Politics & Policy

Al-Baghdadi’s Global Jihad

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
The West has been viewing the Islamic State as a Mideastern problem. It is our problem.

‘Deal with the Rafidah [derogatory term for Shia Muslims], al Salul [derogatory term for Saudi royalists] . . . Dismember their limbs. Snatch them as groups and individuals. Embitter their lives and make them occupied with themselves instead of us. Be patient and do not hasten. Soon, Allah willing, the vanguards of the Islamic State will reach you.” So spoke Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State, in an audiotape released yesterday.

Puncturing reports of his demise in U.S. air strikes last weekend, al-Baghdadi released this new message of hate, in which he mentions events that have occurred since his supposed death. Like his July sermon in Mosul, this latest submission blends Koranic quotes with a litany of threats. A few call for particular attention.

“Celebrate, Muslims, for we give you good news by announcing the expansion of the Islamic State3…#to the lands of al-Haramayn [Saudi Arabia] and Yemen . . . to Egypt, Libya, and Algeria.”

Here, al-Baghdadi is celebrating recent pledges of fealty by various Salafi jihadist groups. And this recruitment illustrates a strategic reality that President Obama and other Western leaders have been neglecting: The Islamic State (I.S.) poses an urgent and spreading threat. Believing I.S. must be defeated in Iraq first, and then in Syria, the Obama administration ignores the fact that I.S. wages war on both physical and ideological battlefields.

These two battlefields link in a cycle of support of al-Baghdadi’s growing power. With each operational victory on the battlefield — or beheading of a Westerner – Islamic State earns another prize of ideological propaganda. In turn, this propaganda recruits new fighters and supporters around the world. I.S.’s operational capability thus grows as a response.

Having survived media speculation about his death (an operational victory in and of itself), al-Baghdadi has thus reinforced his credibility as a caliph under Allah’s ordained protection. Believing this, and witnessing I.S.’s withstanding of the coalition, jihadists are increasingly viewing al-Baghdadi as the rightful leader of their global cause.  And so, they’re turning to his banner. As I predicted last year (see point 5 here), Egypt’s political situation makes it vulnerable to the charismatic existential purpose al-Baghdadi offers. This is equally true in Libya and Pakistan. Mythology is central to Salafi jihadism, and al-Baghdadi seems to embody this mythology.

Yet it’s also important to note that his latest message displays special hatred for Saudi Arabia. Despising Saudi leaders for their support of the United States, and desperate to reclaim the holiest lands of Islam, al-Baghdadi wants to overthrow the royal family. Indeed, in recent weeks, I.S. has conducted skirmish attacks against Saudi border checkpoints. Similarly, by mentioning increasingly unstable Yemen — the home of al-Qaeda’s most capable syndicate (and the one most sympathetic to I.S.) — al-Baghdadi emphasizes his territorial ambitions.

Still, al-Baghdadi’s proselytizing also demonstrates something else: his focus on inspiring terrorism around the world. Committed to an absolute war to the death, he warns jihadists that, facing secularists, “There is no good in you if they are secure and happy while you have a pulsing vein.” He continues, “Erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere. Light the earth with fire upon all the tawaghit [apostate rulers], their soldiers and supporters.” This is a blatant call to arms — both for organized terrorists and for lone wolves. It hints at the Islamic State’s desire to attack the West and spread the battle.

But while al-Baghdadi’s message will inflame the hearts of terrorists, we must listen to his words with strategic clarity because they testify to the I.S. agenda. This is not a group defined by a narrow purpose. Rather, insulated by their theological insanity, the Islamic State’s leaders want to recruit an army to conquer the earth. Unless challenged urgently and effectively, they will continue to spread global chaos in that pursuit.

Simply put, the coalition must escalate its political-military campaign to purge the Islamic State from the Earth.

Tom Rogan, based in Washington, D.C., is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and a contributor to The McLaughlin GroupHe holds the Tony Blankley Chair at the Steamboat Institute and tweets @TomRtweets.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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