Understanding ISIS

To try and understand the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS – also known as the Islamic State) in the context of the current Middle Eastern geopolitics is a challenge. The story is riddled with puzzles and contradictions that might defy even experts in Middle Eastern history and politics. Nonetheless, those concerned with the carnage and human suffering in the region will want to try and understand what lies behind all this pandemonium. The Western mainstream media focuses on the brutalities of ISIS, whipping up emotions and passions by displaying gruesome beheadings of ISIS prisoners. Behind this savagery lies a complex story that few journalists try to analyse. This is an attempt to offer an alternative narrative.

ISIS and the West

The first conundrum is the relationship between the ISIS and the West. ISIS has been around for quite some time, though it has become better known in 2013-14 on account of its barbaric and brutal acts of beheading its captives, including alleged Muslim apostates. However, only when some Europeans and Americans were beheaded did these actions send shock waves to their countries.

Today the United States is bombing ISIS in the Levant, but ISIS was its own creation, Whistleblower Edward Snowden (the former employee at US National Security Agency), has revealed that the British and American intelligence and Israel’s Mossad worked together to create the ISIS.[i] This is nothing new; it is a deeply ingrained axiom of Anglo-American foreign policy – create one devil to fight another; then fight with the devil you created once the other devil is routed. This is what they did when they created Al Qaida during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Under ‘Operation Cyclone’, the US provided financial aid and weapons to the Mujahideen from 1979 to 1989 through Pakistan’s Intelligence Services.[ii] Its leader, Osama bin Laden, had his own agenda of course. It is one thing to set out to pervert a movement, it is quite another to keep them on the track you want them on. When bin Laden’s agenda conflicted with the Anglo-Saxon-NATO designs, he had to be eliminated – in fact beheaded. ISIS learnt these gruesome methods from the US. According to documents released by Snowden, the ISIS leader – cleric Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi – was trained by US and Mossad.[iii] Baghdadi now has his own agenda (like Osama earlier); these do not fully comply with the Anglo-Saxon agenda, and so he too must go.

Israel as the cryptostate of the United States

To understand the Middle East you have to know that Israel is effectively (as distinct from constitutionally) the fifty-first state of the United States. And what’s more, it is the strongest single state – even stronger than New York or California. The fact that it is located geographically in the Middle East is a product of history and the post-Second World War geopolitics.

One must understand that the relationship between Israel and the US is symbiotic. Each needs the other. The US needs Israel for its own long term strategic interests in the region and globally. Israel is the outpost that keeps the wolves at bay; it is a better for the wolves (Iran, Arabs) to attack Israel than the American mainland. [iv] And Israel needs the US for money, guns and importantly a veto in the UN Security Council on any resolution that imperils Israeli and US security interests. Whilst the Arabs fight one another in their seemingly never ending Sunni-Shia fitna, Israel can go on with its colonization of Palestine lands until it can – it hopes with American complicity – realize its goal of greater Israel, the Oded Yinon Plan.[v]

The ‘Fourth-Generation Warfare’

Bernard Lewis is a well-known expert (the ‘doyen’) on Middle Eastern and Islamic studies. He is also the founder of the ‘Fourth-Generation Warfare’ (4GW).[vi] His advice to the West, stripped of scholarly veneer, is actually quite simple: keep the wolf out of the door; fight proxy wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, and the South generally; use the media as a tool to provide ‘truths’ to the masses; employ agents instead of our own soldiers – fight by proxy; use money to buy people, buy governments, buy entire nations.[vii]

Well-known ‘real politick’ gurus like Henry Kissinger, who guided US foreign policy during the ‘Cold War’, walked the talk of Lewis. In 1975 during a conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Turkey and two Turkish and Cypriot diplomats, Kissinger admitted illegally supporting the military junta in Spain, Greece, and Brazil. He told his hosts that he ‘worked around’ an official arms embargo then in effect. Also, the US exempted the military government in Brazil from crimes of torture to allow it to receive U.S. aid. These post-facto revelations are now documented and released by whistle blowers Assange, Manning, and Snowden.[viii]

