With daily news of its escalating atrocities, what do we know about ISIL? These barbaric sadists are often depicted as just another generic terrorist group. Lately, ISIL has been referenced as an unhappy assemblage of unemployed drifters. Really?
ISIL’s roots go back to sectarian rivalries between Sunni and Shia Muslims. In 1740, orthodox reformer Abd al-Wahhab protested that too many Muslims had lost their theological purity through veneration of ancestors, idolatry of shrines and decadence. His followers in Salafi Wahhabism multiplied when he allied with the Saudi clan, and were eager to slaughter any Muslims who refused to conform to orthodox ways. Kill the men, violate and enslave their women, plunder their property. Convert or die! Does that begin to sound familiar?
Wahhabi brutalityforced the Ottoman Turks to crush the fledgling Caliphate, driving surviving Wahhabis into the desert (1814-18). For two centuries, western civilizations lost track of this sect while it awaited another opportunity. Following the First World War, their time arrived. Exploding from their nomadic existence, Wahhabi Muslims swarmed the Arabian Peninsula, founding Saudi Arabia as a new nation (1932).
Saudi Arabia’s new King, Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, understood from history that the most severe tenets of Salafi Wahhabism must be moderated if his kingdom was to avoid the fate of its predecessors and enjoy its oil riches. Saudi nationals would be punished for violation of strict Sharia law, but visitors (oil riggers, traders, tourists, diplomats) would be tolerated, up to a point. Their main concern was the minority of puritanical Wahhabis, roaming the desert, erupting into occasional violence.
Until recent years, that side of Wahhabism with its radical interpretation of Islam remained unnoticed outside the Saudi kingdom. The 2003 war in Iraq, displacing the iron-fisted discipline of Saddam Hussein’s government, created a power vacuum that jihadist Wahhabi radicals exploited with menacing force in Iraq and Syria and across the region. Their Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) proclaimed its long-awaited Caliphate. The time had come again to unleash their atrocities on their neighbors: mostly other, less strict Muslims, but also Christians and Jews who got in the way or could be held for ransom.
Among those who knew little of this history, ISIL was misinterpreted as just another terrorist branch of al Qaeda. Indeed, the two were loosely allied from 2004 until 2014, when even al Qaeda’s leaders renounced ISIL’s evil excesses against fellow Muslims. You see, al Qaeda was a political movement to attack western civilizations and America in particular. ISIL was a strict, puritanical distortion of Islam, to whom an American was just another non-believer. Violence attracts the participation of psychopathic adventurers, but the driving force is ideology.
What, then, are we to do about it, now that ISIL has brutally executed four Americans (two journalists and two aid workers)? We have the courageous example of Jordan and Egypt. Rather than tremble at the fiery execution of Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh, King Abdullah ordered a fierce aerial assault against major ISIL positions and assets. Rather than be intimidated by the cruel beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians, President El-Sisi launched a defiant air attack against ISIL targets in Libya.
Bombarding ISIL forces at our present rate could take years to break their hold on captured territories. Only by inundating ISIL strongholds with concentrated aerial firepower can we decimate their military.
Consider this: for ISIL to establish a new Caliphate they must overthrow the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That prize would give ISIL’s bloody form of Wahhabism the power of a nation-state with vast oil reserves. This cannot be permitted.
We urge the United States Congress to give our president the authority and bipartisan support he has requested, and enact the proposed war powers authorization. To leave him handicapped by outdated authorizations for his predecessor will deny him the flexibility he needs. If the Commander-in-Chief believes he needs three years for a decisive offensive, be relieved that he has not requested authority for an extended occupation. Do not tie his hands with politically driven restrictions that will undermine the commanders in the field.
For the president, our advice is to know your enemy. This is not just a bunch of misfits, unhappy about job opportunities, although that remains a real issue for many Americans. Rather, it is a cadre of intensely motivated religious purists hell-bent on establishing the mother of all Caliphates to dominate the Middle East, and beyond. We wish you Godspeed, sir.
Glosson is a Lt. General, USAF (retired). Martin was governor of North Carolina from 1985-93.