Thursday, April 2, 2015

“The Israel Lobby: Is It Good for the US? Is It Good for Israel?”

Join us at the National Press Club on April 10 from 8 AM to 5 PM for an unprecedented, frank and overdue look at the power of the Israel Lobby in the United States.

Pro-Israel lobbying organizations and individuals were at the forefront of the push for a US attack on Iraq.  Most have now set their sights on Iran. Since Israel’s founding, the United States has provided it unprecedented military, financial and diplomatic support.  Many in Israel and within the Lobby expect the United States to unconditionally support anything Israel does, from expanding its illegal settlements to flouting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

While many attribute Israel’s influence over the US to Israel’s value as an ally, others point to American lobbying organizations, such as AIPAC.  But just how powerful are they?  How many are there, and what do they really do? Are they good for the US?  Are they good for Israel? 


Current students and facultynews media and congressional and other federal government employees may apply online for a free conference pass.
Members of the public may register online for the program and lunch for $75 at until April 9. Same-day registration is available for $99 on a limited first-come, first-served basis beginning at 8 AM on the 13th floor of the National Press Club. For more information call (202) 939-6050.

“The Israel Lobby: Is It Good for the US? Is It Good for Israel?” Panels

Registration 8:00 to 8:55 AM (Bookstore open)

1.0 What Is the Israel Lobby and How Does It Work? 9:00 AM

    1. Grant Smith: How big is the Lobby and what does it do? An overview of the 501(c) universe.
    2. Seth Morrison: From the Jewish National Fund to Jewish Voice for Peace and BDS.
    3. Jeffrey Blankfort: The ADL: Covert action, censure, and courting law-enforcement.

2.0 Are Critical Voices Silenced? 10:10 AM

    1. Prof. Richard Falk: Weakening and discrediting the UN: The work of pro-Israel NGOs.
    2. Dr. Alice Rothchild: Silencing voices that question Israeli actions.
    3. Dr. Jack Shaheen: The use of cultural stereotypes to shape policy.

3.0 Is Freedom of Speech Encouraged on American Campuses? 11:35 AM

    1. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh: Daring to speak out on campus.
    2. Dima Khalidi: Pressures on universities to discipline and punish students and faculty for speech activities.
    3. Ahmad Saadaldin: Overcoming obstacles: SJP successes.

4.0 Is the Lobby Good for Israel? 1:15 PM

    1. Miko Peled: How the Lobby enables Israeli policy: Views of an Israeli in America.
    2. Gideon Levy: Does unconditional support for Israel endanger Israeli voices?
    3. Huwaida Arraf: The situation of Arab citizens of Israel: Views of an Arab citizen of Israel.

5.0 How Does the Lobby Influence Congress? 2:25 PM

    1. Former AIPAC employee M.J. Rosenberg: Is it all about the money?
    2. Former Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV): My experience with the Israel Lobby; The use of dark money.
    3. Former Rep. Paul Findley (R-IL): What I should have done, and what Congress can do today.

6.0 Is There an Iraq-Iran Continuum? 3:50 PM

    1. Gareth Porter: The push for war on Iran.
    2. Reza Marashi: The Iran nuclear deal.
    3. Paul Pillar: AIPAC/Netanyahu objectives and the American interest.

Conference Organizers are:

Speakers include (in alphabetical order):

Amani Alkhatahtbeh is the founding editor-in-chief of, a blog aimed at eliminating stereotypes surrounding Islam and promoting the place of Muslim women in Western societies. She ran into trouble with Rutgers University trustees and its daily newspaper, The Daily Targum, which decided that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. In June 2014, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee named Alkhatahtbeh its media relations specialist.

Huwaida Arraf is a Palestinian-American lawyer and human rights advocate. As the daughter of an Israeli-born Palestinian, she is also a citizen of Israel.  In 2001 Arraf co-founded the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Arraf was one of the initiators and organizers of a delegation of American lawyers to Gaza in February 2009, and co-authored the report on their findings. She is the former chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement, and led five successful sea voyages to the Gaza Strip to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade. Arraf was one of the primary organizers of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and was traveling with it when Israeli forces lethally attacked it on May 31, 2010.

Jeffrey Blankfort is a photojournalist and radio host. It was his first trip to Lebanon and Jordan in 1970 to take photos for a book on the Palestinian struggle that led to his involvement in their cause. He became a founding member of the November 29th Committee on Palestine and a co-founder of the Labor Committee on the Middle East. Blankfort currently hosts a twice-monthly program on international affairs for KZYX, the public radio station for Mendocino County in Northern California.

Richard Anderson Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University. He is the author or co-author of 20 books and the editor or co-editor of another 20 volumes, including Achieving Human Rights, Israel-Palestine on Record: How the New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East with Howard Friel, and The Costs of War: International Law, the UN, and World Order after Iraq. From 2008 to 2014 Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

Paul Findley served the 20th District of Illinois as its Republican representative during 11 terms in Congress, from 1961 to 1983. He wrote the very first book to analyze the pervasive influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on U.S. politics, policy, and institutions from the perspective of Congress. Carefully documented with specific case histories, They Dare To Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby reveals how the Israel Lobby works to shape important aspects of U.S. foreign policy and influences congressional, senatorial, and presidential elections. Findley is co-founder of the Council for the National Interest.

Dima Khalidi is the founder and director of the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS), and cooperating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). Her work includes providing legal advice to activists, engaging in advocacy to protect their rights to speak out for Palestinian rights, and educating activists and the public about their rights.

Gideon Levy is a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz and a member of its editorial board. Levy joined Haaretz in 1982, and spent four years as the newspaper’s deputy editor. He is the author of the weekly “Twilight Zone” feature, which covers the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza over the last 25 years, as well as the writer of political editorials for the newspaper.

Reza Marashi joined the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in 2010 as the organization’s first research director. He came to NIAC after four years in the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs. Marashi is frequently consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and The Atlantic, among other publications.

Seth Morrison has held leadership posts in various local, regional and national Jewish organizations, starting in college as a youth leader in Young Judea. He is currently active in Jewish Voice for Peace, serving on the DC Metro Chapter Steering Committee and on the national Congressional Outreach Committee. In 2011, Morrison resigned from the Washington, DC board of the Jewish National Fund in protest over Israel’s repeated evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and activist living in the U.S. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. Driven by a personal family tragedy to explore Palestine, its people and their narrative, he has written a book about his journey called The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. The book covers Peled’s family history since his grandparents immigrated to Palestine in the early 20th century. Peled’s maternal grandfather was a signer of the Israeli Declaration of Independence; his father was a general in the Israeli army.

Dr. Paul Pillar is a Nonresident Senior Fellow of the Center for Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He retired in 2005 from a 28-year career in the US intelligence community, in which his last position was National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia. Earlier he served in a variety of analytical and managerial positions, including chief of CIA analytic units, covering portions of the Near East, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia.

Gareth Porter is an investigative journalist and historian who specializes in U.S. foreign and military policy. He has written five books, including Perils of Dominance, Imbalance of Power and The Road to War in Vietnam. His most recent book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. The book highlights the impact that the United States alliance with Israel had on Washington’s turning the International Atomic Energy Agency into a tool of its anti-Iran policy. In 2012 Porter was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Investigative Journalism by the UK-based Gellhorn Trust. 

Former Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall, a grandson of Lebanese immigrants, represented West Virginia in the U.S. Congress from 1977 to 2015. When he was elected, the 27-year-old became the youngest member of Congress. Rahall has repeatedly expressed concern about America’s relationship with Israel, stating, “Israel can’t continue to occupy, humiliate and destroy the dreams and spirits of the Palestinian people and continue to call itself a democratic state.” Rahall was one of only 8 House members to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq in 2002 that preceded the Iraq War.

M.J. Rosenberg is a writer, primarily on matters relating to Israel. He is a regular contributor to The Nation and theHuffington Post, and his writings are widely reprinted throughout the world. He has special expertise on the Israel Lobby, having been employed by several pro-Israel organizations between 1973 and 1975, and 1982 and 1986. His last post was as editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report and as senior adviser to then-Executive Director Thomas Dine.

