Nation of Nightmares

Nation of Nightmares

Why you should care

Rich, armed and brutal, the Islamic State is spreading mayhem across the 400-mile swath it controls — and has the means to spread terror across the Atlantic. This week, it claimed responsibility for the murder of an American journalist.

“No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday. He was speaking about the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which claims to have murdered the American journalist James Foley. Foley, 40, had been taken hostage two years before.

“May God bless and keep Jim’s memory,” Obama said.

Led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS says it aims to establish a new caliphate, and its means are cruel and brutal: kidnappings, murder and torture of Shia and Sunni alike, though it claims to be a Sunni group. Obama likened the IS ideology of nihilism and violence to a “cancer” that must be extracted.

Just what is a caliphate? In Trying to Resuscitate Islam’s Golden Age, OZY’s Emily Cadei explored and explained the concept. Originally the caliphate was the empire that stretched from Spain to Afghanistan in the years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, in the 7th century AD. The caliphate legitimized its rule in Islamic terms, and though its true era lasted only about 300 years, the dream of establishing a new caliphate has reverberated through the centuries since. The IS’s al-Baghadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, clearly understands its power. Read more here.

The IS isn’t the only world’s only “wannabe country,” as Laura Secorun Palet wrote earlier this month. In The Ghost Nations You Never Knew Existed, the OZY writer tells us that their ranks include Somaliland, the peaceful republic that broke away from its dysfunctional neighbor, Somalia, in 1991; the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (everyone but Turkey considers it the Republic of Cyprus); and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, recognized by 84 nations. The IS is just the latest — and most violent. “Only global jihadists have so far recognized it. Everyone else just wishes it would go away,” Palet wrote. Read more here.

The present IS proclaimed itself a caliphate in June, and the mayhem has only accelerated. A few weeks before, OZY contributor and former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin described the IS’s effect on an already frayed country and predicted The End of Iraq As We Know It? A redrawn Iraq, partitioned into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish segments, will pose an enormous risk to everyone in the region. “It will spill out — onto the global web of terrorism, onto alliance networks, onto energy markets. We must all prepare for the likelihood that what we see happening now in this small part of the world will have a profound impact on us all,” McLaughlin wrote. Read the rest here.

McLaughlin returned to the IS this week. In Why the Islamic State Is a Greater Threat Than Al-Qaida Before 9/11, McLaughlin describes the reasons IS is so fearsome. It commands actual territory, which gives it control over populations as well as a safe haven from the extraction Obama hopes for. Its estimated 10,000 fighters include 3,000 with Western passports, which gives the IS access to Western targets. And then there’s the lucre: With hundreds of millions of dollars, the IS “is the wealthiest terrorist organization ever. The money comes from bank takeovers in captured cities like Mosul, smuggling, kidnapping, Mafia-style ‘shakedowns’ of businesses, wealthy Islamic donors — and the sale of oil from several captured regions.” It all adds up to the power to hurt people like Foley as well as those who live far beyond the IS’s own self-proclaimed borders. Read the rest here.

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