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Unmasking Islamic State

Unmasking Islamic State
Revealing their motivation, theology and end time predictions
By Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo
Isaac Publishing, McLean, VA (188pp) Available at Amazon.com


Reviewed by David W. Virtue DD
January 5, 2015

To the True Believer, Islam is ultimately to be imposed on all of mankind, which is to be ruled by the prescriptions of the Quran. And where Muslims achieve a majority, Christianity is, at best, tolerated. --- Patrick Buchanan

The Islamic State (IS) is a radical Islamist Sunni Salafi/Jihadi organization that aims at establishing a caliphate under sharia first in Iraq and Syria, then in all Arab states, and finally in the whole world. Islamic State ideology belongs to the more hard-line takfiri orientation within the wider movement.

So writes Christian scholar and Islamic expert Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo in his new book, which reveals the historic antecedents to the present Islamic State and its growing influence around the world.

Sookhdeo's book is a good place to start understanding the Islamic State's doctrine, history, and present rise to global status and worldwide infamy. The swift rise of the Islamic State in 2013--2014 has revolutionized the global jihadi movement and has radicalized many Muslim communities, while recruiting tens of thousands to fight in its ranks. The territorial status of its caliphate inspires enthusiasm and support among many Muslims who hope this is the first step in the eschatological revival of Islamic hegemony. From their perspective, this will restore the lost honor and the glory of Islam's early golden age, writes Sookhdeo.

Despite the current onslaught of the alliance now forged against it, led by the United States, we would be wrong to presume that IS's end is near. The movement is constantly opening up new, unexpected fronts and bringing other jihadi groups under its umbrella. IS is still ruling its heartland, in which it has constructed a viable territorial state, writes Sookhdeo.

Dr. Sookhdeo analyzes IS's ideology, theology, eschatology, and strategy and scrutinizes key IS publications explaining the motivating beliefs of the leadership. He exposes the cruel nature of life under IS rule. He argues that it cannot be defeated by military means but must be delegitimized by the encouragement of reform movements within the Muslim community.

It is important for IS's public image that the movement shows itself to be unified and that public displays of internal divisions are kept to a minimum. However, the central leadership is very authoritarian, and its determination to impose its authority has led to bitter disputes. Jihadi politics are frequently very volatile, and IS is no exception. For this reason, IS is determined to enforce discipline and demands total obedience from the members of the organization, writes Sookhdeo.

Sookhdeo highlights IS's need for purity. IS is building support among Sunni tribal groups but has punished tribal groups that oppose it. IS understands that keeping control of tribal groups is crucial in preventing them from rising up against its rule. IS has shown that it will clamp down with extreme aggression on anyone who opposes it and will not tolerate any perceived insubordination from civilians in the areas it controls. It has gleefully publicized its war crimes and human rights abuses, and there is deep fear among the civilians in the areas that IS controls that they will be the regime's next victims.

Sookhdeo points out that radical Islamists have recategorized Christians and Jews, who were traditionally accepted as protected "people of the book" enjoying a dhimmi pact with Muslims, as perennial enemies of Islam. Christians are accused of plotting Islam's destruction and are believed to be allied with the "evil" Jews and atheist secularism. Christians and Jews were originally allowed to keep their religion and were given "protection" in return for paying the jizya tax and accepting a lower class status. However, IS argues that Christians have rejected their protection pact by demanding equality with Muslims in modern states, by engaging in evangelism among Muslims, and by supporting Western powers against Muslims.

IS sees all Christians under its control as having broken the dhimmi pact with Muslims, and therefore to be fought against by jihad until they submit to IS, convert to Islam, or accept anew the restrictive dhimmi regulations of the Pact of 'Umar.

Sookhdeo says that IS's main strengths are its ability to transfer its message with effective propaganda across the world, and its huge financial resources. It is difficult to cut off the money supply because IS is essentially self-financing. IS is now deeply entrenched in its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

One of IS's weaknesses is its extreme takfiri ideology. Its exceptionally narrow definition of who can be considered an acceptable Muslim means that the group is effectively at odds with almost the entire Muslim population of the world. It rejects even strongly fundamentalist Muslims and jihadis who do not accept its leadership. This means that IS has a very limited number of allies among Muslims, and there are many who consider the group to be a threat. Even those who may regard the group as a potentially useful bulwark against the Shia still understand it as a very dangerous challenge to all of the Sunni regimes in the Middle East and beyond. IS will also face continuing attacks on its legitimacy, as it is likely to face a barrage of criticism from mainstream Islamic leaders.

Sookhdeo notes that like all jihadi organizations, IS is prone to damaging splits which have at times escalated into outright conflict and killings.

In the long term, IS will pose a threat in other Muslim majority contexts. However, its global network is still forming and is unlikely to lead to direct control of the activities of affiliates outside the Middle East.

Another risk is that, as it competes against other jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda, IS might be tempted to stage a spectacular act of terror in the West so as to maintain its leadership position in the radical Islamist movement.

Ultimately, the most significant battle is therefore in many ways more important than the kinetic battle. It is easier to kill radical Islamist jihadists than to eliminate their Islamist ideology. It is ideology that gathers resources and recruits new fighters to replace those who have been killed. Kill the ideology, and the terrorism-inspiring movement withers and dies.

Sookhdeo concludes his book by saying that Western leaders must attend to, nurture, and promote the scholarship, reasoning, and influence of liberal, reformist Muslim thinkers who can engage the minds of Muslim communities and, in particular, show a vibrant, positive, faith-based alternative to idealistic young people.

"In the long term, only movements within a reformed Islam that can delegitimize the religious validity of extremism to the Muslim masses hold any hope of taking on and defeating the Salafi/Jihadi menace."

I highly recommend this book to both those wanting to understand the roots of Islamic radicalism and those more experienced in the ways that IS operates in the world today. There is much to learn from this slim volume, much to reflect on, and much to inform.

A second volume, Meeting the Ideological Challenge of Islamism: How to Combat Modern Radical Islam by Patrick Sookhdeo (Editor) and Anna Bekele (Editor) offers in a series of essays a detailed, compelling critique of the worldview, methodologies, and motivations of violent Islamist groups, and of those pursuing a more gradualist approach. These scholars present a significant contribution to the debate by showing how Islamist ideology may be confronted and effectively challenged. Islamist extremism is one of the most vital issues facing governments and populations today, as Islamist groups have turned more violent, with increasing radicalized recruits. These two books should be read together for a full comprehensive picture of radical Islamism and its ideology.


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