But there is nothing medieval about this ruthless enterprise, says historian Tom Holland
In a week when British police and soldiers were revealed to be on the target list of a Britain-based Islamic State cell, IS released a fourth video of captive British journalist John Cantlie.
Wearing the now trademark Guantanamo Bay-style orange jumpsuit and facing a camera, Cantlie declared that western powers are preparing for a third Gulf War and said IS has grown to a point where “not even the US military, the policemen of the world, are able to contain them.”
Cantlie, who was kidnapped in November 2012 with the American journalist James Foley, also states in the video released Thursday, in presumed response to Muslim leaders who have condemned IS as a heretical and murderous organization, “Those who have read the Qu’ran, even among Christians, know there is only one sharia law, there are no different brands.”
Although it is believed that Cantlie is writing under duress, he states in the latest issue of Dabiq, IS’ online propaganda magazine, that his words are his own. One common observation, he writes, “is that the videos are scripted, and that perhaps I have no choice in the content.”
“This,” according to the article, “is not true. The mujahidin suggest initial titles, I write the scripts, hand them over for any copy changes that need to be made and the videos are shot. It’s all very fast — the first eight videos were written, approved and filmed in just 12 days — but the mujahidin are like that. In quick, get the job done, move on to the next task.”
That IS publishes an online magazine may seem bizarre, but it shows just how IS, as philosopher John Gray observed on the BBC in July, is a peculiarly modern phenomenon, a violent millenarian cult “dedicated to building a new society from scratch,” having more in common with modern revolutionary movements than with its medieval forebears. “There’s nothing medieval,” he says, “about this mix of ruthless business enterprise, well-publicized savagery and transnational organized crime. “
Unfortunately, IS appears to think otherwise. As Benedictine University’s Andrew Salzmann argues in Small Wars Journal, IS seems to be “re-enacting the early history of Islam in order to establish its legitimacy with the peoples of the Middle East.” Salzmann says the rise of IS has echoed commonly recognized hallmarks of the rise of Islam, with IS even having emulated Muhammad’s style of war. “While military strategy is hardly an ‘article of faith,’” Salzmann says, “sharia law itself draws its validity from the belief that the actions of the Prophet Muhammad, precisely because of his excellence in obeying God, merit imitation by his followers. “
It seems apt, then, that IS takes the name of its magazine from a hadith — a Muslim traditional saying — which proclaims that “the last hour will not come until the Romans land at al-Amaq or in Dabiq,” usually identified with the town of Dabiq in northern Syria.
Dabiq is rife with references to Rome and crusaders. At several points it quotes a speech by IS official spokesman Shaykh Abū Muhammad al-’Adnānī ash-Shāmī, who calls on IS fighters to “be ready for the final campaign of the crusaders,” and addresses the West, saying, “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted.“ Illustrating this passage is an image of St. Peter’s Square, captioned, “We will conquer your Rome,” while the magazine’s front cover, bearing the title “The Failed Crusade,” shows a photoshopped obelisk in St. Peter’s Square surmounted with the black banner of Islamic State.
Historian Tom Holland says that Dabiq shows that the world described in his book