Alice Rothchild is a Boston-based physician, author and filmmaker who, since 1997, has focused on human rights and social justice in the Israel/Palestine conflict.  Her early political interests involved opposing the Vietnam War, and working for women’s reproductive rights and health care reform. Dr. Rothchild is an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace, American Jews for a Just Peace, Workmen’s Circle Mideast Working Group, and the Gaza Mental Health Program. In 2003 Dr. Rothchild began co-organizing health and human rights delegations to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. She has just returned from one of those delegations.

Ahmad Saadaldin is a filmmaker/producer, creative writer, actor, and grassroots organizer. He is dedicated to sharing untold stories in order to raise awareness and create positive change. Through grassroots organizing and filmmaking, he does his best to bring attention to deserving topics. As a public relations major at the University of South Florida, Saadaldin organized the largest grassroots campaign in the university’s history, collecting more than 10,000 signatures calling on the school to divest endowment funds from corporations complicit in human rights violations (#USF4HumanRights).

Jack Shaheen is an acclaimed author and media critic. His lectures and writings illustrate that damaging racial and ethnic stereotypes of Arabs, blacks, and others injure innocent people. He defines crude caricatures, explains why they persist, and provides workable solutions to help shatter misconceptions. Dr. Shaheen, a distinguished visiting scholar at New York University (NYU), served as a CBS News Consultant on Middle East Affairs from 1993-98. As a professional film consultant, he has consulted with writers and producers.

Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) in Washington, DC. He is the author of two unofficial histories of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as well as books about Israel’s spying and nuclear weapons programs. Smith has initiated lawsuits against the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency under the Freedom of Information Act for public release of files officially acknowledging Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons program and unprosecuted weapons-grade uranium diversions from the United States.

More detailed speaker biographies, as well as information about the moderators (Helena Cobban, Delinda Hanley, Janet McMahon, Askia Muhammad, and Dale Sprusansky) are available at

More Information

See and @IsraelLobbyUS on Twitter for final updates.
Speakers’ books will be available at the conference for sale and signing. Those unable to attend can purchase the books from AET’s Middle East Books and More.
Be sure to follow us on Twitter @IsraelLobbyUS and on <>.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cesspool of misogyny and patriarchy - Taha Najeeb Khan

No civilisation ascended to great heights by subjugating its women

Pakistan is no heaven for anything of even remote sentience. Especially if you’re a woman.

This is practically a thought experiment. One need only imagine a day in the life of an ordinary woman in Pakistan to fully internalise the many horrors that come gift-wrapped in insidious euphemisms of “honour” and “shame” for the Pakistani female. This is not an accident. It is in fact a logical conclusion of a particular status quo in a society neck-deep in a cesspool of misogyny and patriarchy.

But why even invoke hypothetical’s when reality has made itself so horribly pervasive that little, if anything, is left the imagination? Only someone living under a rock would fail to register the grotesquery that goes on at our bus-stops, bazaars, local offices, shops, stores, essentially all avenues that make possible the release of the systemically suppressed frustrations of the average Pakistani male.

The annual Gender Gap Index by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum released recently revealed that Pakistan ranks 141 out of 142, second to last, in global gender equality. This comes as no surprise in a country where rape is more a punishment than a crime, as local jirga rulings so frequently exhibit. This sick phenomenon is often described as “honour rape”; as revolting an oxymoron as can be. Case in point: Mukhtara Mai, who was gang-raped by the orders of a village council a few years ago.

It is clear that this ghastly state of affairs is more a cultural spinoff than anything else. The same culture, one might add, in which the man is the holder of honour and woman the bearer of shame. What happens as a consequence is the exaltation of the male in both the private and the public, domestic and societal. And then, by association, all related attributes find equal elevation – pride, ego, honour, influence, control, etc.

It is no surprise then that in Pakistan’s most unchanging of backdrops, religiously inspired patriarchal attitudes are hard to confront, let alone dismantle
This realisation is made clearer when one casts a glance upon neighbouring India where similar trends are on full display. Pakistan and India, after all, share common history and culture. But what makes things more complex for Pakistan is religion. Unlike secular India, Pakistanis breathe religion. And unfortunately religion, in the way it is largely understood and practiced in Pakistan, is not an ever evolving enterprise subject to sophisticated, contemporary and non-literalist interpretations of an intellectually advanced people. It is rather a fossilised set of do’s and don’ts that reduces morality to the tightrope gymnastics of blind adherence. This is hardly a fertile landscape for cultural revisionism. Less so when the said culture draws heavily upon an impermeable worldview held sacrosanct and above all critique.

It is no surprise then that in Pakistan’s most unchanging of backdrops, religiously inspired patriarchal attitudes are hard to confront, let alone dismantle. And that’s the danger. Because absent a viable counter-narrative, something like the Hudood laws/punishments remains a reality far too quick to manifest. And nothing subjugates women more than such archaic legislation. It is concepts such as the requirement of male witness testimony to prove rape — a near impossible condition to satisfy — overlapping with the cultural obsession with “male honour” that account for the high incidence of unreported rape cases in Pakistan. Granted there will be activists like Asma Jahangir and amendments like the women protection bill to fight/neutralise such laws but who is to say that there won’t be more Zia-ul-Haq types to impose them all over again?

Furthermore, this issue of women rights cuts deeper than Hudood punishments. We know today through numerous studies by academics and economists alike that women empowerment can dramatically enhance economic growth and human development. That it leads to greater employment, labour productivity and higher average household incomes that positively impact spending patterns which in turn stir up the economy. More female literacy also reduces female fertility and child mortality.

Absent a viable counter-narrative, something like the Hudood laws/punishments remains a reality far too quick to manifest. And nothing subjugates women more than such archaic legislation
Surely, Pakistan, a country with less than 50 percent female literacy, could then do well to break those barriers that have long reduced half of its population to second class status. According to the 2011 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program, approximately twice as many males as females receive a secondary education in Pakistan. This is troubling to say the least. Such gender gaps scream the urgent need for a thorough shakedown and systemic overhaul of governance, educational spending, and to most importantly initiate a permanent retreat from medieval cultural attitudes that view woman as little more than chattel; human throwaways condemned by accident of birth to male subservience. And if it takes 14 year old girls to take bullets in their heads to fight such a grim status quo, then there is no greater shame upon a nation that ironically and so tragically obsesses over honour.

But in spite of all the above, Pakistani women paradoxically enjoy relatively high political representation compared to women in most developing, and even developed, countries. In this Pakistan is ahead of its regional rivals India, Sri Lanka and Iran. It ranks among the top 50 in the IPU’s list of women representation in national parliaments, ahead of developed democracies such as Canada, the UK and the US. Pakistan is also one of the few countries in the world to have its first woman parliamentary speaker and to also be ruled by a female head of state.

This shows that in spite of entrenched patriarchy and cultural rigidity, the country is accepting of women leaders. Let’s hope this acceptance percolates across the mainstream consciousness. And that people recognise, without equivocation, that there is in all of human history no record of a single society or civilisation that has ascended to great heights by subjugating its women.

To fully understand the urgent need for women empowerment, all Pakistanis must, for a moment, inhabit the mind of the man who founded Pakistan. He said “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners.”

Let us free our women so we may cease to be criminals.


