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World War ISIS, Part 3: Apocalypse Now—and Forever!

Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, a city that in all but age could be in North America, have gotten attention from the obvious targets in New York and Washington to the most remote reservation. Nobody is allowed to be a bystander now, according to the theology driving the Islamic State, known disrespectfully by a nonsensical Arabic acronym, Daesh. They are out to continue Allah’s work of spreading the Caliphate by force, work that the rest of the world thought ended with the Battle of Tours in the year 732.

The time before the defeat at Tours was what we now call the Golden Age of Islam. Europe was mired in the Dark Ages while the Caliphate had--ironically, in terms of current events--moved its capital from Damascus to Baghdad and funded scholars who were busy translating Plato and Aristotle and bringing Arabic notation to mathematics.

Bayt al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, was funded by the Caliphate to preserve the best of human learning, east and west. In those days, the book-burners were in Europe. It was book-burning Christians who stopped the expansion of the Islamic world.

The Umayyad Caliphate, defeated at Tours by the Franks (who would later found the nation just attacked by Daesh) represented all of al-Islam at the farthest reach of its power. Muslim forces would not be completely ejected from Europe until Queen Isabella of Castile married King Ferdinand of Aragon and they joined forces to drive Muslims and Jews out of what would become Spain, using the terror tactics of the Spanish Inquisition.

When the Iberian Peninsula was deemed sufficiently cleansed of non-Catholics in 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand funded an itinerant explorer to spread the faith and bring home gold, not necessarily in that order. The invasion Columbus started would go on to burn virtually all of the Mayan codices—the intellectual patrimony of Mayan culture—because the Mayans were not Christian. This was our first collision with the religious conflicts of another continent. Daesh aims to be the second.

Religious wars are not new and terrorism is not new but an attempt to conquer the world driven by a presumption of divine authority seems so silly in our times that we’ve been slow to understand the threat even though Daesh has not hidden their goals.

First, they seek to purify Islam. They are Sunnis and so the minority Shi’a, led by Iran, must die. That is, they declare, the proper punishment for Muslim apostates.

Sunnis who offer allegiance to any authority but the Caliphate are also apostates. This puts Daesh at odds with the vast majority of Muslims. The Prophet said, “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’ one of them is right.” Splitting the umma (the Muslim community) is a sin Daesh commits every day.

Christians and Jews are considered “people of the Book,” and the Book of which they are people is the Quran. People of the Book are to be conquered but not killed, provided they submit to the Caliphate and pay jizya, which could be seen as either protection money or a tax on deviant beliefs. Because the people of the Book have been exposed to part of the truth, they already worship the One True God and all they need to do to deserve equal regard is accept that Muhammad is His prophet.

Which brings me to the status of American Indians, at least those who have not converted to Christianity. To Daesh, we are pagans, and fit only for slavery. They have the option to let us live if we grovel in a convincing manner, but our wives will be their concubines and our children will be their slaves.

The Caliphate recognizes no borders except the one between itself and the rest of the world. They are on a literal mission from God to rule the world. If they have not attacked us at home, the reason is because they can’t, not because they are willing to let us be.

The Daesh terror attack on Paris demonstrated capability to act on their expressed motive to reach unbelievers far beyond their borders. In Western Europe, overrun by refugees from Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the political atmosphere is much like the aftermath of September 11, 2001, except the unity forged by that attack is absent. Right-wing parties are gaining influence in France, Germany, and the Netherlands on a platform of scapegoating all Muslims and all Arabs.

In the United States as well, some politicians of national stature are stoking fear of Islam to offer themselves as best able to fend off the threat, a threat that is, we must recognize, real.

Daesh threatens to bring the war that is its lifeblood directly to us, to do in Washington what it did in Paris. Can that happen? Sure it can. Asymmetrical warfare against modern nations is easy for those willing to die.

We must understand Daesh terrorism as asymmetrical warfare with objectives, unconventional as those objectives may be.

Daesh has claimed the mantle of the Islamic caliphate for a tiny sect of book-burners who have looted and destroyed UNESCO World Heritage Sites behind the claim that no culture counts that is not devoted to a literal reading of the Quran. They have kindred spirits in Christian fundamentalists who also hold science in contempt and share the Daesh belief that we are in the End Times, when Jesus will return to lead an army to Jerusalem. While they agree on these broad strokes, the general Good v. Evil storyline, the Christian fringe and the Muslim fringe each believes it will be the hero of the story.

Daesh went out of its way to take over the Syrian city of Dabiq in spite of the fact that it has no apparent strategic value. They also named their principal propaganda organ Dabiq. The Daesh theology these choices represent informs both how much danger it poses and how best to fight it. This analysis merits the kind of care that did not inform the second invasion of Iraq or its aftermath.

To Daesh, what we call a War on Terror is a confrontation between Dar al-Islam (land of Islam) and Dar al-Kufr (land of disbelief), an epic struggle in which any peace is temporary and tactical. Islamic theology matters to the fight we are facing but it’s not something the public would understand since few of us living in Dar al-Kufr trouble ourselves to understand our own theology, let alone a 7th- century version of somebody else’s.

