Sunday, 14 September 2014

Propaganda of the Name: The Meaning of 'Islamic State'.

'we believe the media, civic society and governments should refuse to legitimise these ludicrous caliphate fantasies by accepting or propagating this name. We propose that 'UnIslamic State' (UIS) could be an accurate and fair alternative name'-'Islamic State' is a slur on our faith, say leading Muslims. Observer, Saturday 13 September 2014
The complaint by British Muslim organisations and imams that the Prime Minister should stop using the words 'Islamic state' to describe the self-proclaimed Islamic State takes the absurd to new levels. For a start, Obama and Cameron have been at pains not to call it IS or ISIS or regard it as truly Islamic.

In countering the threat which is a threat to the US and Britain but not yet, it seems the threat does not even have the name is has as 'Islamic State' because President Obama, and so David Cameron, call it 'ISIL'. Cameron referred to a 'so-called Caliphate' and 'nihilists'.

It is understandable why British Muslims would not want to be associated with what they call the 'Unislamic State'. But by denying the neo-caliphate could be 'islamic' and demanding it is called the opposite of what it calls itself they run the risk of being ridiculed and giving more publicity to the idea of its being Islamic or not.

More than that, by acting childishly and petulantly by demanding the media calls Islamic State the 'Unislamic State', the Muslim organisations invite the sort of response which would delight in countering, with malicious glee, that Islamic State really is the 'real face' of Islam going back to its authentic and true 'medieval' origins.

The grotesque irony of all this is that IS would get exactly what they want in the aftermath of the first online public beheading of of a British hostage, captured aid worker David Haines, by reinforcing the attitudes of those who see that act at the hands of a British jihadist either as 'real' Islam' or as 'nothing to do with it'.

There are those who see the beheading as a warning that this is the sort of act that 'you have coming' from a British jihadist 'near you'. Then there are those denying that such an action could ever be committed by anyone professing to be Islamic, to which the answer is going to be like the panto refrain 'oh, yes it is !'.

IS knows that the beheadings are so gory and vile that the western media would whip up outrage of the sort media obsessed politicians such as Cameron thrive on when bigging up the terror threat, the better to increase their self important need to 'do' something as well as playing for votes and 'looking tough on terror'.

By talking up the 'global terror threat', IS gets precisely the necessary response. They are intelligent enough to know how useful their threat is in forcing politicians in media dominated democracies to make out the threat to be a unified one so as to better justify any military interventions they would need to take.

The reasons for that are that IS realises the western nations in Britain are bound to need to intervene militarily to protect oil and gas supplies from control or else sabotage by jihadists across the regions which is claimed as part of a new revived caliphate stretching from sub-Saharan Africa through to the Greater Middle East.

By portraying disparate jihadi-Islamist threats across these different nations as one seamless 'global threat', and using that to intervene militarily, with drones, air strikes or 'boots on the ground' IS would be able to spread its franchise operation out of its core base in Syria and into Iraq into Egypt, Libya, Yemen or Nigeria.

The ultimate ambition, of course, is to be the threat that Cameron is portraying IS as being, that is, one that reaches its sinister tentacles into the heartlands of Britain, something already played on by celebrity jihadists Anjem Choudary who are as media savvy as establishment politicians playing on fear. 

Though appearing a buffoon, Choudury is already knows how to play up to his useful media role in linking the outrage over the execution of hostages to the fact there is less outrage over the way western foreign policy means "hundreds of thousands of people have been beheaded by drones and daisy cutters".

IS online beheadings are meant to stir things up in Britain by opening up a discussion on British foreign policy why Britain is uncritically following the US as 'lapdog' and why it is condemning the execution of one British hostage claimed by ISIS to have been in the British army rather than the foreign policy for 'causing' it.

This gloating and gory propaganda of the deed which is intended by IS to be what Cameron calls 'pure evil' compared to the 'greater evil' against which ISIS is ranged: the Hypocrite Sunni Muslim regimes that made their state possible by bankrolling jihadi efforts against Assad's regime and their Infidel allies.

Islamic State is, in reality, the Islamist State of Syria and Iraq. This would be a far better designation which distinguishes between Islam and the ideologisation of Islam into a set of political tactics and doctrines adapted to the modern world which owes much in its ideas to thinkers such as Maududi and Nabhani.

Maududi used the word 'Islamic State' to mean one in which all aspects of public and private life in a perfect society would be determined by a select Godly elite who would slowly infiltrate their way into institutions and take them over from within and purge kuffars from positions of power.

Maududi put forward a non-violent path to create an utopia. Other thinkers such as Qutb, an influence on Al Qaida, stressed modernistic ideas such as a vanguard elite bent on destroying a decadent world and creating a new world through acts of apocalyptic violence and terrorism.

None of those ideas exist in the Qu'ran. Islamist ideas such as Al Qaida's at one extreme. Those groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir which have an ambiguous attitude towards violence demand a Caliphate as an Islamified version of the sort of utopia longed for by, for example, the Bolsheviks in Tsarist Russia.

Islamic State is no more necessarily Islamic than the the Soviet Union was a true union of republics based on the control of worker's councils or even truly socialist. However, few socialists in the west, even those who rejected the Soviet Union would have called it the 'fake union of unsocialist unfree pseudo-republics'.