The writer is an engineering consultant based out of NY, USA. He is also a freelance writer/blogger. He can be reached at:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Anushka As The Evil Temptress: Indian Patriarchy's Golden Moment - Binoo John

Cricket, and maybe our cinema, are the only things we have to hold on to. A setback in cricket is seen as national catastrophe like it happened after India lost to Australia, a much better team, in the World Cup semifinals. We look for reasons for defeat and crab-like, love to pull down heroes whom we held up just yesterday. So, when a pretty lady, Anushka Sharma, Virat Kohli's girlfriend, was spotted in the pavilion box she was quickly targeted as the cause of the Indian defeat.
In its medievalism and khap panchayat mentality the country reached a new low after the loss in the match. Many of us will agree that the last one year has seen the country plummeting in terms of its thinking, its outlook, and its failure to grasp science, liberalism and modern thinking and use it to further its causes and achievements and thus to remain relevant in this world. March 26, was another reminder of this national weakness.
The Anushka attack should be seen in this light. What happened during the match was this: Anushka was seen on TV watching the match. It was surmised that she went on the invitation of Kohli, who was set to play India's saviour, a fact that Saurav Ganguly emphasised before the match.
So here was the saviour being wooed, and thus distracted, by the temptress. Her constant presence by Kohli's side has been read as immoral by India's largely Brahamanical thinking. The entire notion of an unmarried girl staying with a guy is wholly reprehensible in this thinking. Kohli also had a spat with India's media as earlier he abused a journalist who he thought had broken the story of the actress staying with him. This was the background of the national trolling of Anushka.
So when Anushka (a two or three film wonder) appeared at the location of a national catastrophe, hands and trolls quickly dragged her out so that she could be burned at the stake.
Within no time Anushka was fit into the image of the serpent (from the Old Testament and various other religious texts) and temptress. It is this 'evil she' who tempts the 'honourable male' and this scenario is wholly accepted in Indian thinking. The advanced West itself discarded it, though the many frescoes that adorn its iconic churches and chapels show the woman as the evil force, and thus the origins of this thinking can be placed in medieval thinking.
In this narrative, replayed in many Bollywood movies, the lady is the serpent and/or the temptress. In renaissance art too the serpent is a female. In Michelangelo' frescoes, the serpent is half snake and half female, never a male. It is on the advice of Eve that Adam falls. Also Eve is seen as god's afterthought, so the female is just an appendage or adornment for the male who has to do big jobs, like in this case Kohli.
In Indian thinking this role of the lady as temptress, however, finishes as soon as she marries him because she has successfully tempted him into marrying. Which is why one FB post said that she should marry him, suggesting that this will finally help Kohli concentrate on his shots and not worry about the temptress watching him.
In fact, various Indian coaches insist on abstention based on the myth that loss of semen in the day prior to the match also means loss of manliness and hence loss of strength so essential to win a match. So, when condoms were provided during the Delhi commonwealth Games, the khap panchayat elements protested. Actually the subtext is that the lady sapped Kohli's strength during a crucial day!
This wild medieval reaction to a girlfriend's presence should be contrasted to teams representing modern nation states like Australia and England. Here WAGS (wives and girlfriends) are expected to accompany teams since the notion of them being temptresses does not exist in modern thinking. Many cricketers have left tours to be at the side of their girlfriends who are ill or are giving birth to their first child. In India, however, such a hypothetical situation would have resulted in a player being banished for life since he crossed the Laxman Rekha of morality set up for him by the elite classes.
It means that this morality has to coincide with victory for your triumph to be total. If, for instance, all the team members were travelling with girlfriends, the team's victory and performance would have been diminished.
Contrast this with Dhoni's choice not to be at the side of his wife during the birth of their first child and in fact choosing to be with the team. This was seen and applauded as a great macho trait here in India. In this narrative, to bear the pains of labour and bringing up the child is a solely the wife's concern and having done his bit in creating the baby, the husband or the man can go about his labours elsewhere, with nay a care of the tremendous pain and anxiety that a wife has to go through alone and supported only by her mother. This is the accepted norm in India.
So in the patriarchal perspective Dhoni has risen many notches (abstention, sacrifice and national duty above all) while the challenger to his captaincy, Kohli, is seen as an easy prey to temptresses of various hues. Hence Dhoni was spared the blushes yesterday.
Here are some trolls (unedited) showing patriarchy golden moment's yesterday.
KRK, as he calls himself, also issued a clarion call to fans to stone the actress's house.
The shameful national attitude to defeat now fits in squarely with the national attitude to women in general. Tomorrow people may crowd to see one of Anushka's movie (reversely, will her movie flop be attributed to Kohli?) even if she had played a temptress. But to sap a champion of his strength, that's a strict no-no.

Embracing Boycott and Divestment, Jewish Voice For Peace Clings to Jewish Identity

At the opening plenary of Jewish Voice for Peace’s recent national conference, Rabbi Alissa Wise, JVP’s co-director of organizing, asked the crowd of some 600 how many were attending their first such gathering; about three-quarters of the room shot up their hands.

For the group whose advocacy of boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Israel makes it a pariah in most of the rest of the Jewish community, these have been boom times. And for many of its members, the reason appears to be a continuing desire to assert their opposition to Israel’s fundamental policies in a Jewish context rather than abandon their Jewish identity altogether.

One of those raising his hand was Noah Knowlton-Latkin of California’s Claremont Colleges. Like many of those in attendance, Knowlton-Latkin, a sophomore, was involved earlier in Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus group devoted to organizing students to oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza.
The group also pushes college administrations to cut their economic and academic ties to Israel. But last summer, Knowlton-Latkin reached out to JVP to express his concerns in a Jewish context. “It was great to find out that this existed,” said Knowlton-Latkin, who came to the conference with two other Jewish Claremont students, both members of SJP.

JVP’s recent conference, which took place in Baltimore from March 13 to 15, was notable for several new developments. Two weeks earlier, after a lengthy process that included study committees and membership surveys, JVP’s board of directors voted to fully support the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, or BDS, as it is popularly known. JVP’s call for a full economic boycott of Israel comes after years of supporting a more limited boycott of only companies that operated in the occupied territories.

JVP’s full embrace of BDS includes endorsing a right of return for Arabs and for descendants of Arabs who fled or who were expelled by Israel’s army in the 1948 war that established the state. That population, most of whom remain stateless refugees, now numbers more than 5.2 million. Israel and its supporters, including even dovish Zionist parties such as Meretz, argue that full implementation of the United Nations resolution calling for their return would render Jews a minority in their own state. It would mean, they say, the end of Zionism.
But JVP’s president, Rebecca Vilkomerson, told the Forward: “For there to be a sustainable and just peace, that is one of the issues that we have to grapple with. We believe that there can be a homeland for Jewish people that is not based on the systematic denial of rights of Palestinians.”

JVP does not offer details on how that could be if such a return indeed took place.
Most striking at this conference was the way Israel’s hard-right turns, and particularly last year’s war in Gaza, have fueled JVP’s growth among a cohort of mostly young people who find the response of other Jewish groups, including the dovish group J Street, simply inadequate. JVP’s leaders anticipate that this trend will only quicken following the recent election victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They point to his election eve disavowal of a two-state solution and his election day warning about Arab voting, plus the prospect that he will soon lead an even more right-wing government.

There are now 65 JVP chapters, up from 40 a year ago. Vilkomerson says JVP now has 9,000 dues-paying members, compared with 600 when the Forward last profiled the group in 2011. In the tax year that ended in June 2013, JVP had $1.1 million in donations. Vilkomerson said she expects this year’s total to top $2 million, almost all of it from individuals. The group has more than 204,000 Facebook followers, more than twice as many as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and about eight times as many as J Street.
For all their alienation from the mainstream community, JVP members seem to share an urgent need to voice their angst in a Jewish context, and to project it outward to the world, also citing their status as Jews. Critics condemn this as mere exploitation of their Jewishness in order to gain a hearing the group would otherwise be denied.

But many JVP members do come from backgrounds of serious Jewish engagement. The conference itself opened on a Friday night, with the group celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat, and included a memorial service for those killed in the war in Gaza, during which members chanted the Mourner’s Kaddish and the prayer for the dead, El Maleh Rachamim. JVP says the group offers the members a place to be their “whole selves.”

“21yrs in many jewish spaces & I’ve never felt so at home,” one participant, Talia Bauer, wrote on the group’s Facebook page after the conference.

Another participant wrote, “For three days, I was immersed in a Jewish community unlike I have ever been a part of, one rooted in justice that welcomed all of me.” She wrote anonymously, she said, to avoid her family learning of her involvement with JVP.