All the above is a necessary background information in order to understand ISIS. This is part of 4GW. This kind of realpolitick is the quintessence of mainly Anglo-Saxon imperial diplomacy. As George Carlin the American stand-up comedian put it… political language has been invented to rationalize the crimes … the CIA does not assassinate people – it neutralizes threat; drones do not kill civilians, because all drone targets are suspected militants; etc etc…

Nice sounding words like democracy, good governance, and human rights have nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with ‘national security’. Nor, for that matter, something easily dispensable – like ‘truth’. Tony Blair and George Bush alleged that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (i.e. nuclear weapons) without offering any evidence, and so Saddam Hussein had to go. We now know that this was a lie, known to be so even when it was uttered in the British Parliament, the US Congress, and the United Nations.

Iraq is now part of the spoils of war for ISIS.

The Empire and the ISIS Backlash

As I said earlier, ISIS is West’s creation, just as Osama bin Laden before ISIS. They were creations of the American, British and Israeli intelligence to service the needs of ‘national security’ – an idiom of foreign policy that, potentially, justifies practically everything from spying on nationals to heads of foreign governments, including allies within NATO. The US National Security Agency (NSA) has total surveillance of everything that they are interested in on a ‘non-attribution bases.[ix]   According to a slide released by Snowden on 5 April 2013, the NSA had 117,675 active surveillance targets able to access real-time data on live voice, text, e-mail, and Internet chat services, in addition to analyzing stored data.[x]

Under the pretext of ‘national security’ what the Empire has created are totalitarian Orwellian states.[xi]

The problem with creating monsters is that the monsters have their own agendas – arguably, with higher ‘values’ than their creators. For the USA it is ‘national security’; for Osama and Baghdadi it is the restoration of ‘Islamic virtue’. I am not talking about ISIS’s methods of warfare, which is a separate subject; I am talking about their ‘vision’, their equivalent of ‘national security’, or whatever ‘national’ means in the language of the Caliphate

Don’t get me wrong. I am not defending Osama bin Laden or ISIS. All I am saying is that if the US, Britain and Israel were using bin Laden and are using Al Baghdadi for their own ends, the latter too were (are) fighting for their ends. They are creating space (geographic) to buy time – time so that they could advance their own objectives and their visions of the future.

This opens up a big question: what exactly is the ISIS fighting for? Is the ambition of restoring the Caliphate their primary objective? This appears to be the case if you take the concept of ‘Islamic State’ and their declarations at face value. I am inclined to take the view that ISIS is not a homogeneous organization with a single ideology or purpose. The reason Al Baghdadi founded it in 2006 may not be the reason thousands of young Europeans, Americans and others joined ISIS in 2013-14.

I wish to explain my own journey to understand the religious complexities of our time. I live in Oxford. There is an excellent museum – the Ashmolean – which has a vast collection of artifacts from ancient civilizations, including medieval Islam. I have tried to understand Islam through perusing through these and through reading books on Islam of which I now have a fair collection. Without greater familiarity with the beliefs, texts and practices it is difficult to know what is at stake in the conflicts with any certainty. Ijtihad (honest disagreements on the interpretation of the Qur’an in current circumstances) is often met with allegations of fitna (dissension or simply trouble making), and bid’ah (innovation in faith rituals or worship) leading to violence – like Wahhabis’ destruction of Sufi sites perceived as ‘innovations’ in worship.

Despite these complexities, one thing has recently become clear to me. It is important because it is totally missing in the Western mainstream Islamophobic narrative. I find it fascinating that during the European dark age (500-1100 AD), Islamic civilization was blossoming, and when the Enlightenment finally dawned in Europe, it came through Islam’s classical writings and Islamic science.

