Monday, September 8, 2014


by R. R. Reno

The radical Islamic movement ISIS is more radical than Islamic. It is true, of course, that this group’s vision of a restored caliphate in the Middle East, like its other ambitions, only makes sense in an Islamic context. But its methods—ruthless violence and criminality, grandiose goals framed in world-historical terms, leadership cadres regularly purged to ensure purity, and bloody public spectacles—are familiar elements of the modern European experience of radical politics.

The head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, may have a beard rather than Hitler’s toothbrush mustache, but the two share similar paths to radicalism. Hitler’s radical politics developed in the aftermath of World War I when Germany experienced a decade of political instability that included paramilitary violence. After a failed putsch in Munich, he was put in prison. There he refined his ideology and rededicated himself to the service of what he imagined to be the Great Cause that would redeem not just Germany but the human race. After his release, he became a remarkably effective leader of a movement that promised to put an end to disorder (much of it created by his own paramilitary wing), restore Germany’s dignity, and destroy all that threatened the purity of the German race.

We don’t know much about Baghdadi, but what we do know follows the same pattern. Apparently, the chaos after our 2003 invasion of Iraq encouraged him to form a militant group. He was captured by U.S. troops in 2005 and spent four years in prison, where he apparently met and came to work with Al-Qaeda militants. After his release, he fought as part of an Al-Qaeda cell in Iraq. As its leaders were killed off, he assumed control. When Syria exploded in a civil war, his group entered. Soon it had built itself into an organization able to claim sovereignty over a significant portion of Syria and Iraq—all for the sake of restoring true Islam to its dignity and with a brutal determination to purge Muslim society of its impurities.

Read the rest at First Things

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