In Vilkomerson’s view, “the mainstream Jewish community should be thanking us. We are bringing many people back into a Jewish community. There’s so much angst in the Jewish community about the loss of community, and losing the young people, and what is going to happen, and the apathy. Nobody here is apathetic; nobody here is unconnected. To the contrary.”

Some in the mainstream grant them this point. “Any sort of Jewish engagement by young people is a positive thing,” said Steven M. Cohen, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who studies the American Jewish community. He said that JVP, along with anti-democratic far-right groups and “any group that represents lots of Jews,” should be invited to be members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and similar mainstream organizations. “JVP doesn’t show concern for the security of the State of Israel and doesn’t care if there is a Jewish State of Israel or not,” he added. Nevertheless, he said, “We should not exclude JVP from conversations — we should engage them.”

That view is unthinkable to many Jewish community standard-bearers. “The positions and actions taken by Jewish Voice for Peace are anathema to mainstream Jewish organizations,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement to the Forward. “The group’s activities, which include partnerships with anti-Israel organizations that deny Israel’s fundamental right to exist, put them at the farthest fringe of the Jewish community and would certainly preclude their participation among mainstream organizations.”

JVP, he said, “uses its Jewish identity to provide the anti-Israel movement with a veneer of legitimacy and to shield the movement’s most demagogic supporters from allegations of anti-Semitism.”

For many, the decision to join JVP was a painful, personal one, reflecting a lost faith in the State of Israel. Rabbi Brant Rosen, a co-chair of JVP’s rabbinical council, who served as a congregational rabbi in suburban Chicago for 17 years, joined in 2009, after Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, its military campaign into Gaza, with numerous reports — contested by Israel — of high civilian deaths rates.

Michael Davis, a congregational cantor in the Reform movement and a member of JVP’s rabbinical council, grew up Orthodox in Israel. He said that his own worldview changed after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin at a fateful Tel Aviv peace rally in November 1995. “That was the end of the dream for me,” he told the Forward.
For Vilkomerson, it was the second intifada, starting in 2000. “There are these moments of cracking open, where people sort of make the leap,” she said.

Rosen added, “Historically, that’s how JVP has grown, unfortunately, tragically.”
Speaking after the Israeli election, Vilkomerson says she now expects another wave of people to come into the JVP fold. “Given that the American Jewish community is generally interested in peace and democratic values, we expect a lot of self-reflection about how to support a true peace in the days to come,” she said. Contact Evan Serpick at

Group Now Has More Facebook Followers Than AIPAC and J Street

Friday, March 27, 2015

What ISIS Really Wants? - Graeme Wood, The Atlantic

What is the Islamic State?

Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.

Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)

We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohamed Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.

There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.

To take one example: In September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” To Western ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Adnani also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised geezer.”)

But Adnani was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away.
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

I. Devotion

In November, the Islamic State released an infomercial-like video tracing its origins to bin Laden. It acknowledged Abu Musa’b al Zarqawi, the brutal head of al‑Qaeda in Iraq from roughly 2003 until his killing in 2006, as a more immediate progenitor, followed sequentially by two other guerrilla leaders before Baghdadi, the caliph. Notably unmentioned: bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, the owlish Egyptian eye surgeon who currently heads al‑Qaeda. Zawahiri has not pledged allegiance to Baghdadi, and he is increasingly hated by his fellow jihadists. His isolation is not helped by his lack of charisma; in videos he comes across as squinty and annoyed. But the split between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State has been long in the making, and begins to explain, at least in part, the outsize bloodlust of the latter.
Zawahiri’s companion in isolation is a Jordanian cleric named Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, 55, who has a fair claim to being al-Qaeda’s intellectual architect and the most important jihadist unknown to the average American newspaper reader. On most matters of doctrine, Maqdisi and the Islamic State agree. Both are closely identified with the jihadist wing of a branch of Sunnism called Salafism, after the Arabic al salaf al salih, the “pious forefathers.” These forefathers are the Prophet himself and his earliest adherents, whom Salafis honor and emulate as the models for all behavior, including warfare, couture, family life, even dentistry.

Maqdisi taught Zarqawi, who went to war in Iraq with the older man’s advice in mind. In time, though, Zarqawi surpassed his mentor in fanaticism, and eventually earned his rebuke. At issue was Zarqawi’s penchant for bloody spectacle—and, as a matter of doctrine, his hatred of other Muslims, to the point of excommunicating and killing them. In Islam, the practice of takfir, or excommunication, is theologically perilous. “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’ ” the Prophet said, “then one of them is right.” If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed apostasy by making a false accusation. The punishment for apostasy is death. And yet Zarqawi heedlessly expanded the range of behavior that could make Muslims infidels.

Maqdisi wrote to his former pupil that he needed to exercise caution and “not issue sweeping proclamations of takfir” or “proclaim people to be apostates because of their sins.” The distinction between apostate and sinner may appear subtle, but it is a key point of contention between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.

since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes. Hence, perhaps, the incredulity and denial with which Westerners have greeted news of the theology and practices of the Islamic State. Many refuse to believe that this group is as devout as it claims to be, or as backward-looking or apocalyptic as its actions and statements suggest.

Their skepticism is comprehensible. In the past, Westerners who accused Muslims of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics—notably the late Edward Said—who pointed out that calling Muslims “ancient” was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil.

Without acknowledgment of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says Allahu akbarwhile beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.
Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

Every academic I asked about the Islamic State’s ideology sent me to Haykel. Of partial Lebanese descent, Haykel grew up in Lebanon and the United States, and when he talks through his Mephistophelian goatee, there is a hint of an unplaceable foreign accent.
According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

All Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs, and that the laws of war passed down in the Koran and in the narrations of the Prophet’s rule were calibrated to fit a turbulent and violent time. In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”

The Koran specifies crucifixion as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of Islam. The tax on Christians finds clear endorsement in the Surah Al-Tawba, the Koran’s ninth chapter, which instructs Muslims to fight Christians and Jews “until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” The Prophet, whom all Muslims consider exemplary, imposed these rules and owned slaves.
Leaders of the Islamic State have taken emulation of Muhammad as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. “What’s striking about them is not just the literalism, but also the seriousness with which they read these texts,” Haykel said. “There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t normally have.”

Before the rise of the Islamic State, no group in the past few centuries had attempted more-radical fidelity to the Prophetic model than the Wahhabis of 18th‑century Arabia. They conquered most of what is now Saudi Arabia, and their strict practices survive in a diluted version of Sharia there. Haykel sees an important distinction between the groups, though: “The Wahhabis were not wanton in their violence.” They were surrounded by Muslims, and they conquered lands that were already Islamic; this stayed their hand. “ISIS, by contrast, is really reliving the early period.” Early Muslims were surrounded by non-Muslims, and the Islamic State, because of its takfiritendencies, considers itself to be in the same situation.
If al-Qaeda wanted to revive slavery, it never said so. And why would it? Silence on slavery probably reflected strategic thinking, with public sympathies in mind: when the Islamic State began enslaving people, even some of its supporters balked. Nonetheless, the caliphate has continued to embrace slavery and crucifixion without apology. “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,” Adnani, the spokesman, promised in one of his periodic valentines to the West. “If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
In October, Dabiq, the magazine of the Islamic State, published “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour,” an article that took up the question of whether Yazidis (the members of an ancient Kurdish sect that borrows elements of Islam, and had come under attack from Islamic State forces in northern Iraq) are lapsed Muslims, and therefore marked for death, or merely pagans and therefore fair game for enslavement. A study group of Islamic State scholars had convened, on government orders, to resolve this issue. If they are pagans, the article’s anonymous author wrote,
Yazidi women and children [are to be] divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations [in northern Iraq] … Enslaving the families of the kuffar [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet … and thereby apostatizing from Islam.

II. Territory

Tens of thousands of foreign Muslims are thought to have immigrated to the Islamic State. Recruits hail from France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Australia, Indonesia, the United States, and many other places. Many have come to fight, and many intend to die.

