Tag Archives: secularism

Russia’s Unreliable Claims About the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 1 October 2017

Gulmurod Khalimov

The Islamic State’s (IS) caliph, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), appeared on Thursday to deliver his first speech in nearly a year. Other than the contents of the speech, al-Badri’s re-appearance was confirmation that the claim by the Russian government, on 16 June, to have killed al-Badri and 330 other IS jihadists in a 28 May airstrike in Syria, was false.[1] This is far from the first mendacious claim Moscow has made on this topic.

On 8 September, the Russian Ministry of Defence claimed it had killed “four influential field commanders”, one of whom was Tarad al-Jarba (Abu Muhammad al-Shimali), and forty other IS jihadists, in an airstrike near Deir Ezzor city. Later in the day, the Russians claimed day that another of the four commanders was Gulmurod Khalimov (Abu Umar al-Tajiki), named by the U.S.-led coalition as IS’s War Minister. In fact, it is likely that Khalimov was already dead and that al-Jarba is still alive. Continue reading

The Islamic State Explains Why It Hates The West

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 1, 2016

dabiq-15-3

The Islamic State (IS) published its fifteenth edition of ‘Dabiq,’ its English-language magazine, on 31 July 2016. The magazine was entitled, “Break the Cross”. The magazine contained two important articles outlining why IS hates and fights against the West. The most important article, an unsigned piece by an IS operative, simply titled, “Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You”. The second, “How I Came to Islam,” was written by Umm Khalid al-Finlandiyyah, a female Finnish foreign fighter who has joined IS. Those articles are reproduced below with some editions to transliteration and some interesting sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading

Response to Response: Yes, Saddam Laid the Groundwork for the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 12, 2016

Iraqi army MIA1 Abrams tanks march under the victory Arch landmark during a parade to mark the 91st Army Day in Baghdad on January 6, 2012, weeks after US troops completed their pullout. The Armed Forces Day display by the fledgling 280,000-strong security force completely reformed after the US-led invasion of 2003. AFP PHOTO/ALI AL-SAADI (Photo credit should read ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)

The “Victory Arch,” which Saddam built after the war with Iran. (January 2012)

About three weeks ago I wrote a piece for The New York Times explaining the evolution of Saddam Hussein’s regime away from the hard-secularism of its Ba’athist origins, and how this had prepared the ground for the Islamic State (IS). I received much positive feedback, but the social media reaction was inevitable: little thought and much anger, particularly from people who view Iraqi history through a political prism and felt I was trying to exculpate George W. Bush. With rare exceptions, the critique could hardly be called thoughtful. So it is nice to finally have such a critique to deal with, from Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill in today’s Foreign Affairs. Continue reading

How Saddam Hussein Gave Us ISIS

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 23, 2015

Published in The New York Times.

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Whom should we blame for the Islamic State? In the debate about its origins, many have concluded that it arose from the American-led coalition’s errors after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In fact, the groundwork for the emergence of the militant jihadist group was laid many years earlier by the government of Saddam Hussein.

The Arab nationalist Baath Party, which seized power in 1968 in a coup in which Mr. Hussein played a key role, had a firmly secular outlook. This held through the 1970s, even as religiosity rose among the Iraqi people. But soon after Mr. Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, it began to change.

Continue reading

Saddam’s Faith Campaign and the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 28, 2015

A version of this article was published at NOW Lebanon and syndicated at Business Insider

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American intelligence analysts have been pressured into giving a more positive assessment of the progress of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), it has been reported, confirming what was obvious to everyone not subject to influence from the White House: the anti-ISIS campaign is failing. To devise an effective strategy involves understanding where ISIS came from, and that involves examining the Saddam Hussein regime.

Saddam is commonly regarded as the quintessential secularist, and he was initially. But over its last fifteen years the Saddam regime Islamized, effectively creating a religious movement under Saddam’s leadership, giving additional space and power to the non-governmental Salafi Trend, and hardening the sectarian differences in Iraq—paving the way for something like ISIS in its aftermath. Continue reading

Did Saddam Hussein Become A Religious Believer?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 12, 2015

Saddam Hussein prays at a mosque in Samarra, March 12, 1998 (AP Photo)

Saddam Hussein prays at a mosque in Samarra, March 12, 1998 (AP Photo)

It should be stated up front that the question posed in the headline is, strictly speaking, unanswerable: only Saddam Hussein could ever answer that question, and even then any out-loud answer given by Saddam could be untrue in any number of directions, for any number of reasons. Still, from the available evidence it does seem Saddam had some kind of “born-again” experience.

Of crucial importance, however, is that while Saddam’s actual beliefs had a significant impact in providing some of the colour and shape to the Faith Campaign, even if one believes Saddam remained a secularist and Islamized his regime as a wholly cynical means of shoring-up support, this is completely irrelevant to the effect this Islamization had. Saddam put in place a governmental administration that created a religious movement, which brought men to a faith they otherwise would not have had, and in combination with the increased sectarianism fostered by Saddam’s regime, this prepared the ground for al-Qaeda and its offshoots like the Islamic State (ISIS) in the aftermath of the regime. Continue reading

Book Review: The Muslim Discovery of Europe (1982) by Bernard Lewis

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 7, 2015

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With the triumph of relativism and the current economic woes of the West, the sense that Western civilization is unique and in some respects—to use an old-fashioned word—better than the alternatives, and worth defending and exporting, is waning. But Bernard Lewis’ The Muslim Discovery of Europe suggests a longer view in which Europe, while containing all the faults of previous civilizations, has been one of the few to begin the process of correcting those faults, and has corrected many more than any other civilization.

One feature of European civilization that stands out as unique is curiosity. Continue reading