Leading jihadist thinker condems ISIS caliphate

Al Monitor reports: Jordanian Islamist groups have rejected the announcement of an Islamic caliphate by al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State (IS, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) on territory it has seized in Iraq and Syria, a move they see as a “rush job,” “forced” and “illegitimate.”

The Sunni militant organization declared itself a caliphate on June 29, renamed itself “Islamic State“ and proclaimed its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Muslim world.

Salafist and al-Qaeda spiritual leader Assem Barqawi, better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, one of the most influential voices in Salafist Islam, dismissed the declaration of a new caliphate in a lengthy statement posted July 1 on his website branding the group “deviant” and against the principles of both Islam and Sharia. [Continue reading…]

Thomas Hegghammer writes: A number of the world’s most senior jihadi ideologues have already come out against ISIS on the caliphate question, and the criticism from supporters of al-Qaida and groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida-anointed jihadi group in Syria, has been scathing. Meanwhile, ISIS has so far only received the pledge of allegiance (bay’a) from a small number of minor clerics, dissidents from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and groups in the Syrian-Iraqi theater that were at risk of being swallowed by ISIS anyway. To be sure, ISIS has also seen many declarations of support from grassroots sympathizers around the world, but it is unclear whether these are newly won adherents or people who were cheering on ISIS already. As [J.M.] Berger put it in another article, it looks like “ISIS threw a party and nobody came.”

This raises the question: why did they do it? It is hard to believe that ISIS simply miscalculated and genuinely thought the entire jihadi movement would submit to their authority. ISIS is not an isolated sect, but a tech-savvy bureaucracy that monitors enemy Twitter accounts and consumes academic literature (in fact, they will probably read this very article). They must have known the lay of the ideological land. We should therefore not dismiss the move as ideological excess, but rather assume it was based on a careful calculus.

It is possible, for example, that this was a bid for the youth vote in the jihadi movement. ISIS may have realized it was not going to win over the pro-al-Qaida old guard anyway, but that there was a potential to further increase its appeal among young recruits, especially abroad. Bear in mind that for the past three years, virtually all of the world’s new jihadi foreign fighters have gone to Syria, where a majority has joined ISIS. By comparison, only a handful have gone to Pakistan, Yemen, or Algeria to train with al-Qaida and its affiliates. Moreover, ISIS has arguably been the biggest game in town the past year in terms of visibility on the jihadi Internet. Finally, with its battlefield advances in Iraq over the past month, ISIS has demonstrated real-life impact that other jihadi groups can only dream of. New recruits—who tend to be young, male, and impatient—may be attracted to the group that gets things done. Declaring a caliphate consolidates this youth appeal by adding another element of bravado to the ISIS project. In such a context, heavy criticism from the ideological establishment may paradoxically bestow an underdog image on ISIS, which younger recruits may find attractive. [Continue reading…]

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