James A. Beverley is professor of Christian
thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary. He
recommends five experts on the Islamic State and
related topics: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Aymenn
Jawad Al-Tamimi, Jonathan Spyer, Charles Lister and
Thomas Joscelyn. Find more of these columns at
The video warning from ear- lier this year is clear. “[This] is a message to Canada and all the American tyrants: We
are coming and we will destroy you.”
As hard as it is to imagine, these
words are from an unidentified
Canadian Muslim who joined the
Islamic State, the new terrorist
group in Iraq and Syria. Like others
in the video, he burns his passport
before issuing the threat.
Not since 9/11 have so many
people worldwide been so preoccupied with Islamic terrorism.
The short answer is Abu Bakr
al-Baghdadi happened. The long
answer goes back to the rise of
militant Islam after the Iranian
revolution (1979), the creation of
Israel (1948), the breakup of the
Ottoman Empire (1923), the borders drawn by the Sykes-Picot
Agreement (1916), the Christian
Crusades (1095-1291), the Sunni-Shia split in Islam (680) and the life
of Muhammad (570-632).
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi emerged in
2010 as the leader of the Islamic
State, then known as al-Qaeda in
Iraq (AQI). He was born in Samarra,
Iraq in 1971 and is a well-educated
Sunni Muslim. He may have been a
militant under Saddam Hussein
and a prisoner of the American
forces from 2005–2009. His real
name is believed to be Awwad
Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai.
Under al-Baghdadi, the AQI be-
came so brutal that he was kicked
out of the al-Qaeda movement in
February 2014. The shocking bru-
tality has continued under the new
name, with the takeover of Mosul
(June 10), public executions of
enemy soldiers, start of a Yazidi
slave trade (the Yazidi are a minor-
ity polytheistic group in Iraq) and
the widely publicized beheadings
of Americans James Foley and Ste-
ven Sotloff and Englishmen Alan
Henning and David Haines.
All this led world leaders to a
frenzied though necessary response.
The Islamic State is now the target
of an international military coalition that includes Canada.
Is the demise of the Islamic State
ensured? Will Syria and Iraq be
saved? Can the Middle East get
back to normal? Sadly, the answer
to each question is no.
Why such pessimism?
First, there has been no normal
in the Middle East since the end of
the Ottoman Empire, if normal
means relatively stable political
and social life. Think of ongoing
battles between Jews and Arabs
(1920 to today), coup in Egypt
(1952), revolution in Iran (1979),
killing of Anwar Sadat (1981) and
Taliban takeover (1996).
More recently, think of the overthrow of Morsi in Egypt (2013) and
the failed Arab Spring (2011–
present). Think dictatorships (with
the exception of Israel), torture,
poverty and – especially where
there’s oil wealth – corruption.
Second, ideological hatred and
bloodshed have run so deep in Iraq
and Syria for so long that peace is
impossible, at least in the short term.
In Iraq, it was already clear that
old Sunni-Shia tensions were rising
again before the American forces
pulled out in 2011. The Islamic State
owes much of its initial popularity
in northern Iraq to the government’s
mistreatment of Sunnis, a majority
in that region.
And the Assad regime in Syria
seems a puzzle no Middle Eastern
or Western power can solve.
The only good thing that can be
said about the Islamic State is that
it’s so bad it’s forcing bitter enemies
to work harder at stabilization. But
don’t sing kumbayah just yet.
Third, the Islamic State is well
armed (courtesy of weapons left
behind by the American and Iraqi
armies), committed and widely ad-
mired by radical, militant Muslims
all over the world. To accurately
imagine an IS terrorist, you need to
picture someone who is university
educated, from a middle-class
family, trained under Wahhabi Islam
(an austere Sunni sect exported by
Saudi Arabia) and who absolutely
hates the United States, Israel and
any form of moderate Islam.
In Canada, the impact of radical
Islam has moved beyond verbal
threat to death with the killings of
Canadian soldiers near Montreal and
in Ottawa in October. This is Canada
– not Mosul, Baghdad or Damascus.
The military battle is ultimately an
ideological one over the nature and
destiny of modern Islam. On this,
thankfully, most of the world’s 1.6
billion Muslims hate jihadist, radical
Islam, and it is those Muslims who
are the chief victims of terrorism.
Christians have a duty here to
help Muslims of all kinds consider
Jesus and His gospel of peace and
new life. All Canadians – Christian,
Jew, Muslim and otherwise – should
pray as never before: “God keep our
land, glorious and free.” /FT
JamEs a. BEVERlEy
understanding the Islamic state
Not since 9/11 have so many people been so preoccupied with Islamic terrorism. What happened?
percent of the
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