Once upon a time, in a far away desert hell-hole, there began Al Qaeda in Iraq, born in 2004 to oppose the U.S. invasion there. Its leaders came to doubt the worth of the Al Qaeda brand and so Al Qaeda in Iraq begat the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006, which begat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013, which begat the Islamic State, claiming to be their resurrection of the Muslim Caliphate abolished by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1924.
The full Arabic term for this alleged Caliphate is al-Dawlah al-Islam?yah f? al-?Ir?q wa-al-Sh?m, which can be reduced to an acronym that is nonsensical in Arabic but has a sound similar to Arabic words that are not anything the terrorists wish to have as their calling card, Daesh. Arabs who don’t like or respect the Islamic State have taken to calling it Daesh because it pisses the terrorists off, and that usage has spread to the west. Daesh they shall be in this series of articles, a tiny bit different from what French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius calls them, but for exactly the reason Fabius cites:
This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists. The Arabs call it ‘Daesh,’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats.’
Daesh is the enemy of the United States, of Canada, and of every Indian nation that occupies North American real estate. Do we fight or do we talk?
Sympathetic Indians refer to persons in my profession as “briefcase warriors;” unsympathetic Indians offer less complimentary descriptions. I’ll plead guilty to having a predilection for talking over fighting. Even if my instincts didn’t swing that way, I’m too old for fighting.
But we cannot talk to Daesh.
This is not a slander. This is a straightforward reading of their theology, to which we had better pay more attention than has been the case.
Daesh is prone to putting war crimes on video, crimes that started with beheadings and got more creative over time. With U.S. airmen flying the unfriendly skies of Syria, the video of a young Jordanian pilot being burned alive should capture our attention. Religion can be perverted to justify terrible things, but American Indians know that. The colonization of the Americas came wrapped in religion and our experiences as objects of other people’s beliefs left us sensitive to what could come when the same impulse is combined with violence on a scale hard to comprehend in modern times..
The colonists like to claim they came to North America seeking religious freedom, a load of bull taught as fact to children in K-12. In fact, they came to North America seeking the “freedom” to oppress others for their religious beliefs. The oppression was visited not only—or even primarily—on American Indians.
The poet John Greenleaf Whittier described the fate of Alice Ambrose, Mary Tompkins, and Ann Coleman, Quakers from England who offended the established Congregational Church. The three young women were whipped while being pulled through 11 towns, pulled naked from the waist up over 80 miles in the winter, receiving 10 strokes in each town. Whittier attacked this understanding of religious freedom in "How the Women Went from Dover":
The tossing spray of Cocheco's fall
Hardened to ice on its rocky wall,
As through Dover town in the chill, gray dawn,
Three women passed, at the cart-tail drawn!
Bared to the waist, for the north wind's grip
And keener sting of the constable's whip,
The blood that followed each hissing blow
Froze as it sprinkled the winter snow.
Praise the Lord, I guess.
Colonization of the so-called New World began in North America long after Martin Luther had his historical showdown with Roman Catholic corruption we now call the Protestant Reformation. Luther died in 1546 and even before his death it was plain that the western church would not be divided into merely Roman Catholics and Lutherans.
Non-Catholics divided into personality cults behind various theologians who were newly freed to think and write without the limitations imposed by the Pope. Tolerance, alas, was still in short supply. When those theologians were able to convert a ruler, they harnessed the power of the government to oppress other cults. Religious differences came to be intertwined with power politics, and churches on the outs with secular power often decamped for the colonies. These facts fed the myth that the 13 colonies were always tolerant utopias.
Religious wars remained confined to Europe, but ill-treatment of religious dissenters did not. Some of the earliest North American colonists were Puritans, who treated those who disagreed with them very badly. You may have heard of the Salem witch trials?
All 13 of the original colonies had state-supported (“established”) churches at various times in their histories. It was concern over importing the European religious wars to North America that led to the ban on establishment of religion in the First Amendment. The ban did not affect state churches, because the original Bill of Rights bound only the federal government.
All of these representatives of the One True God came to a truce in the United States, but they only let up on killing each other in Europe over theology in a 1994 Irish truce between Catholics and Protestants brokered by President Bill Clinton. That truce has been surprisingly durable.
Indians have generally been bystanders in religious wars, although at times they were an issue—that is, sects would battle for conversion rights to Indian souls. The rivalry remains, but the wholesale killing stopped long ago.
Praise the Lord, I guess.
Daesh is, in terms of our interests, much worse than the missionary infestation that persists around some reservations to this day, but against Daesh we have the defensive advantage of distance and the offensive advantage that the colonial governments are on our side this time. Daesh theology is an open book and that book is the Holy Quran, read as literally as some Christians read whichever translation of the Holy Bible they choose, whether the particular translation was done by impartial scholars or adopted in response to long-gone political exigencies.
The political exigency for our times is, Daesh believes, the End Times are upon us. Their theology dates from before the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and therefore they do not, as a matter of faith, “believe in” national borders that they are bound to respect.
There is only one border, and that is the one between The Caliphate and kuffars—that’s us, infidels. It is the duty of the Caliph to expand the Caliphate by force and, should he shirk that duty, observant Muslims are required to overthrow him—a process usually fatal—and install a Caliph who will do his duty. Part of his duty is to wage jihad at least once a year.
Mainstream Islam holds that “jihad” refers to a personal struggle for purification, but Daesh is to mainstream Islam as snake cults are to mainstream Christianity. The Prophet expanded the Caliphate by force and the life of the Prophet is to be emulated without regard to almost 1400 years of intervening history.
Judaism has put aside the divinely approved violence of the Torah and Christianity has tamped down internecine warfare, but Islam is a younger faith and lacks a central authority. As a religion progresses, the violence in its scripture comes to be interpreted as metaphorical, a development common to all three Abrahamic faiths that Daesh dismisses as “modernist.”
According the Daesh theology, an observant Muslim may not be a delegate to an international organization or vote or recognize any authority but the Caliph. The Taliban lost Muslim authenticity, according to Daesh, when they exchanged ambassadors with a few Arab states. Al Qaeda lost Muslim authenticity for—understand this—insufficient brutality, leading to what Daesh believe to be modernist perversions of sharia just as evil as the imams who teach that the U.S. Constitution is sharia-compliant.
Daesh call their propaganda magazine Dabiq, after a Syrian city they paid a high price on the battlefield to occupy. Their theology teaches that the army of “Rome” will engage them at Dabiq. It’s ironic that these “scholars” who claim to follow the “plain language” of the prophecies cannot do so with the matter of “Rome” because the Pope, as Joseph Stalin famously said in more salty language, has no army.
The Prophet said, “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr,” a saying Daesh honors in the breach. Fundamentalists are just as susceptible to gleaning what they want from sacred texts as the people they ridicule for doing the same, and what Daesh wants is for the U.S. to play the part of Rome.
Part II of this series on Natives and ISIS will address the role of our dear friends the Saudis in birthing the Daesh monster before, in Part III, getting to what Dabiq the jihadi publication tells us is going to happen at Dabiq, the strategically useless city, and what that says about how to fight them.
Allahu akbar, I guess.
Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.