Malise Ruthven puts it well when he refers to Islamism as,
'the ideologization of Islam at the political level, the construction of a political ideology using some symbols culled from the historical reperiore of Islam, to the exclusion of others. This ideology, sometimes refered to as 'Islamic fundamentalism', is better described as Islamism: the Latin suffix attached to the Arabic original more accurately expresses the relationship between the pre-existing reality ( in this case a religion ) and its translation into a political ideology, just as communism ideologizes the reality of the commune, socialism the social, and fascism the ancient symbol of Roman consular authority'.
The difference is that socialism or communism were not words with a necessary cultural resonance for those identifying with a religion and civilisation such as Islam does imply. This is why not colluding in the portrayal of Islamic State at face value is vital and why 'Islamist State' would be the right name.

One advantage, is that those following or tempted to identify with Islamist groups in Britain would see that the necessary outcome of trying to create a caliphate based on an enforced and extreme version of sharia law ends up creating a hell on earth for other Muslims first and foremost in the lands under its control.

On message politicians in Britain, however, insist on 'ISIL' for reasons of 'public diplomacy'. One reason is 'ISIL' sounds more pointedly sharp and sinister, far more deadly and dangerous than ISIS which is also the name of an Egyptian Goddess. It sounds more evil and vile like SPECTRE in James Bond.

Another handy use of ISIL, is it avoids serving to remind those who opposed air strikes against Syria in 2013 that the last 'S' in ISIS means 'Syria' which could be entered targets there bombed. ISIL sounds more like a bacteria or lethal virus, a truly 'poisonous ideology' that can seep unguarded into any 'community'.

ISIL could be borne back to 'the homeland'. Having said that, some criticised the use of ISIL because the 'L' means Levant, that is the power claim made over Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq , Southern Turkey, or even Israel. Yet that would serve to create a greater sense threat in the region too as well as the US.

The calculation could be that nobody actually knows that 'L' means Levant or what Levant means apart from sounding a bit fragrant. Of course, ISIL and ISIS are both better than IS which means 'Islamic State' and it could not be admitted that Islamic State is either a real state or that its really Islamic which is what IS wants.


  1. You write "However, few socialists in the west, even those who rejected the Soviet Union would have called it the 'fake union of unsocialist unfree pseudo-republics'." I largely agree, to rename it now would be silly, but I would argue socialism never arrived in the Soviet Union. Perhaps Un-islamic state is not the best term, but they raise a valid point that they do not act in the name of their Islam, and its great that they speak now. It's a crying shame that more on the left did not condemn Stalin at the time.

  2. As with Islamic State, socialism was always on the way in the Soviet Union and would be the solution to all earthly problems once its enemies within and without, often one and the same, were defeated ( either by disappearing or being reformed or re-educated in labour camps. What Islamic State represents is a claim to represent true Islam and Muslims everywhere. It's a totalitarian aspiration present in Maududi's idea of an Islamic State which al-Baghdadi has drawn on. Obviously, a great majority of Muslims do not follow this particular politicised version of Islamic concepts, symbols and ideas. So i think it would be better referred to as the Islamist State if the full name is going to be given because that's a better description of what it actually is. It would serve to refocus on the consequences of a particular ideology rather than a religion of over a billion people known as Islam and so the acronym 'IS' could be kept.The media could refer to Islamist State. Politicians have made clear they call it ISIL so as to dodge the 'Islamic' word. while retaining the sinister edge of a name IS no longer uses to describe itself and so not colluding in its propaganda agenda in that way. As I make clear above though, politicians such as Cameron have an interest in downgrading it as Islamic while ramping up the global threat as one 'seamless totalitarian movement' to use Michael Gove's words. The reason is they want to retain ISIL as part of a global threat to justify military intervention in lands where jihadists are aiming at sabotaging the global economy or holding it to ransom by menacing oil and gas supplies. I suppose in that sense jihadi groups are acting somewhat like SPECTRE in James Bond but that's what ISIS actually wants so it could become a global brand identified with by groups previously affiliated to Al Qaida. The 'logic' is so IS could position the brand as being exactly the sort of phantom menace that can masquerade as a mere response to a 'hypocritical' and the idea of far more deadly western foreign policy. They are putting their form of pyschopathological terror outfits into the global market place as an less hypocritical alternative to the 'greater evil' of Britain and America's use of drones and bombing which kill from a distance. Their terror is positioned as a more honest close up 'retribution' that would never have happened but for the killing of Muslims by western imperial power. Let's face it though, this propaganda trope is amplified and echoed in part by the useful idiots in the Stop the War Coalition like Lindsey German who regard all terror as a direct reflex reaction to any western foreign policy anywhere at any time from now into the past ). The problem is some who have been taught uncritical hatred for the west because of it's supposedly unique hypocrisy might just buy into that sort of perverted idea that psychotic self righteousness is more refreshingly authentic than appearing, like Tony Blair, to back wars out of humanitarian concern.

  3. PS, the blog is going to be expanded as I write more on the role the caliphate has in jihadi-Islamist thinking. A lot of these Islamic concepts-caliphate and the umma etc were adopted by Islamists to stand in for something similar to the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' in Lenin's ideology. Lenin made selective use of the ideas and concepts in Karl Marx's writings and the revolutionary tradition that would suit him and his Bolshevik party's power grab in Russia. But the best comparison is with Pol Pot's use of Lenin's and Stalin's ideas applied to the idea of a 'national revolution' in Cambodia. A purifying struggle which would destroy the old order and realise once more the old lost Angkor kingdom in modern conditions. History would be restarted from scratch and all those who represented a polluting presence exterminated or reducated. Alien ideas, groups and thoughts even should not have existed had history unfolded according to the correct plans the guardians of truth alone knew was the only one path to total liberation through violence and permanent struggle.