Intro Michel Wyss’ ‘The Ideology of ISIS’
Edited by John R. Houk
Intro date: 6/24/16
I found a very interesting PDF written by Michel Wyss circa 2015 while he was attending the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy located in Israel. I took it upon myself to convert the PDF into a Word document in order to cross post Mr. Wyss’ analysis of ISIS.
Michel Wyss Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy photo
There is not much accessible info on Michel Wyss but what I did find shows him to be a very interesting young man. Apparently his native language is German yet proficiently speaks English and French. He claims to have a lesser knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic but still uses the descriptive word “proficiency” when adding them to his language skills. He has gone to school in Europe, Israel and the USA to develop his expertise. Wyss’ last entry at LinkedIn (2015-16) shows has moved beyond student to an expert researcher:
Ragonis Scholarship for 2015/2016
Ragonis Foundation, International Institute for Counterterrorism (ICT), and the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC)
Recipient of an initial grant for a research proposal on Iranian Proxy Warfare in the Middle East (research to be conducted within a year).
“Promoting Research in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security
The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), are pleased to announce an annual scholarships awarding to promote research in counter-terrorism and homeland security.
The scholarships will be given in memory of Architect, Major Eyal Ragonis z”l, for his military and civilian accomplishments. The scholarships’ aim is to promote research in counter-terrorism and homeland security by IDC Herzliya students as well as IDF soldiers and officers.”
Michel Wyss LinkedIn photo
Now I share this to demonstrate that Michel Wyss is well qualified to make the insightful analysis he has made about ISIS.
I don’t know if this was Michel Wyss’ intention, but his essay brings a bit of understanding how Multicultural Leftists seem to be way more supportive of Islamic ideology than they should be.
Enjoy the read.
The Ideology of ISIS
By Michel Wyss
January 1, 2015
PDF version located: Academia.edu
University: Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya – Israel
This research paper examines the ideology of the Salafi-Jihadist organization ISIS (also known as Islamic State, ISIL, Daesh). It offers a brief description of the Salafi-Jihad doctrine and discusses the four core functions of ideology and how they apply in the case of ISIS. It further describes how the ideology of ISIS shares many similarities with modern ideologies, in particular Marxism-Leninism, and examines what distinguishes it from other ideologies, mainly its incorporation of religious motifs. Finally, the paper concludes by arguing that the Salafi-jihad ideology of ISIS is a synthesis of the characteristics of modern ideologies and a very particular interpretation of Islam and discussing some of the ensuing counter-terror policy implications.
Defining Salafi-jihad ideology
According to Drake, ideologies are “the beliefs, values, principles, and objectives – however ill-defined or tenuous – by which a group defines its distinctive political identity and aims” (Drake 1998, pp. 54-55). More to the point, ideologies are “links between thoughts, beliefs and myths on the one hand, and action on the other hand” (Moghadam, 2008, p. 14).
The ideology of ISIS can be described as “Salafi-Jihad” (cf. Moghadam, 2008) or “jihadist-
Salafism”, the combination of “respect for the sacred texts in their most literal form [with] an absolute commitment to jihad” (Kepel, 2002, p. 220). In its essence, Salafi-Jihad contends that the Muslim world is suffering from a conspiracy by the West and as a response, it advocates the return to the practices and beliefs of the first three generation of Muslims, the salaf al-salih (pious ancestors), by means of violent jihad; the latter characteristic distinguishing jihadists from non-violent Salafists engaging in dawa (the call to Islam) which are essentially non-violent proselytizing activities (cf. Moghadam, 2008/2009).
