The aftermath of the September 2001 attacks in the US, brought about a tectonic shift in the realm of public discourses on the nature of the world order. The political language, concerned with the question of terror and security, became dominant. One of the major debates under the rubric of security dilemma shaped the question: how to understand Islam? The American presence in the Middle East in general and its influence in Muslim majority countries first saw the birth of Al-Qaeda, a group under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden. He once was the blue-eyed boy of the White House who later turned rogue. The attack in 2001 shaped the American policies towards Muslims in general; it led to American misadventures in Iraq in 2003 under the rhetoric of ‘either with us or against us’.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on lies, deceit, defiance of international laws and rebuke of sovereignty of a state, did nothing but created a climate that gave birth to the cult of Islamic State (IS). As Patrick Cockburn, one of the early contributors in understanding the savagery of ISIS, called it, “The child of War”. The rise of Islamic Fundamentalism on the one hand and rabid Islamophobia and racist attack against Muslims on the other hand shaped the Islam and West relationship in the period many call post-orientalism or neo-orientalism. Understanding the cult of Islamic state is therefore not just to know how it became a phenomenon, its rise and sudden fall from a particular geography in the Middle East but an amorphous nature of binaries that is rooted in ideological underpinnings, discontents of modernity and as Pankaj Mishra calls “the age of anger” under the belly of economic crisis and political uncertainties of the present time.
The rise of Islamic State and its claim for a caliphate shocked the world and raised the question of identity, radicalisation, ideology and periodic episodes of lone wolf attacks in different part of the world. The current debate on ISIS by the politicians, authors, journalists, policy makers in major part of the world primarily examines two major questions. First, how Islamic is Islamic State and second, how one can understand the phenomenon of IS? The theological and political Inquiry as the only yardstick to seek an answer to such questions are not only myopic but reduces the true nature of the problem.
The Hollow Kingdom, ISIS and the Cult of Jihad by Edna Fernandes traces those questions by examining the ideology of ISIS and its birth from the fires of the 2003 Iraq war. The author finds the ideological roots of IS in Wahhabi brand of Islam and argues that globalisation of Wahhabi doctrine tied with petro dollar “eroded centuries of mainstream pluralism” and this savage that known to us as so called Islamic State is just another branch of the large tree of religious-industrial complex of Saudi Arabia and deliberate ignorance of the West in general and US in particular under the garb of realpolitik.
ISIS is not just a threat for the Muslim world but for everyone. The idea of a global jihad is colossal and therefore, a struggle between moderates & fanatics
The author believes that ISIS is not just a threat for the Muslim world but the monster has furnished itself as a global threat. The idea of a global jihad is colossal and therefore, a struggle between moderates and the fanatics. The author cautions us that ISIS “is a struggle for all of us”. The author builds her argument through the question of Identity, Ideology and Economics of Survival which she calls as “the Two-Trillion Dollar problem”. Her understanding of the cult of Jihad by the self-proclaimed caliphate explains how a canard vision of fear, hatred and intolerance is the new order.
The book scores over major available literatures on ISIS as it stresses on the personal accounts of jihadists. The psychological readings of the people who became the agents of this ‘hollow Kingdom’ tell a chilling story of how the minds of these people have been lost to ideological blindness. How the religious preachers like Anjum Chaudhary in Britain have over the years promoted this jaundiced view of the world by polluting minds through invoking radicalisation of Muslims youths who are suffering from alienation and identity crisis is the real spotlight of the author’s own take.
The Hollow Kingdom, as the author calls it, is the garden of many sorrows where she traces the many lives of lone wolves, British Muslims like Sohail, Michael Adebolajo , Michael Adebowale who believed “the wars of East were being repaid on the streets of the West”. The situation has become more grim since June 2014 when Abu-Bakr al Bagdadi, a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and a protege of Abu Mussab Zarqawi, an ex-con man as the author defines him, took over as the real father of this death cult. Till the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS had already became a global phenomenon and was exporting toxic sectarian feeling and religious hatred towards non-Muslims.