Peter R. Neumann, a professor at King’s College London, told me that online voices have been essential to spreading propaganda and ensuring that newcomers know what to believe. Online recruitment has also widened the demographics of the jihadist community, by allowing conservative Muslim women—physically isolated in their homes—to reach out to recruiters, radicalize, and arrange passage to Syria. Through its appeals to both genders, the Islamic State hopes to build a complete society.

In November, I traveled to Australia to meet Musa Cerantonio, a 30-year-old man whom Neumann and other researchers had identified as one of the two most important “new spiritual authorities” guiding foreigners to join the Islamic State. For three years he was a televangelist on Iqraa TV in Cairo, but he left after the station objected to his frequent calls to establish a caliphate. Now he preaches on Facebook and Twitter.

Cerantonio—a big, friendly man with a bookish demeanor—told me he blanches at beheading videos. He hates seeing the violence, even though supporters of the Islamic State are required to endorse it. (He speaks out, controversially among jihadists, against suicide bombing, on the grounds that God forbids suicide; he differs from the Islamic State on a few other points as well.) He has the kind of unkempt facial hair one sees on certain overgrown fans of The Lord of the Rings, and his obsession with Islamic apocalypticism felt familiar. He seemed to be living out a drama that looks, from an outsider’s perspective, like a medieval fantasy novel, only with real blood.

Last June, Cerantonio and his wife tried to emigrate—he wouldn’t say to where (“It’s illegal to go to Syria,” he said cagily)—but they were caught en route, in the Philippines, and he was deported back to Australia for overstaying his visa. Australia has criminalized attempts to join or travel to the Islamic State, and has confiscated Cerantonio’s passport. He is stuck in Melbourne, where he is well known to the local constabulary. If Cerantonio were caught facilitating the movement of individuals to the Islamic State, he would be imprisoned. So far, though, he is free—a technically unaffiliated ideologue who nonetheless speaks with what other jihadists have taken to be a reliable voice on matters of the Islamic State’s doctrine.
We met for lunch in Footscray, a dense, multicultural Melbourne suburb that’s home to Lonely Planet, the travel-guide publisher. Cerantonio grew up there in a half-Irish, half-Calabrian family. On a typical street one can find African restaurants, Vietnamese shops, and young Arabs walking around in the Salafi uniform of scraggly beard, long shirt, and trousers ending halfway down the calves.

Cerantonio explained the joy he felt when Baghdadi was declared the caliph on June 29—and the sudden, magnetic attraction that Mesopotamia began to exert on him and his friends. “I was in a hotel [in the Philippines], and I saw the declaration on television,” he told me. “And I was just amazed, and I’m like, Why am I stuck here in this bloody room?

The last caliphate was the Ottoman empire, which reached its peak in the 16th century and then experienced a long decline, until the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, euthanized it in 1924. But Cerantonio, like many supporters of the Islamic State, doesn’t acknowledge that caliphate as legitimate, because it didn’t fully enforce Islamic law, which requires stonings and slavery and amputations, and because its caliphs were not descended from the tribe of the Prophet, the Quraysh.

Baghdadi spoke at length of the importance of the caliphate in his Mosul sermon. He said that to revive the institution of the caliphate—which had not functioned except in name for about 1,000 years—was a communal obligation. He and his loyalists had “hastened to declare the caliphate and place an imam” at its head, he said. “This is a duty upon the Muslims—a duty that has been lost for centuries … The Muslims sin by losing it, and they must always seek to establish it.” Like bin Laden before him, Baghdadi spoke floridly, with frequent scriptural allusion and command of classical rhetoric. Unlike bin Laden, and unlike those false caliphs of the Ottoman empire, he is Qurayshi.

The caliphate, Cerantonio told me, is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation. Islamic State propaganda regularly reports the pledges of baya’a (allegiance) rolling in from jihadist groups across the Muslim world. Cerantonio quoted a Prophetic saying, that to die without pledging allegiance is to die jahil (ignorant) and therefore die a “death of disbelief.” Consider how Muslims (or, for that matter, Christians) imagine God deals with the souls of people who die without learning about the one true religion. They are neither obviously saved nor definitively condemned. Similarly, Cerantonio said, the Muslim who acknowledges one omnipotent god and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully Islamic life. I pointed out that this means the vast majority of Muslims in history, and all who passed away between 1924 and 2014, died a death of disbelief. Cerantonio nodded gravely. “I would go so far as to say that Islam has been reestablished” by the caliphate.

I asked him about his own baya’a, and he quickly corrected me: “I didn’t say that I’d pledged allegiance.” Under Australian law, he reminded me, giving baya’a to the Islamic State was illegal. “But I agree that [Baghdadi] fulfills the requirements,” he continued. “I’m just going to wink at you, and you take that to mean whatever you want.”

To be the caliph, one must meet conditions outlined in Sunni law—being a Muslim adult man of Quraysh descent; exhibiting moral probity and physical and mental integrity; and having ’amr, or authority. This last criterion, Cerantonio said, is the hardest to fulfill, and requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce Islamic law. Baghdadi’s Islamic State achieved that long before June 29, Cerantonio said, and as soon as it did, a Western convert within the group’s ranks—Cerantonio described him as “something of a leader”—began murmuring about the religious obligation to declare a caliphate. He and others spoke quietly to those in power and told them that further delay would be sinful.

Cerantonio said a faction arose that was prepared to make war on Baghdadi’s group if it delayed any further. They prepared a letter to various powerful members of ISIS, airing their displeasure at the failure to appoint a caliph, but were pacified by Adnani, the spokesman, who let them in on a secret—that a caliphate had already been declared, long before the public announcement. They had their legitimate caliph, and at that point there was only one option. “If he’s legitimate,” Cerantonio said, “you must give him the baya’a.”
After Baghdadi’s July sermon, a stream of jihadists began flowing daily into Syria with renewed motivation. Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German author and former politician who visited the Islamic State in December, reported the arrival of 100 fighters at one Turkish-border recruitment station in just two days. His report, among others, suggests a still-steady inflow of foreigners, ready to give up everything at home for a shot at paradise in the worst place on Earth.

In London, a week before my meal with Cerantonio, I met with three ex-members of a banned Islamist group called Al Muhajiroun (The Emigrants): Anjem Choudary, Abu Baraa, and Abdul Muhid. They all expressed desire to emigrate to the Islamic State, as many of their colleagues already had, but the authorities had confiscated their passports. Like Cerantonio, they regarded the caliphate as the only righteous government on Earth, though none would confess having pledged allegiance. Their principal goal in meeting me was to explain what the Islamic State stands for, and how its policies reflect God’s law.
Choudary, 48, is the group’s former leader. He frequently appears on cable news, as one of the few people producers can book who will defend the Islamic State vociferously, until his mike is cut. He has a reputation in the United Kingdom as a loathsome blowhard, but he and his disciples sincerely believe in the Islamic State and, on matters of doctrine, speak in its voice. Choudary and the others feature prominently in the Twitter feeds of Islamic State residents, and Abu Baraa maintains a YouTube channel to answer questions about Sharia.

Since September, authorities have been investigating the three men on suspicion of supporting terrorism. Because of this investigation, they had to meet me separately: communication among them would have violated the terms of their bail. But speaking with them felt like speaking with the same person wearing different masks. Choudary met me in a candy shop in the East London suburb of Ilford. He was dressed smartly, in a crisp blue tunic reaching nearly to his ankles, and sipped a Red Bull while we talked.
Before the caliphate, “maybe 85 percent of the Sharia was absent from our lives,” Choudary told me. “These laws are in abeyance until we havekhilafa”—a caliphate—“and now we have one.” Without a caliphate, for example, individual vigilantes are not obliged to amputate the hands of thieves they catch in the act. But create a caliphate, and this law, along with a huge body of other jurisprudence, suddenly awakens. In theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws. One of Choudary’s prize students, a convert from Hinduism named Abu Rumaysah, evaded police to bring his family of five from London to Syria in November. On the day I met Choudary, Abu Rumaysah tweeted out a picture of himself with a Kalashnikov in one arm and his newborn son in the other. Hashtag: #GenerationKhilafah.

