by Ahmed and his inbred cousins. Google in Charlene Downes of Blackpool when you get an idle moment.


    • That is a tragic story but I’m sure similar can be found amongst indigenous British or European communities with no immigrant populations. Disgusting attitudes and actions are not confined to immigrants alone. Plenty of home-grown monsters too who make all sorts of social, cultural or religious excuses for their actions. Certainly crimes in immigrant communities provide greater challenges. And far too much leniency is made for “cultural differences” (domestic abuse, forced marriages, female circumcisions, etc.). However the broad answer for that is integration not segregation which is essentially the hallmark of multiculturalism.


    • Speaking of inbred cousins……the royals have kept company of strange bedfellows too who happened to be fond of forcing themselves on others, normally kids.

      I cant help but feel that this ISIS carry on is in reality an attempt by certain quarters to organise and effect an attack on Iran in the near future. After all they are a ‘rogue nation’ by western and western backed regimes. Furthermore ISIS were involved in trying to overthrow another ‘rogue’ in Syria and were heavily backed by weapons etc of western nations in doing this.
      Cameron and co can feign concern all they like but their security agencies know exactly whats going on and whats the plan. It is no coincidence Al maliki was cordial with Iran and perhaps too cordial for the west to tolerate?

      Just like the west engineered trouble on the doorstep of another nation they dont like, russia, they are probably engineering the same for Iran.


      • Maybe but ISIS/Islamic State is more or less at war with Iran and Hezbollah as well as Iran’s Iraqi allies/proxies. The United States and Iran are unofficially co-operating locally in Iraq to defeat ISIS/IS. The rise of IS has made for strange allies.


  5. ar an sliabh

    It always so hard to look at Islam today and compare it to what it was in its early time. Alexandria, for example, was under moslem rule but tolerated all religions, including pagans. In the early Islamic world, women could be writers and doctors and science and mathematics were dominant endeavors. The European “Renaissance” was, in a large part, brought on by the knowledge and ideas brought back from the Middle East. What they call “Western Ideology” today is actually Islamic ideololgy from back then en retour. Right now, unfortunately, the “West” is at war with modern Islam, like it or not. As for the language, Arabic is, like English, an easy language to learn, but hard to be truly literate in. As for things to come, we will all just have to hang on and see where it goes. Inch’Allah.


    • All true. The ISIS/Islamic State represents the worse aspects of modern Islam, a Moslem Khmer Rouge and many times a greater threat than Al-Qaeda ever was. However it did not emerge from nothing. The West created the conditions that gave it root. No shahs, no Saudi princes, no presidents-for-life, no colonially imposed borders, no Occupied Palestine, etc. no ISIS/IS.


  6. Some of the comments here seem to be positing a Muslim=Arab assumption when globally Arabs are actually a minority in the worldwide Muslim community (as a result of historical expansion in Africa and Asia) Islam traditionally was highly multiracial and multicultural.The lack of racism in mainstream Islam was what led Malcolm X to repudiate the Nation of Islam movement in favour of mainstream Sunni Islam.


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