What History Teaches Us about the Islamic State
The death cult's 13th-century origin story sheds grim light on mounting strikes in Syria.
It's easy but inaccurate to blame the Americans' wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the rise of "Islamism" -- a violent, dogmatic and fundamentalist version of Islam that thrives in social chaos, and which has now produced the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and Daesh.If only it were that simple. Syrian historian and journalist Sami Moubayed argues that the 21st century is paying for the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in the 13th century -- as well as for a couple of recent centuries of exploitation of the Arab peoples that also induced social chaos.
Bombing won't work
A radical variant of Islam that's survived persecution since the 14th century is not going to be bombed out of existence, any more than the Nazis' Blitz defeated Britain. Even exterminating 20,000 Islamists in Hama bought Hafez al-Assad only a few decades of peace.
It's hard to see what the secular nations can do about this. The vast majority of Muslims are clearly appalled by the Islamists (note that Syria's refugees do not seek shelter in Saudi Arabia). They can see how ISIS is manipulating us, encouraging anti-Muslim fear and loathing. If we reject ordinary Muslim refugees, they will find nowhere to run; eventually their choices will be the caliph or the deep blue Aegean.
Treating the Islamic State like North Korea would be problematic. Alienated young people would still try to reach it, or carry out terrorist attacks in its name. Money would still filter in and out, along with oil and weapons. Even the internet would likely still be accessible.
Invasion won't work either
Could a grand alliance of all secular nations, from the U.S. and Canada to Russia and China, overwhelm the Islamic State? Unlikely, as each would demand very different post-ISIS regimes (and borders) across the Middle East.
But we should know by now that ever since Genghis Khan, a military victory over Islam only stores up trouble for centuries to come. We are paying now for the stupidity of the Sykes-Picot agreement a century ago, with its arbitrary borders around artificial states like Syria and Iraq and Jordan (not to mention the very hazy borders around Israel).
A violent extirpation of the Islamic State would only ensure future nightmares. Anything less would keep it sputtering away for decades, like the colonial wars in Indochina and Northern Ireland.