24 Aug 2014

Militants, extremists… or murderous thugs?

The US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel is one of the more personable administration figures populating Washington these days.

Usually this former senator from Nebraska in the flat heartland of America is relaxed and resists hyperbole.

But when talking about IS and their extraordinary challenge to Middle East security a few days ago he looked shaken.

Twelve years after 9/11 he and America are once again talking about a struggle that will last a generation.

The brutal butchery of James Foley has leavened the brew of fear and panic to which western leaders are now having to respond to in the tail of their summer holiday.



The speed with which IS, or ISIS or ISIL or the caliphate (you pick) defeated Iraq’s over-funded and under-motivated army in the north of the country was scary.

Not least because it turns out that all those billions spent on creating a new Iraqi military were an absurd waste of money.

But despite this summer of fear and loathing in northern Iraq we should remember that terrorism of this sort is above all theatre that relies on grotesque extremes to make the point.

Genghis Khan would have been proud of the killers of James Foley.

Here politicians are talking about the need for new laws to curb extremist ideologies and, as Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond put it today a “barbaric ideology threatening us at home”.

By doing so he is doing them a favour. The thugs speaking on behalf of the caliphate love the notion of a civilisational clash and so it seems do many of our leaders here.

This brutal war is not about ideology nor is it about Islam.

From what we can judge most of these thugs seem to precious little knowledge of the faith for whom they profess to wage war.

Their actions are more about psychology than ideology. Or perhaps psychopathy. By calling themselves Islamic State they have created a lie since they are neither a state nor very Islamic.

But they have also created a conundrum. Their name is a virtual invitation to talk about this conflict in grand civilizational terms.

Why are there not more leaders from Islamic states in the region declaring their outrage that the name of Islam has been high-jacked? Calling them militants or extremists is also misleading.

It implies they have a set of beliefs which exist on a sliding scale from moderate to extreme. Calling them hooligans with knives and guns would be more accurate. Or murderous thugs.

In movie terms this is the Four Lions, the satirical drama about a group of would be terrorists from Bradford meets Clockwork Orange, the Stanley Kubrick classic about a gang of cruel young men.

We journalists and the politicians have something in common with the caliphate “nutters”.

We love the big picture. We revel in the drama unfolding on interactive maps that show the tentacles of the “Islamic State” snaking and swelling like a hydra through the sands of the Middle East and north Africa.

Even though IS is a threat to the region we shouldn’t dignify their war with grand historical notions.

And our governments should insist that the regional leaders who are supposedly our allies step up to the plate and do their bit to call out the so-called caliphate.

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7 reader comments

  1. British National Defence League says:

    The only comment we wish to make, is on the grounds of not reporting the correct person who made the statement, as these words are not that of Philip Hammond, but an echo of the statement made by Nigel Farage early on in the week.

  2. Michael Lee says:

    They have nothing to do at all with religion. The interesting fact is that the USA has been arming, funding & training these terrorists in Turkey & Jordan and they are being used to destabilise the Middle East, splitting Iraq into 3 pieces and trying to destroy Syria in the same way as they were used to destroy Libya

  3. Sean McGrath says:

    Well they are definitely young men who are poisoned by a frightening and medieval ideology… If the guy who brutally murdered James Foley was born and raised in Britain.. Where did he learn and from who that summary barbaric execution by beheading was acceptable?
    There is a problem with Islam .. And this idea of jihad… So although the vast majority of Muslims are law abiding and peaceful, within their faith there is space for more extreme elements who interpret Islam violently, and so will kill other Muslims and people of other faiths and none.

  4. Alan says:

    So it’s western interests responsibility to continue invading sovereign countries? ISIS appears to be the direct result of western/Saudi/Israeli meddling and now we are to face decades of further conflict? Who are to be the beneficiaries of such misery, the weapons industry, monarchical claimants, strategic planners or just plain war profiteers?

  5. Philip says:

    It’s good to see some common sense written about this. Our politicians’ reaction is typical grandstanding. Our problem is that the media can only really concentrate on one issue at a time and tend to oversimplify, exaggerate and often mislead thereby. There seems to be a continuing desire to polarise matters, to build up “the enemy” (whoever they may be at any point in time) as fearsome, evil and “a real and present danger”. Naturally we overreact. One reason why there are so many young British Muslims in Iraq & Syria is because of British overreaction, scapegoating & oversimplification of issues in the past. Just think about all the discussion about “Britishness”. If I was a young British Muslim, I’d see much of that as an attack on my beliefs and customs. You might reasonably say that if people chosen to live here, they should abide by our beliefs and customs. But we can’t expect that to happen overnight. It may well take several generations for Muslims coming from a deeply religious, often backward, rural environment to adapt to British culture. You may say, they shouldn’t be coming here. But they didn’t invite us over there in the first place.
    I agree that the IS – indeed, any organisation that claims to follow Allah or God – is Muslim/Christian in name only if the encourage or require their adherents to kill those who don’t hold the same beliefs. The Koran differs little from the Bible in this. Indeed, far from going to heaven, those who deliberately kill others will be heading the other way (always assuming you believe any of that stuff).
    I also believe that we should stop feeling it’s our job to intervene in some way. Yes – we helped to create the problem in Iraq. But as Yugoslavia and to an extent Syria show, when the boss who holds the country together goes, these tensions which his heavy hand has repressed, boil over. Western/Christian countries have a very limited role to play here. This is essentially a middle east & Muslim problem and we should be spending our time being less strident and doing more to get the Saudis, Qataris, Iranians and Turks to sort out this mess. In practical terms, they can do a vast amount more than they have been doing – and in many cases, they could stop doing what they’ve been doing, which has undoubtedly done at least as much as the US & UK to create these problems.
    Muslims in the UK also need to have their voices heard. Too many in the media seek a radical Muslim voice to reinforce prejudices, rather than the many more quieter voices calling for young people not to become embroiled in this conflict, or to use violence as a way of furthering their religion. I’d like to see C4 doing more to promote peace, dialogue and common sense. It might bb less dramatic, but it might also help people see things in perspective……something much of the nation seems to severely lack at present.

  6. Ajay Singh says:

    It’s almost 13 years too late to prosecute this problem in any sensible way. The wrecking ball that Bush let loose in Iraq (instead of Saudi Arabia) has a wildly indiscriminate swing.

  7. coreluminous says:

    ISIS are a mercenary army whose orders are to spread terror by terrorising unarmed civilians. Their MO is exactly the same as the many Police Militia of South America in the 1960s, 70’s, 80s. There is a University associated with this well established pattern. It was once called “The School of The Americas : Fort Benning”.

    The Islamic ‘label’ they use fits into the narrative of TWAT (The War Against Terror) a political drama for public consumption that is used as cover to justify the violence of the hierarchy of Power.

    They will be ‘vanquished’ when the time is deemed appropriate. They will ‘vanish’ for a while, only to re-appear elsewhere, as required.

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