Robert Manne writes: Two years ago, the armies of the group that would soon call itself the Islamic State, a group that already controlled large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, entered Mosul, the second city of Iraq. The Iraqi Army, in which the United States had invested, or perhaps wasted, US$25 billion, fled in fear. Shortly after, the group announced the restoration of the Muslim caliphate, which had been dissolved in 1924 by the leader of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal Atatürk.
Before these events in June 2014, virtually no one in the West had given the Islamic State a second thought, apart from a handful of scholars and intelligence officers. Six months before the fall of Mosul, US president Barack Obama dismissed the Islamic State, with a withering contempt, as the junior league partners of Al Qaeda. Since then, however, the proudly publicised dark deeds of the Islamic State – the beheadings, the stoning to death of adulterous wives, the immolations, the crucifixions, the mass slaughters, the killings of homosexual men, the sexual enslavement of Yazidi women – have become only too well known.
As an undergraduate seeking to understand the Holocaust, I read Norman Cohn’s Warrant for Genocide. It is the history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged document that “revealed” the Jewish plot for world conquest and became a fundamental element of the Nazi world view. Ever since, I have believed that there is nothing more dangerous in human affairs than beliefs capable of convincing their followers of the nobility of mass murder and other savage acts. For this reason, recently I set out to try to discover the thinking of the Islamic State’s leaders. The more I read the more convinced I became that the Islamic State’s barbarous behaviour could not possibly be grasped without some real familiarity with the character and content of their ideology. As so often in history, it is ideas that kill. [Continue reading…]