ST Editorial

Caliphate of fear

THE first anniversary, today, of the formal declaration of a caliphate by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marks the lessons of a year in which the terrorist group and its global ambitions have come to the ghastly fore. Grisly executions - from countless beheadings to burning a prisoner of war to death in a cage - are reminders of the criminal extremes through which it matches means and ends. Its enemies are not only non-Muslims but also those in the community deemed to be heretics or insufficiently pious. For those unfortunate enough to live in its realm, its demonstrations of summary "justice" are facts of life to which its subjects must get accustomed, or perish.

For the rest of the world, ISIS represents an existential threat to civilisation. Last week's attacks on innocent civilians in France, Tunisia and Kuwait reveal yet again the pathology of aggression, spurred on by twisted religious zeal, to which ISIS contributes either directly or indirectly. Its religious construction of the caliphate as a land of exclusive belief, from which infidels, dissidents and doubters have to be expelled through force, extends to the whole world, for the caliphate is global by definition. Its misrule bears little resemblance to the historical caliphate's attempts to come to terms with religious and cultural diversity. Tolerance is intolerable to the modern caliphate.

ISIS is not going away. An international brigade of bandits, psychopaths and adventurers bored with the normality of life in secular societies mans the ranks of its marauding army. It has also succeeded in attracting women willing to give up the relative freedoms and rights that they enjoy in liberal jurisdictions for the romance of a battlefield contested by men for men. ISIS has captured the imagination of the impressionable by invoking the caliphate as a seamless association of the here and the hereafter achieved in real time, now. Its fighters, numbering more than 30,000, are not an insubstantial force given their access to arms, to financing that draws on the unstable economic conditions of Iraq and Syria, and to indoctrination in a militarised society that blocks off receptivity to countervailing sources of information. ISIS is more dangerous than Al-Qaeda, which was a militant idea without much territory. ISIS is a shell state where ideology, territory and militancy are converging to create a template for the disgruntled to recreate violently in their own societies.

On the first anniversary of ISIS' revisionist declaration of its universal aims, countries both Muslim and non-Muslim must come together to resist this latest assault on the global order. They need to begin by inoculating their citizens against the siren calls of a new militarism.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2015, with the headline 'Caliphate of fear'. Print Edition | Subscribe