The Road to Jerusalem: IS Follows Saladin’s Steps

Osamah Golpy

By Osamah Golpy:

A popular Arabic song started to emerge in the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. It glorifies two Palestinians, a father and a son: the boy crying and the father waving, all in the eyes of the whole world, and then a burst of gunfire and dust, after which the boy is seen slumped across his father’s legs. The song presumably talks on behalf of the boy: “He asks, ‘Where is Saladin, where is [caliph] Omar?’,” referring  to two Muslim leaders, both Sunnis, who were able to bring the Holy City of Jerusalem under the reign of Islam. However, it does not matter who you ask, Sunni or Shiite, Jerusalem is in the hearts and minds of Muslims, and for many it’s the third holiest city, only after the cities of Mecca and Medina in present Saudi Arabia where the Prophet Mohammed lived and ruled.

Saladin, the Sunni Sultan of the (Sunni) Muslims in 12th century had his own road to Jerusalem, through Egypt. Before his rise to power and prominence, the Shiite Islamic Fatimid Caliphate had ruled Egypt for over two centuries. But all that came to an end after Saladin could consolidate his power through diplomacy. Soon he instructed the mosques to celebrate the names of the four Rashidun caliphs respectively—the Shiites used to commemorate only the fourth, Ali, the prophet’s son-in-law—and he founded the Islamic schools to spread the Sunni sect of Islam in Egypt, and other countries subsequently coming under his control. Saladin did his best to neutralize the Shiites wherever he found them: destroying them where possible, as in Egypt, or weakening them elsewhere. As Saladin started to build his own caliph, after the removal of the Fatimid, he continued to bring other Islamic, mainly Sunni cities, under his control. By the time he led the successful Jerusalem campaign and captured it from the crusaders, much of the Middle East and North Africa belonged to his Ayyubid dynasty.

“The road to Jerusalem goes through Karbala [the holy shrine of the Shiites],” Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, said during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war. The motto reflects his fighting the enemy within the Islamic world: Saddam to Khomeini was as evil as the Israelis and the Americans or even more, the priority. Now, after three decades, although Saddam is gone the mission is not accomplished yet. The Holy cities of Najaf and Karbala are under existential threat, so said Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest religious scholar for Iraq’s Shiites, and his call to Jihad against the Islamic State recruited tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of Shiites to take arms, fully backed by the Iranian authorities.

Iran and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has taken the IS threat very seriously right from the beginning: many of the first brutal videos released by the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) show the killing of what it described as the Safavi soldiers, a term for the Safavi dynasty in Iran but used currently for Shiite soldiers.

One month after the rise of IS in the Iraqi city of Mosul on June 10, the Gaza war began between the Israelis and the Islamic Hamas organization. Images of buildings demolished, entire families killed and children targeted by fierce Israeli bombardment made some wonder whether IS will go to help their “brothers in religion”. The answer to this question is clear now. IS finds no interest in helping Hamas on certain grounds: Hamas believes in democracy which gives the legislative power to people, not God. So for IS, getting rid of Hamas is a priority in itself.

For IS, all Muslims should be Sunnis and dedicated to their radical version of Islam. Moderate Sunnis and worst of all Shiites are not welcome in the Islamic caliphate, let alone the Yazidis. Jürgen Todenhöfer, the German journalist who had a rare access to IS territories, including Mosul, questions  a German IS fighter on whether they plan to kill 150 million Shiites in the world; the fighter replies with confidence, “We kill a hundred and fifty million, five hundred million; we don’t care about the number.”

IS sees Al-Baghdadi as the caliph of all the Muslims in the world, and his caliphate is the homeland of the believers.  In the second issue of ‘Dabiq’, the magazine published by the militants, the IS calls on the Muslims that, as part of their obligations towards the caliphate, “the first priority is to perform hijrah [migration] from wherever you are to the Islamic State, from dar al-kufr [land under infidel control] to dar al-Islam [land under Islamic control].”

