Why, in spite of the increasingly widespread Russian military presence in Syria and the Coalition’s activities of December 3, 2014, the Daesh/Isis proves to be resilient and often capable of rebuilding its networks?
Firstly, it is worth noting that Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate has three factors which favor its stability: it is spread over a wide strategic region, where the disputed and intermediate areas cover the Isis activities; it is socially stable internally and is large enough not to yield in a clash with a military alliance of powers alien to the Middle East region.
It is too big to be totally defeated and eradicated, and too regional to trigger off the strategic escalation of Russia, the United States and Europe.
China, as often reiterated by some Russian sources, could enter the conflict or, more likely, fund the Russian, Iranian and Syrian forces fighting the Caliphate.
We must not forget that now the strategic logic of the Syrian-Iraqi caliphate system is the following: keeping many forces engaged in the military frictions on the ground, at the edge of the area already occupied by Daesh-Isis and, meanwhile, exporting the jihadist “revolution” at first in neighboring areas (hence we must not exclude Europe) and then in the geopolitical regions more distant from Mesopotamia.
At this juncture, what is only needed is a quite strong Islamic community on site, which can be radicalized.
While Al Qaeda aimed at the consumption of the “Jewish and Crusader” West through a sequence of attacks and the destabilization of pro-Western Islamic countries, the Daesh-Isis has created a territory from which both attacks and long-term military actions can be started.
In this regard, it is worth recalling that on June 21, 2015 four regions of the North Caucasus swore allegiance to Al Baghdadi, with the creation of some Isis “headquarters” in the region, while also other Caucasus areas, such as Dagestan, Chechnya, the Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay (KBK), have become parts of the Syrian-Iraqi Islamic State.
Hence the Russian presence in Syria has much to do with Russia’s national interest.
How can we disregard the fact that Caliphate elements have been present for some time in the Sinai, with the Wilayat Sinai, the self-styled but likely perpetrator of the shooting down of the Russian flight Metrojet 9268, that also claims to have started the jihad, in agreement with Al Baghdadi, also in Sudan?
Hence probably a sort of reunification is underway between the old Qaedist world and the new Daesh-Isis Caliphate.
A few days ago, Ayman Al Zawahiri, who had always strongly criticized Al Baghdadi, released a statement online inciting the Muslims to unite the front of the jihadist fight from Turkey to sub-Saharan Africa, with a view to distributing and diluting the Western and Russian forces which, however, are scarce and disorganized.
Thus the pressure in Mesopotamia against Al Baghdadi’ State is stabilized and the Qaedist logic of the unexpected and sequential attack against “Jews and Crusaders” is used again.
To put it in the logic of the Third International, in his Caliphate, Al Baghdadi is implementing a sequence of “Stalinist” operations (the jihad in one country) and “Trotskyist” operations (exporting the jihad into the weak points of the “Jewish and Crusader” enemy).
It is still easy to predict that this complexion of strategic potentials will favour the Daesh-Isis, which will have every reason and interest in bringing together the eleven primary groups of the global jihad (four of which have already sworn allegiance to the Isis) by dominating them and joining the old, but still not insignificant, Al Qaeda.
Yet what is really the Isis, and why is it so stable internally and capable of challenging Russians and the Coalition externally?
The answer probably lies in its political theology and, hence, in its strategic purpose.
The Isis-Daesh was created in 2006 as a result of the merger of eleven factions of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which included, among their few thousand militants, also many officers of Saddam Hussein’s military forces and intelligence services.
I remember that, despite the disorganization of the Baath’s forces in Baghdad, there were operations of the Iraqi army which made some Western analysts think that a Saddam’s “Gladio” was active which, after all, had been established at the time by French Armed Forces that trained the Iraqi Baathists.
Nevertheless the Isis became known when, in the summer of 2014, it managed to conquer Mosul and hence organize the large mass of militants arriving in Iraq as a result of the huge Syrian destabilization.