The caliph is required to implement Sharia. Any deviation will compel those who have pledged allegiance to inform the caliph in private of his error and, in extreme cases, to excommunicate and replace him if he persists. (“I have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility,” Baghdadi said in his sermon.) In return, the caliph commands obedience—and those who persist in supporting non-Muslim governments, after being duly warned and educated about their sin, are considered apostates.

Choudary said Sharia has been misunderstood because of its incomplete application by regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which does behead murderers and cut off thieves’ hands. “The problem,” he explained, “is that when places like Saudi Arabia just implement the penal code, and don’t provide the social and economic justice of the Sharia—the whole package—they simply engender hatred toward the Sharia.” That whole package, he said, would include free housing, food, and clothing for all, though of course anyone who wished to enrich himself with work could do so.

Abdul Muhid, 32, continued along these lines. He was dressed in mujahideen chic when I met him at a local restaurant: scruffy beard, Afghan cap, and a wallet outside of his clothes, attached with what looked like a shoulder holster. When we sat down, he was eager to discuss welfare. The Islamic State may have medieval-style punishments for moral crimes (lashes for boozing or fornication, stoning for adultery), but its social-welfare program is, at least in some aspects, progressive to a degree that would please an MSNBC pundit. Health care, he said, is free. (“Isn’t it free in Britain, too?,” I asked. “Not really,” he said. “Some procedures aren’t covered, such as vision.”) This provision of social welfare was not, he said, a policy choice of the Islamic State, but a policy obligation inherent in God’s law.

III. The Apocalypse

All Muslims acknowledge that God is the only one who knows the future. But they also agree that he has offered us a peek at it, in the Koran and in narrations of the Prophet. The Islamic State differs from nearly every other current jihadist movement in believing that it is written into God’s script as a central character. It is in this casting that the Islamic State is most boldly distinctive from its predecessors, and clearest in the religious nature of its mission.
In broad strokes, al-Qaeda acts like an underground political movement, with worldly goals in sight at all times—the expulsion of non-Muslims from the Arabian peninsula, the abolishment of the state of Israel, the end of support for dictatorships in Muslim lands. The Islamic State has its share of worldly concerns (including, in the places it controls, collecting garbage and keeping the water running), but the End of Days is a leitmotif of its propaganda. Bin Laden rarely mentioned the apocalypse, and when he did, he seemed to presume that he would be long dead when the glorious moment of divine comeuppance finally arrived. “Bin Laden and Zawahiri are from elite Sunni families who look down on this kind of speculation and think it’s something the masses engage in,” says Will McCants of the Brookings Institution, who is writing a book about the Islamic State’s apocalyptic thought.
During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers, by contrast, saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world. McCants says a prominent Islamist in Iraq approached bin Laden in 2008 to warn him that the group was being led by millenarians who were “talking all the time about the Mahdi and making strategic decisions” based on when they thought the Mahdi was going to arrive. “Al-Qaeda had to write to [these leaders] to say ‘Cut it out.’ ”

For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need. Of the Islamic State supporters I met, Musa Cerantonio, the Australian, expressed the deepest interest in the apocalypse and how the remaining days of the Islamic State—and the world—might look. Parts of that prediction are original to him, and do not yet have the status of doctrine. But other parts are based on mainstream Sunni sources and appear all over the Islamic State’s propaganda. These include the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and Baghdadi is the eighth; that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.
The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.
“Dabiq is basically all farmland,” one Islamic State supporter recently tweeted. “You could imagine large battles taking place there.” The Islamic State’s propagandists drool with anticipation of this event, and constantly imply that it will come soon. The state’s magazine quotes Zarqawi as saying, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.” A recent propaganda video shows clips from Hollywood war movies set in medieval times—perhaps because many of the prophecies specify that the armies will be on horseback or carrying ancient weapons.
Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. Western media frequently miss references to Dabiq in the Islamic State’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of beheading. “Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” said a masked executioner in a November video, showing the severed head of Peter (Abdul Rahman) Kassig, the aid worker who’d been held captive for more than a year. During fighting in Iraq in December, after mujahideen (perhaps inaccurately) reported having seen American soldiers in battle, Islamic State Twitter accounts erupted in spasms of pleasure, like overenthusiastic hosts or hostesses upon the arrival of the first guests at a party.
The Prophetic narration that foretells the Dabiq battle refers to the enemy as Rome. Who “Rome” is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. But Cerantonio makes a case that Rome meant the Eastern Roman empire, which had its capital in what is now Istanbul. We should think of Rome as the Republic of Turkey—the same republic that ended the last self-identified caliphate, 90 years ago. Other Islamic State sources suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the Americans will do nicely.

After its battle in Dabiq, Cerantonio said, the caliphate will expand and sack Istanbul. Some believe it will then cover the entire Earth, but Cerantonio suggested its tide may never reach beyond the Bosporus. An anti-Messiah, known in Muslim apocalyptic literature as Dajjal, will come from the Khorasan region of eastern Iran and kill a vast number of the caliphate’s fighters, until just 5,000 remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Just as Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus—the second-most-revered prophet in Islam—will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.
“Only God knows” whether the Islamic State’s armies are the ones foretold, Cerantonio said. But he is hopeful. “The Prophet said that one sign of the imminent arrival of the End of Days is that people will for a long while stop talking about the End of Days,” he said. “If you go to the mosques now, you’ll find the preachers are silent about this subject.” On this theory, even setbacks dealt to the Islamic State mean nothing, since God has preordained the near-destruction of his people anyway. The Islamic State has its best and worst days ahead of it.

IV. The Fight

The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions. Osama bin Laden was seldom predictable. He ended his first television interview cryptically. CNN’s Peter Arnett asked him, “What are your future plans?” Bin Laden replied, “You’ll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing.” By contrast, the Islamic State boasts openly about its plans—not all of them, but enough so that by listening carefully, we can deduce how it intends to govern and expand.
In London, Choudary and his students provided detailed descriptions of how the Islamic State must conduct its foreign policy, now that it is a caliphate. It has already taken up what Islamic law refers to as “offensive jihad,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. “Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves,” Choudary said; without a caliphate, offensive jihad is an inapplicable concept. But the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph.

Choudary took pains to present the laws of war under which the Islamic State operates as policies of mercy rather than of brutality. He told me the state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies—a holy order to scare the shit out of them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.
Choudary’s colleague Abu Baraa explained that Islamic law permits only temporary peace treaties, lasting no longer than a decade. Similarly, accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet and echoed in the Islamic State’s propaganda videos. If the caliph consents to a longer-term peace or permanent border, he will be in error. Temporary peace treaties are renewable, but may not be applied to all enemies at once: the caliph must wage jihad at least once a year. He may not rest, or he will fall into a state of sin.
One comparison to the Islamic State is the Khmer Rouge, which killed about a third of the population of Cambodia. But the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations. “This is not permitted,” Abu Baraa said. “To send an ambassador to the UN is to recognize an authority other than God’s.” This form of diplomacy is shirk, or polytheism, he argued, and would be immediate cause to hereticize and replace Baghdadi. Even to hasten the arrival of a caliphate by democratic means—for example by voting for political candidates who favor a caliphate—is shirk.
It’s hard to overstate how hamstrung the Islamic State will be by its radicalism. The modern international system, born of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, relies on each state’s willingness to recognize borders, however grudgingly. For the Islamic State, that recognition is ideological suicide. Other Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, have succumbed to the blandishments of democracy and the potential for an invitation to the community of nations, complete with a UN seat. Negotiation and accommodation have worked, at times, for the Taliban as well. (Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan exchanged ambassadors with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates, an act that invalidated the Taliban’s authority in the Islamic State’s eyes.) To the Islamic State these are not options, but acts of apostasy.
The United States and its allies have reacted to the Islamic State belatedly and in an apparent daze. The group’s ambitions and rough strategic blueprints were evident in its pronouncements and in social-media chatter as far back as 2011, when it was just one of many terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and hadn’t yet committed mass atrocities. Adnani, the spokesman, told followers then that the group’s ambition was to “restore the Islamic caliphate,” and he evoked the apocalypse, saying, “There are but a few days left.” Baghdadi had already styled himself “commander of the faithful,” a title ordinarily reserved for caliphs, in 2011. In April 2013, Adnani declared the movement “ready to redraw the world upon the Prophetic methodology of the caliphate.” In August 2013, he said, “Our goal is to establish an Islamic state that doesn’t recognize borders, on the Prophetic methodology.” By then, the group had taken Raqqa, a Syrian provincial capital of perhaps 500,000 people, and was drawing in substantial numbers of foreign fighters who’d heard its message.
If we had identified the Islamic State’s intentions early, and realized that the vacuum in Syria and Iraq would give it ample space to carry them out, we might, at a minimum, have pushed Iraq to harden its border with Syria and preemptively make deals with its Sunnis. That would at least have avoided the electrifying propaganda effect created by the declaration of a caliphate just after the conquest of Iraq’s third-largest city. Yet, just over a year ago, Obama told The New Yorker that he considered ISIS to be al-Qaeda’s weaker partner. “If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” the president said.
Our failure to appreciate the split between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and the essential differences between the two, has led to dangerous decisions. Last fall, to take one example, the U.S. government consented to a desperate plan to save Peter Kassig’s life. The plan facilitated—indeed, required—the interaction of some of the founding figures of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and could hardly have looked more hastily improvised.