As the world was wondering whether the Sydney attack by self-styled Sheikh Haron had any relation with the IS—especially since he put a flag very similar to IS’s on the restaurant window—I tweeted that the attack had nothing to do with IS, it was an all alone attack. Contrary to some reports, I believe IS does not pose a direct threat to Europe or the US in the short-term. It is time for the world to realize that the Islamic State is not Al-Qaida. IS would certainly consider conquering the West, but bombs and terrorist attacks are no option. It is after the revival of the caliphate in the Middle East and North Africa: to put an end to the Shiites, make Sunnis abide by IS Islam and then comes the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem. Europe and all beyond comes secondary in Al-Baghdadi’s ideals.

It is no exaggeration when the Kurds are saying they are fighting against the Islamic State on behalf of the whole world. IS leads its campaign in a certain order: it started in Syria and Iraq, already is so close to the Iranian border from the Jalawla front, and is on the Lebanese, Israeli and Jordanian borders. The more powerful they become, the more revelations we get know about IS’s ambitious strategy.  If left unchecked, Lebanon, Iran and Israel are their future destinations, respectively.

In Iran, the Sunnis have felt marginalized and oppressed for the last three decades. So for ISIS to enter the country, the (Sunnii) public sentiment would seem to facilitate its initiative. The same is true in Lebanon; Hizbullah helped keep the Assad regime in power through a bloody campaign, and it has a state-of-art military wing rival to the Lebanese army. The Sunnis feel like losers almost everywhere: after six decades, it is Israel which gets stronger and stronger; the Iranians survived the long Iraq-Iran war, their economy and military have flourished and are exporting the Iranian revolution to Yemen, Bahrain, and to a lesser extent across the Kuwait and Saudi borders.

After all, IS has one essential potential that made countries like the US and Israel so strong, diversity! It is true that it is after one version of Islam and one leader. But to have foreign fighters from almost all over the world gathered around one single goal; all of a sudden they can speak as many languages as needed; use different methods as various as the different Muslim communities; and they quite a large audience: over one billion Muslims.

IS is so brutal that the majority of Muslims—Sunnis—disown them, i.e., many of those killed by IS are (moderate) Sunnis. But if it is able to challenge the Iranian leverage in the region, and more importantly take the fight to Israel, the tendency would be quite the opposite. Even for the moderate Muslims who think the era of Jihad—in its military manifestation—is over, Palestine is an exception: there you can tell a Muslim from a (Zionist) Jew, and liberation is the option. The same song referred to above goes on, “He calls on the Arabs rescue Palestine. Oh Arabs, the Israelis killed us!” Such calls many Muslims think go to the deaf ears. For the first time in many decades, there is an Islamic force which might be capable of threatening the Israelis—a breakthrough.

Iran and Israel ironically are the two biggest vices in the eyes of IS. Although the Iranian revolution holds Israel as the enemy, I don’t believe it has ever been serious about this, and the Iranian nationalists whose voice becomes louder and louder every day are more concerned about Tehran than Gaza and Karbala. Hereby, a coalition of the unwilling between all these seemingly opposite sides is more than necessary to degrade and ultimately destroy IS.

The current war is essentially between the Muslims themselves: the Sunnis and the Shiites, and the radical Sunnis and the moderate Sunnis. The result of such a lengthy war determines which road the Muslims take to Jerusalem, if ever!

Osamah Golpy is a Kurdish freelance journalist: twitter @osamagolpy, Skype: osamagolpy

2 Responses to The Road to Jerusalem: IS Follows Saladin’s Steps
  1. Anas.Brwari.Chicago.U.S
    January 3, 2015 | 19:12

    It’s right that the new war by ISIL terrorist in the middle east, is ideological war among Muslims themselves like the religious war in Europe during middle centuries which was the longest and bloodiest war in human history. The hope we’re kurdish nation try to be far away from this war as soon as possible.

  2. Raber
    January 5, 2015 | 00:23

    Where’s the similarity between Isis and Saladdin? Saladin was a man respected even by his non-Muslum enemies, Isis are hated even by Muslims.

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