But then came the Crusades .The Ottoman conquest of Eastern Europe had shaken the Christians. Then, for nearly 200 years – from 1030 onwards – the West advanced with much passion and rage, to reverse the Islamic supremacy. In the Fourth Crusade (1202 -04) Constantinople was attacked and its riches expropriated. This was the time of the Knights Templar financial innovations that tapped into the East`s gold and silver hoards. The Fourth Crusade was significant for it transferred the monetary center of the world from Byzantine and the Arabs to the West. The Crusaders adopted the conquered area`s gold bezant coins with Arabic legends.

Islam still seemed to block Europe’s further expansion. Europe could not destroy Islam as a religion, nor the Islamic empire’s vast trading network. Europe attacked the Islamic periphery first – in the “Far East” the Dutch took over the spice trade in areas ruled by Muslims. The British displaced centuries of old Muslim rule in India. In 1830 France captured Algeria. And so on and so forth. It was a relentless march of European colonisation and Islamic economic and political displacement. By 1914-18, the European domination of the world was complete. The Ottoman Empire was broken up into an array of successor states in the Arab Middle East and Turkey.

The point is that the Eurocentric historical and contemporary narrative that casts Islam in the worst light is now backfiring. Europe created a ‘Festung Europa’ into which immigrants, especially those with strong cultures of their own, have not been well integrated. Islamophobia and the ‘othering’ of Muslims is used by the ruing classes in America and Europe (the political class and global corporate capital) to advance their own interest of accumulating wealth and power in the name of ‘national security’. This, I argue, together with unemployment and racial discrimination and humiliation, is what fuels the energy of young Europeans and Americans of Islamic persuasion (even if nominal), not the promise of Caliphate by Al Baghdadi that drives them to the wars in Iraq, Syria, and the Lebanon.

The 4GW could be a hundred years war

The ‘Fourth-Generation Warfare’ is upon us. But there is a backlash against the West. The US, Europe and Israel are profiting from the internecine conflicts amongst the people of Islam, but these are still early days of the 4GW. The Empire is not calling all the shots, nor is it in control of the complex dynamics of 4GW. Notwithstanding its hoard of weapons of mass destruction and Internet surveillance over its own as well as other populations, the political classes in the West and their agents in the South have ignited a war they cannot win because class exploitation and national oppression is not a sustainable strategy.


Yash Tandon, Oxford, November 7, 2014 ©


[i] http://www.globalresearch.ca/isis-leader-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-trained-by-israeli-mossad-nsa-documents-reveal/5391593

[ii] Carlotta Gall, “What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden”. http://www.nytimes.com. The New York Times Company, March 20, 2014

[iii] http://www.globalresearch.ca/isis-leader-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-trained-by-israeli-mossad-nsa-documents-reveal/5391593

[iv] 9/11 was the first time that the US was physically attacked, and it shook the nation. The nation has not recovered from the shock for 15 years, nor is this likely. Drone attack others, fight proxy wars in other countries, so that America is safe. This is the meaning of ‘national security’.

[v] See http://www.globalresearch.ca/greater-israel-the-zionist-plan-for-the-middle-east/5324815

[vi] To read more on this, see Tony Corn 2006, World War IV as Fourth-Generation Warfare, Hoover Institution ; http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review

[vii] For a deeper analysis of Lewis, see Edward Said, Orientalism, 1978, Vintage Books. In this brilliant book, Said exposed the intentions, modalities, deceptions, and ideological and academic cover of the Empire in the countries of the South.

[viii] See: Chris Hedges ‘The Death of Truth’ , 2013; http://www.truthdig.com/dig/item/the_death_of_truth_20130505/

[ix] See Jacob Appelbaum, ‘To Protect and Infect, the Militarization of the Internet’, January 5, 2014. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/01/jacob-appelbaum-30c3-protect-infect-militarization-internettranscript.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NakedCapitalism+%28naked+capitalism%29

[x] . See James Bamford, ‘They Know Much More Than You Think’. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/aug/15/nsa-they-know-much-more-you-think/}

[xi] See A. Giroux, (2014) ‘Totalitarian Paranoia in the Post-Orwellian Surveillance State,   http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/totalitarian_paranoia_in_the_post-orwellian_surveillance_state_20140210/


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