The core functions of ideology
Modern ideologies fulfill four core functions: They raise awareness, diagnose the situation, form identity, and formulate a remedy (Moghadam, 2008). All of them can be applied to the ideology of ISIS: True to its Salafi-Jihadi creed, the organization alleges that the Muslim world is in a sorry state. ISIS statements cite Quranic verses that describe the pre-Islamic Arabs as the “[most] miserable nation, [fewest] in numbers and [the most] divided” (SITE Intelligence Group, 2014) and their propaganda videos refer to the purported humiliation and suffering Muslims have to endure in the lands of the “infidels” (kuffar) (cf. Eye of IS, 2014). According to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reason for this predicament lies in a conspiracy by the “Jews”, “Crusaders” and their Arab “apostate” allies (Van Ostayen, 2014). Al-Baghdadi also praises its soldiers as “heroes of Jihad […] who defy humiliation and injustice […] and will never abandon fighting”, even if “only one soldier of them remained” (ibid.). Hence, ISIS attempts to instill in its adherents a new identity that offers belonging to a supranational entity, which can offer comfort and security, for recent converts who feel experience an identity crisis, but also to those who feel disoriented by modernity (Moghadam, 2008). Indeed, many Western foreign fighters of ISIS are often recent converts (cf. Kohlmann/Alkhouri, 2014). Finally, Al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph and “leader of the believers” (amir al-mu’minin), rules that every Muslim has the obligation to wage violent jihad in order to defeat the infidels (Van Ostayen, 2014). This obligation is known in the Salafi-Jihad doctrine as fard ayn (individual duty) (Moghadam, 2008/09).
The modern roots of the ISIS doctrine
Even though ISIS advocates establishing a society mimicking the times of Prophet Muhammad and that is based on a strictly literal interpretation of Quran and Sunna purified from any religious innovation such as the incorporation of rationality (Haykel, 2007), its Salafi-Jihad doctrine is very much a product of modernity and shares many traits with other modern ideologies, especially revolutionary socialist ones such as Marxism-Leninism (Rabasa et al., 2006). Like Marxism-Leninism, Salafi-Jihad exhibits an internationalist outlook with a complete disregard for the borders of countries that are envisioned as part of the Islamic caliphate. ISIS’s breaching of the border between Iraq and Syria, which was lauded by its propagandists as “the end of Sykes-Picot”, exemplifies this (Black, 2014). Both Marxism-Leninism and the Salafi-Jihad are essentially universal, with the establishment of the caliphate, a goal shared by all Salafi-Jihad organizations (Byman, 2013), being “the religious equivalent of Marx’s Communist utopia” as Steven Holmes puts it (from Moghadam, 2008, p.
15). Both Marxism-Leninism and ISIS claim to be inspired by a quest for “justice”, a theme that is regularly mentioned in ISIS statements, for example calling its adherents as “fighting against injustice” (SITE Intelligence Group, 2014; Van Ostayen, 2014).
More to the point, both ideologies divide the world into two irreconcilable camps; capitalists and the proletariat in the case of Marxism-Leninism, whereas Salafi-jihad insists on the dichotomy of Muslim believers on one hand and infidels and Muslim apostates (which are not considered “real” Muslims) on the other. Insisting on the unbridgeable difference between the in- and the out-group is an important feature of ideologies; the latter is perceived not only as different but also as opposed and even hostile to the former and hence becomes a legitimate target (Drake, 1998; Moghadam, 2008). Baghdadi’s audio message from November 2014 serves as a case in point. In it he sets forth a priority list of ISIS’s targets, beginning with rafidah (a derogatory term for Shiites), followed by the tawagith (the Arab “apostate” regimes) and finally the West (Van Ostayen, 2014). He justifies violence against these enemies with their alleged enmity against Islam, or rather what ISIS perceives to be Islamic (ibid.).
Ideological groups demand from their adherents a great amount of commitment and loyalty (Moghadam, 2008). Individual members have to submit completely to their doctrines. ISIS is no exception in this regard. The group is said to have killed in less than two months at least 120 foreign fighters who wanted leave to Syria/Iraq and return home (Tufft, 2014).