Daesh does not represent Islam and that’s why our fight is not with Islam. We must not ascribe Daesh nonsense to the fourth of the world’s population that professes Islam. If we push Muslims away by conflating their beliefs with this most insane and isolated sect, where will they go?

The current Muslim stereotype is a Bedouin Arab aka “camel jockey” aka “raghead” in the language of ethnic insult. In fact, none of the five countries with the greatest Muslim population is Arab. In order of number of Muslims: Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. The first Arab country, Egypt, is sixth on the list with about five percent of the world’s Muslims, followed by another non-Arab country, Iran, heir to the Persian Empire, also about five percent. All the Arab Muslims together account for about a fifth of the Muslims in the world.

The jihad against the non-Muslim world registers among fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. but the identity of the enemy as a minority of a minority does not. They seldom have a word to say about the enmity between Shi’a and Sunni Islam.

To the politically active fundamentalist Christians, Shi’a Iran is our greatest enemy because Iran is Israel’s greatest enemy, and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is even higher on their agenda than defeating Daesh. Is there any other time in our history when a foreign politician has been allowed to film a political advertisement using the U.S. Congress as a backdrop? Those who invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do that are happy to understand the U.S. to be at war against all Muslims, on whom Barack Obama is at least soft even if he doesn’t hide a prayer rug in the oval office.

In addition to Iran as a primary adversary, another thing Daesh shares with fundamentalist Christians is the conviction that we are living in End Times. Both agree that we are destined to meet a resurrected Jesus in modern Jerusalem but Daesh expects some fighting along the path to the apocalypse to begin in Dabiq, where the Caliph’s forces (Daesh) are destined to meet the army of Rome (the U.S.). They have been doing their best to bait us into that fight.

Daesh expects to take heavy casualties in Dabiq, but they do not fear the U.S. because they do not fear death. Daesh expects to escape from Dabiq, severely weakened. Still, they will go on to “sack Constantinople.” The Turks, who used to host the Sunni Caliphate, will be fought on the way to Jerusalem, where a resurrected Jesus (the Christian Redeemer) will join with the Mahdi (the Islamic Redeemer) in the great final battle against Satan’s forces. The only clue to the timeframe for this drama is the current alleged Caliph being the eighth of 12, but some fundamentalists believe the Mahdi is already born and living among us.

Since the low-tech-but-high-fear attack on western civilization in Paris, the U.S. is teetering on the brink of an irrational reaction. One small blow--much smaller than the one that shook Paris---threatens to sweep war weariness aside. One blow in the U.S. homeland, and Daesh might have the “crusade” they have explicitly tried to provoke.

Right now, the U.S. strategy is to keep Daesh at a slow bleed, and it’s working, but it may be working too slowly to suit U.S. voters. Daesh has lost about a quarter of its territory and thousands of fighters since the U.S. began the air war in September of 2014. The “Caliphate” continued to expand well into this year, but as more allies joined the air war so many sorties were being flown that warplanes sometimes returned with their bomb loads, deprived of targets because Daesh no longer moves freely within the land base it claims. Since the Paris attack, the French have expanded the allied rules of engagement to destroy anything moving that appears commercial, let alone military.

The big question is whether to take the bait and go to Dabiq. If we send ground forces into Syria, the war of attrition against Daesh turns into a war of attrition against us, a test of how long we are willing to bleed. This is the war the Taliban have been fighting since 2001 and the precursor organization to Daesh, Al Qaeda in Iraq, has been fighting since 2004, the year after our second invasion of that benighted desert real estate.

If we do rise to the bait, it would be prudent to take the top six inches off Dabiq. Exterminate them. But some of us are proud that, at least since the Indian wars, the U.S. has not had the stomach for that kind of fight. Our self-image is that we don’t do extinction as a battle goal. Is it wise to give up our belief that we are not barbarians?

Daesh has a weakness embedded in their theology. It requires a land base to identify as dar al-Islam, the abode of Islam, the Caliphate. Because the Caliphate requires land to rule, they will at some point—unlike their predecessors in Al Qaeda-- have to stand and fight a conventional battle.

The final showdown between God’s armies and Satan’s armies will be conventional warfare on a defined battlefield. The prophecies Daesh is in a death march to fulfill begin at Dabiq.

Our Sunni allies in the Gulf States and our Shi’a adversaries in Iran are Muslim apostates marked for death. Requiring them to defend themselves before we agree to shed blood defending them makes tactical and strategic sense--provided domestic U.S. politics will allow enough delay before striking Daesh back.

The drums are beating for war and President Obama is out of step while all the Republican candidates throw elbows to get in front of the parade. Although the Republican Congress holds the power to declare war, so far they’ve been afraid to even pass an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Daesh, forcing Obama to fight his war of attrition based on the AUMF passed back in 2001.

The political fear is well-founded, given the judgment history has rendered on the second Iraq War. With their presidential candidates beating the drums, the congressional cowards will not summon the courage to stop another war even if they remain afraid to be counted in favor of one.

There are valid arguments for and against playing into the fantasies of this millenarian religious cult its Arab enemies call Daesh, but no excuse for not understanding our role from the enemy’s point of view. Failing to decode the theology because we are angered or scared by the tragedy in Paris would be, in President Obama’s words, “shooting first and aiming later.”

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.

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