The seed of hatred sowed by Zarqawi and cultivated by Baghdadi brought about the globalisation of fear. The author brilliantly traces those trajectories and how the people especially in Britain where the charm of caliphate was attracting them towards leaving everything including women. By 2015, 31,000 people from 86 countries had joined the ‘Hollow Kingdom’. But expansion of the beast will find a new territory and as author writes, “a beast is more dangerous when cornered”.
The amorphous nature of the ideological basis would not be limited to any geography. ISIS is just another form of Al Qaeda but the real threat is alienation and radicalisation which finds root in the absence of economic failure, identity crisis and deep malice existing in every society especially against Muslims and as author writes, “ISIS wants to paint the world black like the flag which is also a call to all Muslim to join the global Jihad”.
The rise of Islamic State and its claim for a caliphate shocked the world and raised the question of identity, radicalisation, ideology and periodic episodes of lone wolf attacks in different part of the world
The author also uncovers the modus operandi of the hatred and savagery from the text of the book Management of Savagery which was an essential reading for every ISIS jihadist along with Quran. Fernandes calls it the “Jihadi version of Mein Kampf”. The idea behind the horrid acts of IS forces primarily rooted in this book as author unravels the quote, “a purity of faith will emerge from the haze of blood and it is better that the world to be destroyed than for single Muslim to live amongst the unbelievers”.
According to the author, the significance of the reading of Management of Savagery which explains the road to an Islamic State on three levels: ‘Vexation and Exhaustion’, ‘Administrations of Regions of Savagery’ and ‘A lasting global Jihad; A Theocratic State’. For Edna Fernandes, the prophecy of the Caliphate and the strategy comes from this text and one needs to go deeper to decode the mind of these jihadists.
The author also focusses on the reach of the Wahhabi version of Islam in most part of the world. She calls it ‘globalisation of Wahhabi doctrine’ and “Guiding light of ISIS” and gives example of Madarssas of Pakistan. The distinct features of IS from any other terrorist group is revealed through, “The language of internet generation”. According to her, social media and propaganda materials like Dabiq construct that amnesia that helps the group to survive beyond its own territory.
Lastly, the author explains to us the survival strategy of IS. As she puts it eloquently, “chaos and economics is written into the Islamic State’s DNA” and call it the Two- Trillion-dollar problem”. She gives an entire account of the survival strategy of the religious-industrial complex based on loot, trafficking, sex slavery, oil fields and inhuman trades.
In her conclusion, she offers some plausible and critical inputs to respond to such cults which are not going to meet its natural death considering the binaries of the world divided into the notion of “us versus them”. For her, globalisation has blurred identities and a polarised world helps ISIS to fulfil its vision. For the author, “Trump and ISIS are two sides of the same political coin”. For her, Trump’s decisions and rhetoric will help the cults like ISIS to attract Muslims who felt alienated in their own land.
The author in the end argues that economic protectionism is a misstep and the new order of the world works where “extremism will feed extremism”. She asks to respect popular moderate voices and insists that, “the responsibly lies both in the West and the East” and if you want to prevent the rise of ISIS 2.0, then bombing the Islamic state into oblivion won’t help much but rather a just society that ought to be required.
Although the author brilliantly narrated the rise, the fall, the survival and psychology of the jihadists, her narratives are largely dependent on media reports, strategic think-tanks and personal interviews. Where the plot weakens is the absence of conceptual understanding on many issues like the difference between Salafi and Wahhabi doctrine, the globalisation of ideology and others. The are no references from major scholars including first-hand accounts by Muslim scholars and German Journalist Jurgen Todenhofer who lived for ten days with ISIS fighters and has written on this subject. Thus, the author’s argument come into view as more obvious than offering any critical insights.
One significant delicacy in her hypothesis on the ‘Cult of Jihad’ is the usage of the term ‘Jihad’. She fails to contextualise the philosophical connotation of jihad and falls into the trap of the political language in which jihad is understood both by Islamophobics and Islamic fundamentalists. The theological underpinnings would have made the case better and just but over-dependence on media reports diminished that possibility.
The question of how Islamic is the Islamic State and how Muslims across the sectarian line including Ulemas and the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia responded to that pertinent question was too important to be ignored and that reduces the holistic understanding of the Hollow Kingdom of ISIS.
The author is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for West Asian Studies, JNU