The role of religion
While ISIS and the Salafi-Jihad doctrine in general share many similarities with modern secular ideologies, they also exhibit certain features that distinguish them from them, mainly through their incorporation of religion. Salafi-Jihad refer to themselves and their enemies in religious terms, they frame their strategies and goals as being religious in nature, and they use their very particular interpretation of religious sources such as the Quran and Sunna as a justification for acts of violence (Moghadam, 2008). Baghdadi’s audio message may again serve as an example. He refers to ISIS fighters repeatedly in religious terms, calling them
“heroes of Jihad”, “lions of tawhid” (the oneness of god) or “people of wala w’al barah”
(allegiance and disavowal, the exemplification of Salafi-Jihad’s “with us or against us”-mentality). Similarly, he labels ISIS’s enemies as “Jews”, “Crusaders”, “infidels”, and “apostates” (Van Osstayen, 2014).
As mentioned above, the Salafi-Jihad doctrine frames waging violent Jihad as fard ayn, and Baghdadi claims this to be the individual duty of each and every Muslim (ibid.). According to him, this is the only way to defy humiliation and suffering and to restore the glory of Islam. In particular, and the Quranic ban on self-murder notwithstanding, Salafi-jihadists promote suicide attacks as “martyrdom operations” (cf. Moghadam, 2008/09), reframing them as permissible sacrifices for the sake of Allah (fisabillah), and they believe that for this very reason, their eventual victory is inevitable (Hafez, 2007). ISIS makes sure to praise its suicide bombers and urges others to follow in their footsteps (Bell, 2014). Some of its propaganda videos depict suicide attacks from multiple angles while anasheeds (religious vocal chants) praise the attackers sacrifice for Allah (ertyanna, 2014).
Finally, ISIS, like other Salafi-Jihadi groups, selectively cites religious sources to justify their violence (SITE Intelligence Group, 2014; Van Ostayen, 2014). This justification is especially important when it comes to violence against other Muslims. Salafi-Jihadists vindicate their violence by declaring the targeted Muslims to be apostates, a process that is known as takfir.
Whereas Al Qaeda has used takfir to justify its fight against the moderate Arab regimes but has refrained from the “most extreme takfiri approach” (Byman, 2014, p. 458), ISIS has embraced it in a way that is reminiscent of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in Algeria (Zelin, 2014) and was accused by a high-ranking Al Qaeda official – who was later assassinated, allegedly by ISIS – of “too much takfir” (SITE Intelligence Group, 2014a).
Conclusion: The ISIS doctrine as a synthesis of modern ideology and a particular
interpretation of Islam
As was shown above, the Salafi-Jihad doctrine of ISIS exhibits the traits of any modern ideologies such as drawing a sharp distinction between its adherents and those who oppose it (essentially everyone who does not completely agree with it), but additionally incorporates a set of religious themes based upon its distinct interpretation of Islam emphasizing violent struggle against the “infidels”. Hence, it needs to be understood as a religious ideology (Moghadam, 2008).
This entails certain counter-terror policy implications: On one hand, combating ISIS and Salafi-Jihad in general has to be understood as fighting against an ideology, and not a whole religion (ibid.). On the other hand, taking into account the religious themes of this particular ideology demands that security agencies not only have to deal with ISIS itself and its members but also with organizations, in particular in the West, which disseminate the same ideology without being violent themselves or breaking the law. Finally, the fact that ISIS, like any other group adhering to ideologies, chooses to ignore any information that contradicts its doctrine, should be used against the organization. As Moghadam rightly argues, it needs to be pointed out that groups like ISIS and other Salafi-Jihad adherents, who claim to defend
Muslims, first and foremost engage in killing Muslims themselves (Moghadam, 2008).
Bell, S. (2014, June 16). Canadian ISIS member’s online ‘wake up call’ urges muslims to follow example of calgary suicide bomber. National Post, Retrieved from http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/06/16/canadian-isis-members-online-wake-up-call-urges-muslims-to-follow-example-of-calgary-suicide-bomber/
Byman, D. (2013). Fighting Salafi-jihadist Insurgencies: How much does religion really matter? Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 36(5), 353-371.
