FYI on the new boogeyman
The latest events in Iraq have Wolf Blitzer and his cohorts very stimulated. Perhaps it's brought up memories of the glory days when tanned and wind-swept embedded journos, fresh off their "basic training" and dressed to the nines in Prada desert fashion tore across the Iraqi frontier liberating everything that moved. (Or maybe it's just the hope that somebody will once again tune into cable news for any reason.) Whatever it is, it has resulted in a rather precipitous descent into a certain kind of jingoism we haven't seen in quite some time.
So as you watch the cable gasbags lose their collective minds over Iraq over the next few days --- particularly the handwringing over the leader of the militant group ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi --- keep one thing in mind. The man is undoubtedly a very dangerous and violent person. And yes, al Qaeda did disavow him. But it's important to realize that their main problem with him was that he wasn't focused on the Great Satan of America and instead was on killing fellow Muslims:
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri decried the fighting between rival rebel factions, which has come at the expense of their war against the Damascus regime, as "a catastrophe for jihad in Syria." He condemned the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), one of the most powerful extremist groups in the country.
"Al Qaeda declares that it has no links to the ISIS group," Mr. Zawahiri said in a posting on jihadist websites Sunday night. "We weren't informed about its creation, nor counseled. Nor were we satisfied with it; rather we ordered it to stop. ISIS isn't a branch of al Qaeda and we have no organizational relationship with it. Nor is al Qaeda responsible for its actions and behavior."
The disavowal appeared aimed at rallying jihadist rebel groups fighting against ISIS in Syria. A month-old war within the armed opposition has turned the focus of many rebels toward battling ISIS and away from fighting the regime.
Mr. Zawahiri sees ISIS as a renegade band damaging al Qaeda's brand through car bombings, mass killings, and torture of fellow Muslims. He rebuked the group for fostering discord among fellow Muslims, for attempting to impose a cross-border Muslim state ruled by strict Islamic law, and for oppressing both Muslims and non-Muslims.
That is not a defense of ISIS by any means. By all accounts they are extremely brutal and repressive. But the beef with al Qaeda was a result of a power struggle between the two groups and al Qaeda's apparent move to tone down the sectarian violence in the name of preserving its "brand."
There's a word for what ISIS is doing: "takfir"
ISIS's overuse of takfir (pronouncing a Muslim an infidel) and subsequent liquidation of enemies by any means has been a source of intense grievance from other Syrian rebel groups, as has ISIS's unwillingness to submit to an independent sharia court and its belief that it is a sovereign state in liberated territory. Acting on this belief, ISIS has extrajudicially killed, imprisoned, and punished other rebels and civilians in northern Syria.
All of this is very bad news for the people of the middle east who are going to be subject to more violence, more repression and more war.What it doesn't not appear to be is a major threat to the United States, at least not in the sense that all the usual shrieking warmongers are claiming. There could very well be a threat to oil fields and instability anywhere in the world can always lead to unpredictable outcomes. I don't mean to dismiss this as inconsequential. It isn't. But let's just say that the ongoing fulminating about this new leader everyone claims is "EVEN WORSE than bin Laden" and who allegedly said "see you in New York" when he was released from prison (something his guards took as an off hand joke at the time, by the way) smacks of the media's need to turn everything into a cheap Hollywood movie at the mere mention of war.
For the moment, this group's brutality is focused on killing insufficiently reverent Muslims, not Americans, which is why al Qaeda cut them loose. Al Qaeda has a different agenda. And according to this analysis from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy anyway, this disagreement is a significant change in the way the global jihadists are organizing themselves:
This all highlights the current struggle and competition for the future of the global jihadist movement. Al-Qaeda's unified movement under its central command post-9/11 appears more of an anomaly than the multipolar jihadosphere observers have seen in the late 1980s, 1990s, and in the era following the Arab uprisings.
So, yes. It's reasonable to be concerned about this and also to acknowledge the brutality of ISIS. What's not reasonable is to insinuate that when al Qaeda disavowed ISIS for being too brutal that it was because they were ready to hate us good Americans twice as hard as bin Laden so now we have to be twice as scared of our own shadows. At this point we aren't central to their aims. But if we start swaggering around, talking about good 'n evil and making it all about us as we usually do, I'm sure we can count on that changing.