It is a force with 80,000-100,000 people, who are many for an area having the same size as Great Britain, but inhabited by eight million people only. It is the old “danger of the desert”, as Lawrence of Arabia considered it by likening it to the ocean.
Hence what is the Isis-Daesh real project? It is the very modern and ancient solution, as always in the political theology of jihad, of Koranic statehood today.
The law and the political form of the State are defined by the Qur’an and the practice of the Well-Directed Caliphs, but the Caliph’s right to rule is based solely on the interpreted text of the Sacred Roll and it also regards, from the outset, an ethno-racial fact: the faithful are Arabs, they do not belong to other bio-religious ethnicities. The split between Shiites and Sunnis also regards the fact that the Iranian people are Indo-Europeans and the Arabs are Semites.
Since the beginning of the Sunni political system, Statehood and Religion have been quite separate and distinct even though, obviously, the “secular” State is far from lacking Koranic rules.
The Emir, the commander of the believers, is the one who, on the basis of his relationship with the most reliable interpreters of the Sacred Text, justifies the actual power of State rulers.
The issue does not lie in teaching the art of government to the powerful politicians- and it is worth recalling to what extent our Christian tradition of political science is based on these criteria – but in designing the Perfect State to which the ruler of the Islamic practice must necessarily and literally adapt himself.
His adaptation to the Word will measure the length of his power.
It is – in Islamist terms – the logic of the transition from the Machiavellian Principe Novo, who certainly Muhammad was, to the Principato Antiquo, in which the people view the political form as a natural fact, as the seasons and the lifecycles.
Therefore the Ummah, the community of believers, is not a nation in the Western sense of the term, but a religious community in which the Koranic faithful have an image of themselves – as, indeed, happens to the Emir – as a community connected to the living tradition of the Sacred Roll.
But it is the image – created by the Caliph – which identifies them both as a society and as a community (and not as a State – and this is the reason why clear and proven compliance with Koranic rules is needed).
With a view to carrying out its sacred project, the ummah needs practical tools which, however, are neither a State nor a legal system because, obviously, there is already the Koran.
Therefore the Imamate is a purely practical need.
Hence, in the Sunni tradition, the Imam is not at all similar to a Western or Christian military leader or sovereign.
The Imam temporarily replaces the prophecy and he follows it well if he follows it literally, then implementing it in the defense of the faith from the “infidels” – and, in this sense, he replaces the administration of the visible world, by adapting it to the Sacred Text.
If the Imam works well, he paves the way for the Invisible Prince, the Mahdi of the End Times, but if he makes a mistake, the political disorder will show the inaccuracies of his interpretation of the Koran. Nevertheless, politics is never the Sacred Text, nor political disasters ever mix with possible interpretation mistakes.
It is the Imamate that destroys politics, not vice versa.
Hence the Imam is an organizer and he checks the accurate implementation of the Law, according to what determined by the locally accepted interpreters of the Law.
Therefore Islam has a scarcely universalistic nature, maybe except for the jihadist reform which began with Osama Bin Laden and his new theory of jihad as fifth pillar of the Faith.
Hence, considering the above, the Isis-Daesh is a strictly Islamic State and a real challenge to the Sunni monarchies and republics which proclaim themselves Islamic.
Hence a geopolitical model is ready, opposed to the Sunni monarchies and republics which are “slave to the Jews and the Crusaders” that no longer have the suitable and appropriate Koranic pedigree – and certainly the Isis-Daesh will increasingly compete with the petro-monarchies and organizations (just think of the Muslim Brotherhood) which have partially assisted and supported the establishment of the sword jihad as from September 11, 2001.
Without a crushing defeat on the ground, the Caliphate will encompass the area of “permanent jihad” and will lead it to a terrorist and to a conventional and military clash.
And, according to Al Baghdadi’s logic, both actions will always go hand in hand.
Giancarlo Elia Valori (@GEliaValori)
Honorable of the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France.