Is There Anything Baffling about Islamic State?

Earlier this month, the New York Review of Books published an essay on Islamic State (IS) by an unnamed former “official of a NATO country” who admitted his “bafflement” at its rise to power. Paul Berman argues that confusion is uncalled-for:

What is [Islamic State’s] motive? On this point, . . . there is no mystery. IS has been eager to reveal its own thinking. It slaughters for religious reasons—which is to say, for reasons that are bound to seem incomprehensible to us. It is piety that requires the efficiently organized jihadists to slaughter the poor unoffending Yazidi minority in Iraq; and to slaughter the Shiites, which they have been doing for many years now, one suicide bombing after another; and to slaughter Christians; and would surely require them to slaughter the Jews, if only the Israel Defense Force would do them the kindness of getting out of the way. Given the opportunity, Islamic State would slaughter most of the world, if I understand [its] doctrine correctly. Slavery, too, is piety, in these people’s eyes. They pray before raping.

And they have prospered! Their successes bear out political theory on a few points, but mostly they are a rebuke to political theory. They are the enemy and conqueror of every doctrine that has ever supposed human behavior to be predictable. This is the bafflement. . . . They have scored a triumph over every theory of human progress that has ever been proposed. They are not the first people to score such a victory.

We have needed their reminder, though. In recent decades we have liked to tell ourselves that, after the Nazis, mankind has learned its lesson. But mankind is not a lesson-learning entity. . . . [I]f once upon a time the barbarities of the 7th century thrilled and inspired a substantial portion of mankind, we can be confident that 7th-century barbarities will remain forevermore a viable possibility.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: ISIS, Jihadism, Middle East, Political philosophy, Politics & Current Affairs

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf