The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), subsequently renamed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and currently called Islamic State (IS), has dominated the television news of the corporate media as the very incarnation of evil. Pictures of gruesome beheadings, massacres and atrocities committed by the ISIS militants are prominently displayed and circulated to a wide audience, intending to elicit the justifiable revulsion that such horrifying tactics generate. The ISIS group is fanatically anti-socialist, committed to capitalism, and is dedicated to establishing an ethno-sectarian state that does not recognise national borders. It defines itself as the ultimate and purest representative of Islamic people around the world, and is pushing out all those ethnic and religious groups that disagree with its fundamentalist vision, including those Muslims opposed to ISIS.
During the latest attack on the Palestinians of Gaza by the Israeli state, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliberately drew a direct comparison between the ISIS militants and the Palestinian movement Hamas. Netanyahu, in drumming up support for the Israeli military offensive in Gaza dubbed Operation Protective Edge, portrayed Israel’s military actions as defensive in nature, aimed at a group that is hellbent on the destruction and physical liquidation of the Jewish population in Israel. Netanyahu claimed that Hamas shares the same millenarian fanaticism as ISIS, and that Hamas is a natural and important ally of ISIS in the Arab-Islamist project of creating a Muslim-exclusive political entity in the Levant.
This is a sweeping claim by Netanyahu, and it was successful to a point in associating the Palestinian Hamas organisation and its resistance as an ideological support for the ISIS group. Netanyahu cleverly framed the Israeli assault on Gaza as another crucial and important chapter in the global ‘war on terror’, fighting the good fight against the creeping and ubiquitous Islamist terror threat in its Palestinian incarnation. Hamas has been deliberately associated with ISIS by Netanyahu for the purpose of obfuscating the reality in Gaza, portraying Israel’s actions as defensive, motivated by the same lofty ideals of defending Western values and democracy against the international enemy, political Islamism – in this case, personified by Hamas.
But upon closer examination of this claim, it is clear that Netanyahu has turned the current reality on its head. He is either unwittingly ignorant, or what is more likely, making a deliberately perverse and false allegation to distort the nature of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and its assault on Gaza.
ISIS does have an ideological bedfellow in the Levant, with whom it shares many philosophical and political similarities; the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant.
The latter phrase is the title of an informative and perceptive article by Ben Norton published in the Socialist Worker online magazine. Norton elaborates upon the key programmatic similarities between the philosophy underlying the actions of ISIS, and the foundational ideology of the state of Israel. We will examine this article more closely a little later, but first some preliminary points.
In a previous article, the current author elaborated upon the differences between Hamas and the ISIS group. Hamas is an Islamist organisation, that is true; but it is not exterminating ethnic minorities, not waging a totalising war of annihilation against its opponents, and has demonstrated its tactical flexibility in negotiations with its regional counterparts. The main difference however, was elaborated by Larry Derfner, in an article for the +972 magazine entitled “No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas”. After detailing the features that distinguish the two organisations, Derfner explains the key difference:
But for all those differences, the decisive one between Hamas and ISIS, of course, is that Hamas represents a nation under foreign rule, which means Hamas is fighting a war of self-defense against Israel. ISIS is trying to take over a nation, or nations, that are beset by civil war, so ISIS, being the most murderous, totalitarian and feared of any of the factions, is fighting a war of aggression.
However, rather than elaborating on all the characteristics that distinguish ISIS from Hamas, it is more relevant to explain the similarities between ISIS and the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant. The underlying programmatic similarities between the two entities are striking, and relevant to a discussion of just exactly who is the aggressor in the Middle East. Both organisations are motivated by a hyper-ethnonationalism, one that seeks to create sectarian exclusive states that exclude ethnic minorities, and both organisations claim to represent their respective co-religionists around the world, regardless of nationality.
ISIS has been roundly condemned for its tactic of beheadings – a savage method of killing to be sure. Does the Israeli military behead its opponents? No it does not, because it has a more technologically sophisticated way of killing; flechette bombs. The latter are a type of metallic dart, sprayed out in all directions by an exploding flechette bomb. The flechette darts tear apart and mutilate anything and everything within its range. During the most recent Israeli attack on Gaza, the lethal effectiveness of the flechette bombs was noted in a speech by musician and Stop the War Coalition activist, Brian Eno. In July 2014, he stated that:
Today I saw a picture of a weeping Palestinian man holding a plastic carrier bag of meat. It was his son. He’d been shredded (the hospital’s word) by an Israeli missile attack – apparently using their fab new weapon, flechette bombs. You probably know what those are – hundreds of small steel darts packed around explosive which tear the flesh off humans. The boy was Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra. He was 4 years old.
ISIS has been condemned for targeting journalists, humanitarian aid workers and medical personnel. That is a crime against humanity, to be sure. In the latest Israeli offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza, Israeli forces deliberately targeted medical workers, hospitals and clinics, and ambulance crews rushing to rescue the wounded were ambushed.
ISIS has been recorded as recruiting indoctrinated foreign fighters, from the United States, Australia, Canada and other countries, to fight in its war against Iraq and Syria. Yes, that much is true. Let us look at the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant; foreign recruits from around the world, indoctrinated in religious Zionism, travel to the state of Israel to serve in its army, help to settle in occupied Palestinian lands, and displace the indigenous population. The foreign fighters, from Peru, from countries like Australia, from the United States, all of these fighters actively helping in the expansionist and colonising project of Zionism.
ISIS does not recognise national borders, and has stated that it represents all Muslims around the world, regardless of their nationality or country of origin. ISIS guerrillas have been smashing the borders between the Arab states in the Levant, borders that were determined by the imperialist powers in the aftermath of World War One. ISIS has been upsetting the imperial status quo, set by the Sykes-Picot agreement, and reuniting the Arab lands in the Levant. This redivision of the spoils of war, upsetting the apple-cart so to speak, has earned ISIS the ire of the imperialist states. ISIS has destabilised the entire imperialist-imposed status quo.
The state of Israel currently does not define its borders, and its founding documents do not delineate the borders of the new state. The only formally defined borders are those with Egypt and Jordan, in the context of peace treaties with those countries. Otherwise, Israel’s borders are up for discussion and interpretation. The closest that anyone has come to a specific definition of the Israeli state’s borders are the advocates within Israel of a ‘Greater Israel’, the most expansionist and Zionist-fanatical politicians and proponents that claim all the lands between the Nile and the Euphrates rivers as the ancestral home of the Jewish people. This is derived from particular political interpretations of several passages in the Old Testament. It is not the purpose of the current article to go into all the various nuances and permutations of this question. The point to remember is that the project of Zionism, just like the war waged by ISIS, seeks a religiously-based justification for its political and economic programme of annexation.
However the Israeli establishment comes to define its borders, its expansionist project suits the interests of the imperialist states, and indeed the latter provide the funding and military equipment for the Jewish state to continually expand at the expense of the indigenous population. Zionism serves as a colonial settler outpost of the imperialist powers, and its annexationist drive poses no problems its Western sponsors.
The entire article by Ben Norton on the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant can be found here. It is well worth the read. However, let us conclude with another important observation, and one that sums up the current discussion; groups like ISIS, and the Israeli state, can only flourish because of the policies and actions of the imperialist states and their partners. The Western powers have created and maintained the fertile ground in which groups like ISIS can grow, and in which the Zionist project can continue its predatory practices of colonisation.
While the actions of ISIS militants on the ground are savage, it is the savages in our midst that need our attention in the capitalist West. The latter is undergoing a terminal economic crisis, and the psychopaths that are currently steering our political and economic rudders, are implementing a savage philosophy of austerity-cutbacks at home, while pursuing aggressive wars overseas. While there are barbarians in other countries in the Middle East, we must first recognise that we are living in the belly of the imperialist beast. If we want meaningful change around the world, the first thing we must do is change ourselves.