Byman, D. (2014). Buddies or burdens? Understanding the Al Qaeda relationship with its affiliate organizations. Security Studies, 23(3), 431-470.
Drake, C. J. M. (1998). The role of ideology in terrorists’ target selection. Terrorism and Political Violence, 10(2), 53-85.
ertyanna. (2014). Isis filmed two suicide attacks by car. Retrieved December 31, 2014, from http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=da6_1393495276&use_old_player=0
Eye of IS. (2014). Islamic state caliphate eid greetings from the land of khilafah 720p.
Retrieved December 30, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuZ7oGptwb8
Hafez, M. M. (2007). Martyrdom mythology in Iraq: How jihadists frame suicide terrorism in videos and biographies. Terrorism and Political Violence, 19(1), 95-115.
Haykel, B. (2009). On the nature of Salafi thought and action. In R. Meijer (Ed.), Global Salafism: Islam’s new religious movement (pp. 33-57). Columbia: Columbia University Press.
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Moghadam, A. (2008). The salafi-jihad as a religious ideology. CTC Sentinel, 1(3), 14-16.
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Rabasa, A.; Chalk, P.; Cragin, K.; Daly, S. A.; Gregg, H. S.; Karasik, T. W.; et al. (2006).
Beyond Al-Waeda. Part 1. The Global Jihadist movement (No. MG-429). Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
SITE Intelligence Group. (2014). ISIS spokesman declares caliphate, rebrands group as
“Islamic state”. Retrieved December 30, 2014, from https://news.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/isis-spokesman-declares-caliphate-rebrands-group-as-islamic-state.html
SITE Intelligence Group. (2014a). Message attributed to zawahiri’s arbiter in syria gives advice to ISIL. Retrieved December 20, 2014, from http://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/message-attributed-to-zawahiri-s-arbiter-in-syria-gives-advice-to-isil.html
Tufft, B. (2014, December 29, 2014). Isis ‘executes up to 200 fighters’ for trying to flee jihad and return home. The Independent, Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-executes-at-least-120-fighters-for-trying-to-flee-and-go-home-9947805.html
Van Ostayen, P. (2014, November 14, 2014). Audio message by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – even if the disbelievers despise such. Message posted to https://pietervanostaeyen.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/audio-message-by-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-even-if-the-disbelievers-despise-such/
Zelin, A. Y. (2014). Al-Qaeda disaffiliates with the Islamic state of Iraq and Al-Sham (Policy Alert. Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved from http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/al-qaeda-disaffiliates-with-the-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-al-sham
Wikipedia has a bit more detail about IDC Herzliya located in Israel:
The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (Hebrew: המרכז הבינתחומי הרצליהHa-Merkaz ha-Bentehumi Hertseliyya; abbreviated IDC Herzliya) is a private, not-for-profit, and nonsectarian, research university in Israel founded in 1994 by Uriel Reichman. It is located at Herzliya, in the Tel Aviv District, and is classified as an independent non-budgeted academic institution.
IDC Herzliya has 8,000 students currently enrolled for undergraduate and graduate degrees, including 2,000 international students from 86 countries around the world.
In 2014 the IDC Herzliya was ranked the most successful academic start-up institution in Israel and outside of the United States, ranking first in Israel and twenty one in the world. In the same year IDC law graduates achieved the highest passing rate at the national bar examination of all Israeli academic institutions. Moreover, the IDC Herzliya has been ranked first of 66 Israeli academic institutions in terms of student satisfaction for four consecutive years. In addition, the IDC Herzliya has been the only academic institution in the world who has won the international Jean Pictet International Humanitarian Law competition, organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in consecutive years, winning it twice in 2010 and 2011.
… READ THE REST (Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya; Wikipedia; page was last modified on 8 June 2016, at 13:45.)