Genghis Khan-style Cruelty of Isis
In the West — where we have almost run out of clichés of loathing – we will describe this Isis version of burning-at-the-stake as barbarous, heinous, inhuman, apocalyptic, animal, etc. But Muslims may reflect that among the first verses of the Koran is a warning to them, of the “grievous chastisement” to be visited upon those who only pretend to believe, the ‘monafaqin’, those who lie to themselves, who are not ‘true believers’. There are the true believers, of course. There are the non-believers. But then there are the ‘pretenders’, who will suffer – and here I use Tarif Khalidi’s latest translation of Islam’s holiest book – “painful punishment”.
Of which – and the clergy of the European Middle Ages would agree – the fires of hell are most painful of all. But many Muslims may see, in Isis's’ frightful action, one awful misdirection of God’s message. For it is God who must visit the ‘pretenders’ with punishment. God is the judge on the day of judgement. Not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or the Isis media men who filmed the cage and the poor man writhing in torment within under the torrent of petroleum. It is, of course, for the Muslim world to decide on this strange interpretation, but there will be ruthless leaders aplenty – Bashar al-Assad of Syria comes to mind, now that we have decided that his enemies are even more horrible than him – who will benefit from the cruelty of the last few hours.
Long before Isis butchered the Iraqi army and Iraq’s Shias, and put the Christian and Yazidi peoples to flight, it was chopping up the corpses of the Syrian government’s supporters and sending videotapes of their decapitation to their families before releasing them to a public which largely preferred to look aside. It is not Isis which has changed. It is us. Our intolerance of the autocrats of the Middle East – of the al-Sissis and al-Assads, of the Hashemite monarchy, of the quivering princes of the Gulf, even of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei – is already mutating in the face of the Caliphate. All must surely become our ‘moderates’ again, those who wish to ‘unite against terror’ now that we gaze upon the fires of hell in Raqaa and Mosul.
For Isis, their Muslim enemies must, by definition, be traitors to their faith. And so we may re-read the Khalidi translation with special care. “And if someone says to them: ‘Do not sow discord in the earth,’ they answer: We are merely trying to bring people together”.
Which is what the ‘moderates’ say, of course. And poor Flt Lt al-Kasaesbeh, in his agony.