ISIS and its mission: Religious cleansing, genocide & destruction of the past

Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent scholar residing in İstanbul, with a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans and the Greater Middle East. He tweets at @theerimtanangle



Islamic State


EU, Iraq, Mass media, Military, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Security, Syria, UK, USA, War

The Islamic State has become part and parcel of global news cycles, but its goals remain little discussed. Instead, Westerners focus on determining whether or not IS should be understood as representing Islam or rather as an aberration of the faith.

Ever since the terror
group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, conquered the city of Mosul
and wide swathes of territory straddling both Syria and Iraq in
the summer of last year, the West and its mainstream media have
been near-obsessed with this clear and imminent danger to various
countries and populations in the Middle East – all the way from
Turkey down to Saudi Arabia. In spite of this really rather
localized threat, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (aka Caliph Ibrahim) now
even seems able to exert a certain influence on the 2016 US
presidential elections, arguably as a result of the cunning use
of the internet and social media by the group and the West’s
ready response to IS propaganda videos and other materials
disseminated online. According to a recent WSJ/NBC Poll, 27
percent of Republicans cite national security as their top
priority, compared with only 8 percent in 2012.

Pentagon boosts alert level at military bases following ISIS

In this way, the faraway reality on the ground in parts of Syria
and Iraq appears to scare many conservative Americans (as well as
undoubtedly many Europeans) out of their wits. On May 3, for
instance, a blatant attempt to needle Muslim sensibilities and
provoke some kind of Islamist reaction succeeded in its goal when
two suspected Islamist gunmen attacked the Inaugural Muhammad Art
Exhibit Contest 2015 in Garland, a city northeast of
Dallas, TX. The event even included a $10,000 prize for the best
cartoon of Mohammed. The attackers wounded a security guard
before they were shot dead themselves by other security guards.
The two men, subsequently identified as Elton Simpson, 31, and
Nadir Soofi, 34, from Phoenix, Arizona, were apparently trying to
do the bidding of Islamophobes (or racists, if you will) like
Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders present at the event. The mere
fact that this event, organized by the American Freedom Defense
Initiative (AFDI), spent $10,000 on security, employing 40
guards, seems to indicate that pictorial representations of the
Prophet of Islam were but a pretext for stirring up controversy
and a violent reaction.

Such isolated and obviously deluded terrorist acts carried out in
the name of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed all but reinforce the
impression that Caliph Ibrahim and his IS constitute a viable
risk to the West and its civilization. And compounding matters,
the Islamic State cunningly participates in this game too: on May
5, AP reported that an “audio statement on the extremist
group’s Al Bayan radio station said that ‘two soldiers of the
caliphate’ carried out Sunday’s attack and promised the group
would deliver more attacks in the future.”

Religious cleansing genocide

The German writer and journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer, who actually
did the unthinkable and spent 10 days in the Islamic State as the
Caliph’s guest, declares matter-of-factly that the IS “is
much stronger than we think. They have conquered an area which is
bigger than Great Britain. Every day, hundreds of new
enthusiastic fighters are arriving.
” Whereas an Islamophobe
like Wilders sees the IS as representative of Islam, Todenhöfer
regards the Caliph’s version of the Muslim faith as incompatible
with the tenets of the Koran, and antithetical to the commonly
accepted interpretation of Islam.

The German writer literally says that the “IS has as much to
do with Islam as rape has to do with love.”
describes the eerie sense of normality pervading daily life under
the Caliph. He actually calls the IS a totalitarian regime bent
on imposing its own version of Islam and applying what he calls a
“strategy of religious cleansing,” clarifying that this
constitutes “their official philosophy. They are talking
about 500 million people who have to die.”
contends that the population of the Iraqi part of the Caliph’s
lands is more or less resigned to IS rule, as a kind of lesser of
two evils.

READ MORE: ISIS sex atrocities: Child rape, forced
virginity surgeries exposed in UN report

The Shiite-led Baghdad government has over the past decade
applied a strict policy of discrimination, and has thus managed
to alienate the Sunni Muslims living in the north of the country
now under IS control. Christians and other minorities, such as
the Yazidis, but also Shiite Muslims, are directly targeted by
the IS. On May 1, for instance, the IS killed 300 Yazidi captives
in the Tal Afar district near the city of Mosul. In fact,
Todenhöfer states that the IS’s ultimate aim is a form of mass
genocide: the IS wants to kill “all non-believers and
apostates and enslave their women and children. All Shiites,
Yazidi, Hindus, atheists and polytheists should be killed . . .
Hundreds of millions of people are to be eliminated in the course
of this religious cleansing. All moderate Muslims who promote
democracy should be killed [as well]. Because, from the IS
perspective, they promote human laws over the laws of God.”

In their determination to cleanse the world of all signs of
unbelief, the Caliph’s men have also turned their attention to
the numerous monuments found in Iraq.