It entailed the enlistment of Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, the Zarqawi mentor and al-Qaeda grandee, to approach Turki al-Binali, the Islamic State’s chief ideologue and a former student of Maqdisi’s, even though the two men had fallen out due to Maqdisi’s criticism of the Islamic State. Maqdisi had already called for the state to extend mercy to Alan Henning, the British cabbie who had entered Syria to deliver aid to children. In December, The Guardian reported that the U.S. government, through an intermediary, had asked Maqdisi to intercede with the Islamic State on Kassig’s behalf.

Maqdisi was living freely in Jordan, but had been banned from communicating with terrorists abroad, and was being monitored closely. After Jordan granted the United States permission to reintroduce Maqdisi to Binali, Maqdisi bought a phone with American money and was allowed to correspond merrily with his former student for a few days, before the Jordanian government stopped the chats and used them as a pretext to jail Maqdisi. Kassig’s severed head appeared in the Dabiq video a few days later.

Maqdisi gets mocked roundly on Twitter by the Islamic State’s fans, and al‑Qaeda is held in great contempt for refusing to acknowledge the caliphate. Cole Bunzel, a scholar who studies Islamic State ideology, read Maqdisi’s opinion on Henning’s status and thought it would hasten his and other captives’ death. “If I were held captive by the Islamic State and Maqdisi said I shouldn’t be killed,” he told me, “I’d kiss my ass goodbye.”
Kassig’s death was a tragedy, but the plan’s success would have been a bigger one. A reconciliation between Maqdisi and Binali would have begun to heal the main rift between the world’s two largest jihadist organizations. It’s possible that the government wanted only to draw out Binali for intelligence purposes or assassination. (Multiple attempts to elicit comment from the FBI were unsuccessful.) Regardless, the decision to play matchmaker for America’s two main terrorist antagonists reveals astonishingly poor judgment.

Chastened by our earlier indifference, we are now meeting the Islamic State via Kurdish and Iraqi proxy on the battlefield, and with regular air assaults. Those strategies haven’t dislodged the Islamic State from any of its major territorial possessions, although they’ve kept it from directly assaulting Baghdad and Erbil and slaughtering Shia and Kurds there.
Some observers have called for escalation, including several predictable voices from the interventionist right (Max Boot, Frederick Kagan), who have urged the deployment of tens of thousands of American soldiers. These calls should not be dismissed too quickly: an avowedly genocidal organization is on its potential victims’ front lawn, and it is committing daily atrocities in the territory it already controls.

One way to un-cast the Islamic State’s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of Syria and Iraq now under caliphate rule. Al‑Qaeda is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding. Former pledges could of course continue to attack the West and behead their enemies, as freelancers. But the propaganda value of the caliphate would disappear, and with it the supposed religious duty to immigrate and serve it. If the United States were to invade, the Islamic State’s obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed, it might never recover.

And yet the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have givenbaya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options. Neither the Kurds nor the Shia will ever subdue and control the whole Sunni heartland of Syria and Iraq—they are hated there, and have no appetite for such an adventure anyway. But they can keep the Islamic State from fulfilling its duty to expand. And with every month that it fails to expand, it resembles less the conquering state of the Prophet Muhammad than yet another Middle Eastern government failing to bring prosperity to its people.

The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest. Al-Qaeda’s core is rare among jihadist groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the West); most jihadist groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of the Islamic State, precisely because of its ideology. It sees enemies everywhere around it, and while its leadership wishes ill on the United States, the application of Sharia in the caliphate and the expansion to contiguous lands are paramount. Baghdadi has said as much directly: in November he told his Saudi agents to “deal with the rafida [Shia] first … then al-Sulul [Sunni supporters of the Saudi monarchy] … before the crusaders and their bases.”

The foreign fighters (and their wives and children) have been traveling to the caliphate on one-way tickets: they want to live under true Sharia, and many want martyrdom. Doctrine, recall, requires believers to reside in the caliphate if it is at all possible for them to do so. One of the Islamic State’s less bloody videos shows a group of jihadists burning their French, British, and Australian passports. This would be an eccentric act for someone intending to return to blow himself up in line at the Louvre or to hold another chocolate shop hostage in Sydney.

A few “lone wolf” supporters of the Islamic State have attacked Western targets, and more attacks will come. But most of the attackers have been frustrated amateurs, unable to immigrate to the caliphate because of confiscated passports or other problems. Even if the Islamic State cheers these attacks—and it does in its propaganda—it hasn’t yet planned and financed one. (The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January was principally an al‑Qaeda operation.) During his visit to Mosul in December, Jürgen Todenhöfer interviewed a portly German jihadist and asked whether any of his comrades had returned to Europe to carry out attacks. The jihadist seemed to regard returnees not as soldiers but as dropouts. “The fact is that the returnees from the Islamic State should repent from their return,” he said. “I hope they review their religion.”

Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.

Even so, the death of the Islamic State is unlikely to be quick, and things could still go badly wrong: if the Islamic State obtained the allegiance of al‑Qaeda—increasing, in one swoop, the unity of its base—it could wax into a worse foe than we’ve yet seen. The rift between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda has, if anything, grown in the past few months; the December issue of Dabiq featured a long account of an al‑Qaeda defector who described his old group as corrupt and ineffectual, and Zawahiri as a distant and unfit leader. But we should watch carefully for a rapprochement.

Without a catastrophe such as this, however, or perhaps the threat of the Islamic State’s storming Erbil, a vast ground invasion would certainly make the situation worse.

V. Dissuasion

It would be facile, even exculpatory, to call the problem of the Islamic State “a problem with Islam.” The religion allows many interpretations, and Islamic State supporters are morally on the hook for the one they choose. And yet simply denouncing the Islamic State as un-Islamic can be counterproductive, especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them.

Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.

The Islamic State’s ideology exerts powerful sway over a certain subset of the population. Life’s hypocrisies and inconsistencies vanish in its face. Musa Cerantonio and the Salafis I met in London are unstumpable: no question I posed left them stuttering. They lectured me garrulously and, if one accepts their premises, convincingly. To call them un-Islamic appears, to me, to invite them into an argument that they would win. If they had been froth-spewing maniacs, I might be able to predict that their movement would burn out as the psychopaths detonated themselves or became drone-splats, one by one. But these men spoke with an academic precision that put me in mind of a good graduate seminar. I even enjoyed their company, and that frightened me as much as anything else.

