THE MIND OF THE ISLAMIC STATE: ISIS AND THE IDEOLOGY OF THE CALIPHATE
By Robert Manne
Prometheus Books, $18, 175 pages
Ideology plays an important role in terrorists’ warfare. It provides them with a rationale, legitimacy and motivation for attacking their adversaries and a prism through which they perceive events affecting them, particularly the “illegitimate” actions of their enemies whom they are justified in killing because they have transgressed the tenets of their ideological framework.
Ideology is also an important recruiting tool to radicalize new adherents with a narrative to join their cause. It enables terrorists to justify their violence by displacing the responsibility for their violence onto their adversary governments, including even blaming the victims of their attacks.
Understanding the nature of the ideologies adopted by a variety of terrorist groups helps explain the “why and the how” of their warfare, which is one of the first steps required to effectively counter them physically and to formulate counter-ideologies that might weaken what are generally extremist ideologies and persuade their adherents to cease supporting them.
With al Qaeda and ISIS, the primary Islamist terrorist groups threatening Western countries (and their own as well), it is crucial to understand the militant jihadi ideology that drives them. In this regard, Robert Manne’s “The Mind of the Islamic State: ISIS and the Ideology of the Caliphate” is an important and well-argued book.
“The Mind of the Islamic State” traces the evolution of the jihadi ideology that drives such groups to justify their engagement in terrorist violence in pursuit of their extremist objectives. As the author points out, “Political ideologies take decades to form. The mind of the Islamic state represents the most recent iteration of an ideology that has been developing over the past 50 years.”
The book begins with an examination of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian author of “Milestones,” which was published in 1964, and which Gilles Kepel, a French expert on jihadism, calls “the Islamist version of Lenin’s ‘What Is to be Done?’ “
According to Qutb, for the Muslim faithful to overcome jahiliyya (ignorance) and to achieve hakimiyya (the sovereignty of God on earth), an Islamic vanguard is required to wage violent jihad “until the Day of Judgment has arrived.”
Other noteworthy jihadi tracts discussed by Mr. Manne, an emeritus professor at La Trobe University, in Melbourne, Australia, include the Egyptian militant Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj’s “The Neglected Duty,” which called upon Muslims to carry out jihad in order to re-create the caliphate destroyed in 1924, with a “true Islamic state” forming its “territorial nucleus.”
The political importance of Faraj’s treatise, the author explains, includes its influence on Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida’s current leader, who had merged his section of the Egyptian al-Jihad terrorist group with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda in mid-2001.
The Palestinian Abdullah Azzam’s “The Defense of the Muslim Lands” and “Join the Caravan,” which were published in the 1980s, were also important works, which greatly influenced Osama bin Laden, in particular.
Azzam wrote that jihad takes two forms: offensive jihad in foreign lands (such as the West) where “only Muslims or people who submit to Islam” would remain, and defensive jihad, where the “non-believers” who occupy Muslim lands (such as Israel or Afghanistan, which was ruled by a Russian-backed government at the time) are removed. Interestingly, Azzam had collaborated with bin Laden in Afghanistan, until he was assassinated under mysterious circumstances.
A final jihadi treatise the author discusses is the Egyptian Muhammad Khalil al-Hakim’s “The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma Will Pass,” which was published in 2004. Mr. Manne notes that “What is perhaps most chilling about [it] are the very many passages explaining forensically the political logic behind the infliction of extremist violence on the enemy.”
He adds: “None of this violence is random or meaningless. Its simple purpose is to ‘fill the enemy’s hearts with fear’ and to leave them with feelings of ‘hopelessness.’ ” Such brutality is also intended to attract new recruits to “join the jihadist caravan.” Attesting to this treatise’s importance, it greatly influenced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose terrorist group in Iraq had practiced such brutality in its warfare, and which laid the basis for the brutality of ISIS, its successor.
The current Salafi jihadist movement of al Qaeda and ISIS, the author points out, “which originated in Egypt during the late 1960s and the 1970s, and expanded during the 1980s in the war against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, represents the fusion of Salafi-inflected Egyptian revolutionary jihadism and politically awakened Saudi Wahhabism.” Now, these extremist ideologies, the author writes, find expression in al-Qaida’s Inspire magazine and in ISIS’ Dabiq online magazines.
Mr. Manne concludes, “Fifty years after Sayyid Qutb’s execution, this is what the tradition of Salafi jihadism, the mind of the Islamic State, has become. There are no more milestones to pass. We have finally reached the gates of hell.”
The author’s discussion of these extremist ideological foundations of al Qaeda and ISIS provides a valuable guide for understanding the centers of gravity that need to be addressed to effectively defeat terrorists at the multiple levels in which they operate, whether physically on the ground or virtually in cyberspace.
Joshua Sinai is a senior analyst at Kiernan Group Holdings (KGH) in Alexandria, Va.