Before the Caliph’s forces invaded and captured Mosul, Iraq’s
second-largest city with about 2 million residents and capital of
the Nineveh province, it was a multi-ethnic and multi-religious
community going back as far as 6,000 BC. Following the IS’s entry
into Iraq, the news agency AFP reported that “at least four
shrines to Sunni Arab or Sufi figures have been demolished, while
six Shiite mosques, or husseiniyahs, have also been destroyed,
across militant-held parts of northern Nineveh province.”

On July 4, 2014, for instance, the IS destroyed and looted the
graves of Prophet Yunus (corresponding to the Biblical Jonah) and
Prophet Shayth (the Biblical Seth, revered in Islam and
Christianity as Adam’s third son). Twenty days later, the
attendant mosque was completely destroyed by means of explosives.
The building had previously served as a Nestorian-Assyrian
Church. An IS member at the time declared that “the mosque
had become a place for apostasy, not prayer.”
But in
addition to Shia and saint-worshipping Sunni Muslims, only a
decade ago, about 60,000 Christians were living in Mosul as well,
but August 2014 marked the first time in 1,600 years that no
Sunday Mass was held in Mosul. In stark contrast, now the city
has a strictly Sunni Muslim population living under the strict
rules imposed by the IS.

Punishing Shirk with gusto

At the same time, Mosul harbors nearly 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000
registered archaeological sites. Late last February, the IS
posted a video online showing how some of its men rampaged
through the Mosul Museum with pickaxes and sledgehammers,
toppling, defacing, and breaking ancient statues. The video also
shows an IS member declaring that “we were ordered by our
Prophet to take down idols and destroy them. These ruins that are
behind me, they are idols and statues that people in the past
used to worship instead of Allah.”
Then, in the first week
of the following month, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
of Iraq released a statement indicating that IS fighters had
bulldozed the ancient Seleucid fortress city of Hatra, dating
back to the 3rd (or 2nd) century BC and a UNESCO World Heritage

On 7 March, UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova said in a
statement that “the destruction of Hatra marks a turning
point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing under way
in Iraq.”
Bokova even called this “cultural
of Iraq a “war crime,” adding that
“there is absolutely no political or religious justification
for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.”

Then, beginning in the middle of the same month and continuing
into April, the IS destroyed the ancient city of Nimrud, 30
kilometers south of Mosul. On April 11, the group released a
brief video on social media showing the destruction of what
experts emphatically confirm is the Northwest Palace at Nimrud,
built in the ninth century BC by the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal
II. IS fighters used sledgehammers, a bulldozer, and even
explosives to destroy the remains of the ancient Assyrian city.
One of the Caliph’s men addresses the camera in the short video
saying that “whenever we take control of a piece of land, we
remove the symbols of polytheism and spread monotheism in

The chosen people

This orgy of destruction all but indicates that the IS version of
Islam is very close, if not actually identical, to the so-called
Wahhabi version of the faith practiced in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabi
believers regard all other Muslims, whether they adhere to the
Sunni or the Shia line of the faith, as Mushrik or perpetrators
of the sin of Shirk, meaning idolatry or polytheism. As a result,
Wahhabi Islam relies on a strictly puritanical understanding of
monotheism (Tawhid) and rejects any form of intercession by
saintly figures and/or other divinely inspired people or objects.
Hence, the group’s wanton destruction of shrines, graves and
traces of pre-Islamic cultures (corresponding to the era of
Jahiliyyah when humanity was living in “ignorance of the
Divine Law,”
as worded by the Muslim Brotherhood’s legendary
leader Sayyid Qutb).

‘War crime’: ISIS bulldozes ancient Assyrian city in Iraq

Another striking aspect of the IS version of Islam appears to be
the enthusiasm with which the Caliph’s followers practice their
religion, execute unbelievers, and destroy what they regard
detractions of their one god. The eye-witness Todenhöfer, for
one, speaks of “an almost ecstatic enthusiasm that I have
never encountered in any other warzone”.
The Caliph’s
project inspires his followers with a kind of zeal that is hard
to grasp for outsiders. It seems that the IS fighters regard
themselves as the chosen people, chosen by their god to complete
the Prophet Muhammad’s work. Even though they reject any form of
intercession as a matter of principle, IS members clearly regard
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the one tangible human link between true
believers (i.e. themselves) and the next world (inhabited by
Allah and his angels), the one link guiding them on their
cherry-picking mission to find justification and legitimacy in
the Koran and the Hadith (or records of the actions and literal
words of the Prophet Mohammed).

While Abu Bakr does call upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to
his caliphate, the IS version of Islam remains a narrow
interpretative enterprise highly unlikely to appeal to wide
swathes of believers. Caner Dagli, assistant professor in
Religious Studies at the College of the Holy Cross, states
convincingly that what distinguishes the IS view of Islam from
other interpretations and explanations of the faith is its
“exclusivism.” The Caliph and his IS fighters see
themselves as the chosen people, as the only ones able to grasp
and understand the true meaning of Islam – namely, that is their
duty to destroy the House of War (Dar al-Harb) and convert the
whole world to the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam, to use classical
Islamic terminology), hence the outrageous threats to the US and
Europe sometimes uttered by some zealous IS members.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Leave a comment