Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Defeating the IS/ISIS/ISIL Caliphate?

Giving Baghdadi more time as caliph might only make him more plausible in the role and allow him to draw more fighters to his state. If that is true, one concerned Western scholar told me, we would be wise to kill him fast. Right now only an infinitesimal number of Muslims have sworn fealty to him. The biggest danger is letting that number grow. Once he becomes a popular figure instead of a divisive one, his death will have spillover effects.

A balanced and effective approach, then, would be to kill him as fast as possible and to use Kurdish and Shia proxies to arrest his state’s expansion. By confining U.S. action to surgical raids and proxy war, we might avoid accidentally anointing him or his successor Grand Poobah of the Mujahedin.

It’s also true that killing one caliph can extinguish a whole line.

ISIS almost certainly has a successor in mind. But the supply of caliphs is not infinite, according to some Baghdadi-aligned Islamic scholars studied by Bunzel. One of those scholars, the Bahraini cleric Turki al-Bin’ali, cites a saying attributed to Muhammad that predicts a total of twelve caliphs before the end of the world. Bin’ali considers only seven of the caliphs of history legitimate. That makes Baghdadi the eighth out of twelve—and in some Sunni traditions, the name of the twelfth and final caliph, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, has already been foretold.

These beliefs would be merely peculiar, if the punctilious nature of ISIS did not suggest that its leaders believe in the literal truth of prophecy and will act accordingly.

If ISIS scholars are right, we could be as few as four air strikes away from forcing the caliphate to find and appoint a physically robust man named Muhammad ibn Abdullah, who has both eyes and no missing limbs. The end of the world may be coming, one Hellfire missile at a time.

Pic - "Nevertheless, the perception that the Islamic State is something new and different and aberrational compared with the Islamic-supremacist threat we’ve been living with for three decades is wrong, perhaps dangerously so."