Non-muslims cannot tell Muslims how to practice their religion properly. But Muslims have long since begun this debate within their own ranks. “You have to have standards,” Anjem Choudary told me. “Somebody could claim to be a Muslim, but if he believes in homosexuality or drinking alcohol, then he is not a Muslim. There is no such thing as a nonpracticing vegetarian.”

There is, however, another strand of Islam that offers a hard-line alternative to the Islamic State—just as uncompromising, but with opposite conclusions. This strand has proved appealing to many Muslims cursed or blessed with a psychological longing to see every jot and tittle of the holy texts implemented as they were in the earliest days of Islam. Islamic State supporters know how to react to Muslims who ignore parts of the Koran: with takfir and ridicule. But they also know that some other Muslims read the Koran as assiduously as they do, and pose a real ideological threat.

Baghdadi is Salafi. The term Salafi has been villainized, in part because authentic villains have ridden into battle waving the Salafi banner. But most Salafis are not jihadists, and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State. They are, as Haykel notes, committed to expanding Dar al-Islam, the land of Islam, even, perhaps, with the implementation of monstrous practices such as slavery and amputation—but at some future point. Their first priority is personal purification and religious observance, and they believe anything that thwarts those goals—such as causing war or unrest that would disrupt lives and prayer and scholarship—is forbidden.

They live among us. Last fall, I visited the Philadelphia mosque of Breton Pocius, 28, a Salafi imam who goes by the name Abdullah. His mosque is on the border between the crime-ridden Northern Liberties neighborhood and a gentrifying area that one might call Dar al-Hipster; his beard allows him to pass in the latter zone almost unnoticed.

Pocius converted 15 years ago after a Polish Catholic upbringing in Chicago. Like Cerantonio, he talks like an old soul, exhibiting deep familiarity with ancient texts, and a commitment to them motivated by curiosity and scholarship, and by a conviction that they are the only way to escape hellfire. When I met him at a local coffee shop, he carried a work of Koranic scholarship in Arabic and a book for teaching himself Japanese. He was preparing a sermon on the obligations of fatherhood for the 150 or so worshipers in his Friday congregation.
Pocius said his main goal is to encourage a halal life for worshipers in his mosque. But the rise of the Islamic State has forced him to consider political questions that are usually very far from the minds of Salafis. “Most of what they’ll say about how to pray and how to dress is exactly what I’ll say in my masjid [mosque]. But when they get to questions about social upheaval, they sound like Che Guevara.”

When Baghdadi showed up, Pocius adopted the slogan “Not my khalifa.” “The times of the Prophet were a time of great bloodshed,” he told me, “and he knew that the worst possible condition for all people was chaos, especially within the umma [Muslim community].” Accordingly, Pocius said, the correct attitude for Salafis is not to sow discord by factionalizing and declaring fellow Muslims apostates.

Instead, Pocius—like a majority of Salafis—believes that Muslims should remove themselves from politics. These quietist Salafis, as they are known, agree with the Islamic State that God’s law is the only law, and they eschew practices like voting and the creation of political parties. But they interpret the Koran’s hatred of discord and chaos as requiring them to fall into line with just about any leader, including some manifestly sinful ones. “The Prophet said: as long as the ruler does not enter into clear kufr [disbelief], give him general obedience,” Pocius told me, and the classic “books of creed” all warn against causing social upheaval. Quietist Salafis are strictly forbidden from dividing Muslims from one another—for example, by mass excommunication. Living without baya’a, Pocius said, does indeed make one ignorant, or benighted. But baya’a need not mean direct allegiance to a caliph, and certainly not to Abu Bakr al‑Baghdadi. It can mean, more broadly, allegiance to a religious social contract and commitment to a society of Muslims, whether ruled by a caliph or not.
Quietist Salafis believe that Muslims should direct their energies toward perfecting their personal life, including prayer, ritual, and hygiene. Much in the same way ultra-Orthodox Jews debate whether it’s kosher to tear off squares of toilet paper on the Sabbath (does that count as “rending cloth”?), they spend an inordinate amount of time ensuring that their trousers are not too long, that their beards are trimmed in some areas and shaggy in others. Through this fastidious observance, they believe, God will favor them with strength and numbers, and perhaps a caliphate will arise. At that moment, Muslims will take vengeance and, yes, achieve glorious victory at Dabiq. But Pocius cites a slew of modern Salafi theologians who argue that a caliphate cannot come into being in a righteous way except through the unmistakable will of God.

The Islamic State, of course, would agree, and say that God has anointed Baghdadi. Pocius’s retort amounts to a call to humility. He cites Abdullah Ibn Abbas, one of the Prophet’s companions, who sat down with dissenters and asked them how they had the gall, as a minority, to tell the majority that it was wrong. Dissent itself, to the point of bloodshed or splitting theumma, was forbidden. Even the manner of the establishment of Baghdadi’s caliphate runs contrary to expectation, he said. “The khilafa is something that Allah is going to establish,” he told me, “and it will involve a consensus of scholars from Mecca and Medina. That is not what happened. ISIS came out of nowhere.”

The Islamic State loathes this talk, and its fanboys tweet derisively about quietist Salafis. They mock them as “Salafis of menstruation,” for their obscure judgments about when women are and aren’t clean, and other low-priority aspects of life. “What we need now is fatwa about how it’s haram [forbidden] to ride a bike on Jupiter,” one tweeted drily. “That’s what scholars should focus on. More pressing than state of Ummah.” Anjem Choudary, for his part, says that no sin merits more vigorous opposition than the usurpation of God’s law, and that extremism in defense of monotheism is no vice.

Pocius doesn’t court any kind of official support from the United States, as a counterweight to jihadism. Indeed, official support would tend to discredit him, and in any case he is bitter toward America for treating him, in his words, as “less than a citizen.” (He alleges that the government paid spies to infiltrate his mosque and harassed his mother at work with questions about his being a potential terrorist.)

Still, his quietist Salafism offers an Islamic antidote to Baghdadi-style jihadism. The people who arrive at the faith spoiling for a fight cannot all be stopped from jihadism, but those whose main motivation is to find an ultraconservative, uncompromising version of Islam have an alternative here. It is not moderate Islam; most Muslims would consider it extreme. It is, however, a form of Islam that the literal-minded would not instantly find hypocritical, or blasphemously purged of its inconveniences. Hypocrisy is not a sin that ideologically minded young men tolerate well.

Western officials would probably do best to refrain from weighing in on matters of Islamic theological debate altogether. Barack Obama himself drifted into takfiri waters when he claimed that the Islamic State was “not Islamic”—the irony being that he, as the non-Muslim son of a Muslim, may himself be classified as an apostate, and yet is now practicing takfir against Muslims. Non-Muslims’ practicing takfir elicits chuckles from jihadists (“Like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice to others,” one tweeted).
I suspect that most Muslims appreciated Obama’s sentiment: the president was standing with them against both Baghdadi and non-Muslim chauvinists trying to implicate them in crimes. But most Muslims aren’tsusceptible to joining jihad. The ones who are susceptible will only have had their suspicions confirmed: the United States lies about religion to serve its purposes.

Within the narrow bounds of its theology, the Islamic State hums with energy, even creativity. Outside those bounds, it could hardly be more arid and silent: a vision of life as obedience, order, and destiny. Musa Cerantonio and Anjem Choudary could mentally shift from contemplating mass death and eternal torture to discussing the virtues of Vietnamese coffee or treacly pastry, with apparent delight in each, yet to me it seemed that to embrace their views would be to see all the flavors of this world grow insipid compared with the vivid grotesqueries of the hereafter.

I could enjoy their company, as a guilty intellectual exercise, up to a point. In reviewing Mein Kampf in March 1940, George Orwell confessed that he had “never been able to dislike Hitler”; something about the man projected an underdog quality, even when his goals were cowardly or loathsome. “If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.” The Islamic State’s partisans have much the same allure. They believe that they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure—especially when it is also a burden.
Fascism, Orwell continued, is
psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.
Nor, in the case of the Islamic State, its religious or intellectual appeal. That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.

Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is