Jihad and the West: Black Flag over Babylon

Jihad and the West: Black Flag over Babylon

by Mark Silinsky

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“Expertly weaves the story of the current conflict through the points of view of perpetrators, victims, and nations.”—Journal of Military History
U.S. Department of Defense analyst Mark Silinsky reveals the origins of the Islamic State’s obsession with the Western world. Once considered a minor irritant in the international system, the Caliphate is now a dynamic and significant actor on the world’s stage, boasting more than 30,000 foreign fighters from eighty-six countries. Recruits consist not only of Middle-Eastern-born citizens, but also a staggering number of “Blue-Eyed Jihadists,” Westerners who leave their country to join the radical sect.
Silinsky provides a detailed and chilling explanation of the appeal of the Islamic State and how those abroad become radicalized, while also analyzing the historical origins, inner workings, and horrific toll of the Caliphate. By documenting the true stories of men, women, and children whose lives have been destroyed by the radical group, Jihad and the West presents the human face of the thousands who have been abducted, raped, tortured, and murdered by the Islamic State, including Kayla Mueller, who was kidnapped, given to the Caliphate’s leader as a sex slave, and ultimately killed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253027207
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 10/24/2016
Series: Encounters
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 270
File size: 5 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

<P>Mark Silinsky is a veteran analyst in the Department of Defense, an adjunct professor at the United States Army War College, and an affiliate professor at the University of Haifa. He has served in U.S. Army intelligence; as an Army civilian Foreign Area Officer (FAO) for Eurasia, Russian language; an Africa analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency; an action officer for the Joint Staff, J5; and a research fellow as part of the Exceptional Analyst Program. He is the author of The Taliban: Afghanistan’s Most Lethal Insurgent Group.</P>

Read an Excerpt

Jihad and the West

Black Flag Over Babylon

By Mark Silinsky

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2016 Mark Silinsky
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02720-7



I say to America that the Islamic Caliphate has been established. Instead send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq.

— Abu Mosa, a spokesperson for the Islamic State, throwing down the gauntlet to the United States, August 2014

We're going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL the same way we've gone after al-Qaeda

— President Barack Obama, October 2014


Chapter 1 will offer a brief historical context for the fight. It begins in the Garden of Eden and concludes with the declaration of the Caliphate.

On the Banks of the Garden of Eden

The Western world is rooted firmly in Mesopotamia, which is civilization's cradle. Prophets of all three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — trod its soil. The Tigris River is mentioned twice in the Bible; once in Genesis, with a reference to its flow in the Garden of Eden, and again in Daniel. In the Talmud, the waters of the Tigris were celebrated as healthy for the body and the mind. But the river's image had changed by summer 2015, as its environs became strewn with corpses. On the banks of the serpentine river, Islamic State cadets as young as twelve years old blasted bullets into the heads of kneeling Shia captives.

On one side of the Tigris lay the ruins of Nineveh, once a thriving metropolis. According to the Bible, Nineveh was built by Nimrod, and God sent Jonah to preach to the people of the "Great City" to repent for their sins. But a storm thrashed the ship and tossed Jonah into the sea, where he was consumed by a "great fish." Jonah thought better of his defiance of God and apologized. Jonah preached in Nineveh, and Jesus used that humility as an exemplar for men of his day. The Islamic State would destroy the monument Christians and Jews left for Jonah.

Iraq was very important in the rise of Islam and shone during the religion's golden age. Under the Abbasid rule, starting in the eighth century, Baghdad became the center of science and philosophy. According to some accounts, in the twelfth century there were thirty independent schools, an engineering school, and three medical schools, as well as many libraries.

In the nineteenth century, Nineveh became a European sensation. Western scholars, particularly amateurs, plowed carefully through the mounds of soil to resurrect, as best they could, the vestiges of Babylon and Assyria. In 1845, Austen Henry Layard, a young English adventurer, published his accounts of the great dig. Henry Rawlinson, the British diplomat in Baghdad, caught the fever to unearth Nineveh's past. Christians were thrilled about Assyrian accounts referring to a great flood that had engulfed Mesopotamia. Could this have been the biblical flood?

In 2000, 35,000 Christians lived in the city, but this dwindled to 3,000 on the eve of the Caliphate's conquest. By 2015, the State's destruction spree had begun, erasing millennia of religious artifacts. They devastated large parts of the ancient wall of Nineveh, an important landmark, as well as other ancient buildings. The tomb of Seth, Adam and Eve's third son, was blasted into dust. Then they tormented and killed many of the Christian survivors. In August 2015, the Caliphate posted pictures of disheveled and saucer-eyed Christian women waiting to be auctioned as slaves.

Michael Finch, a contemporary poet, set the generalized slaughter to verse in 2016. He wrote of the ancient city:

    On the plains of Nineveh comes a plague,
    Sura-sent and Satan's hell fury,
    Swept wide, over, through, and pillaged complete,
    An ancient world's ringing bells no more.

On the other side of the river stands Mosul, a city of a million inhabitants. It, too, has a storied history. In mid-nineteenth century, an American preacher and his wife erected a mission there. They remarked on the many Christian churches and denominations, Orthodox and Catholic, among them Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Armenians, who lived side by side with the region's other religious and ethnic groups. Jews and Yazidis were there, too. Today, this is only a memory, but a Western influence, of sorts, has returned to the biblical city. In July 2016, al-Baghdadi announced the appointment of a new military commander for the province; he is a German.

The Euphrates is the other great river in Iraq. According to Genesis 2:14, the Euphrates, "the River" or "the Great River," flowed to the Garden of Eden. The river is mentioned in Jeremiah. Its 1,730-mile flow mingles with Tigris before emptying into the Persian Gulf. It was the source of life for the Marsh Arabs. Saddam Hussein drained these marshes to destroy the livelihood of the Shiite in southern Iraq. Today, the Great River is dying, exacerbated by a multiyear drought. The Caliphate has attacked the river's dam's power stations, reducing its flow by over half. Some Western scientists attribute the environmental calamity to man-produced global warming. Many locals attribute this misfortune to the wrath of God.

"Holocaust on Horseback": The Return of the Mongols

If today's Islamic State had role models for the savagery of their tactics, it would likely be the Mongols, who swept like a storm from the Asian steppes to the gates of Baghdad in the thirteenth century. In 1258, Hulagu and his army sacked the city in an orgy of bloodletting. Described as a "holocaust on horseback," the brutality of the Mongols was unsurpassed in the Middle East. Baghdad had been one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, with soft living for the privileged, elegant architecture, and tiled fountains, its lyric beauty was the scene of many stories of One Thousand and One Nights. In Syria and Baghdad, Timur the Lame, or Tamerlane, created "pyramids of skulls" and buried families alive to terrorize those whom he conquered, both Muslim and Christian.

Life in Iraq and Syria today more approximates the era of Mongols than the halcyon days that brought Ali Baba, Aladdin, and Sinbad to the Middle Eastern imagination. Like the Mongols, the Caliphate uses primitive "shock and awe." Like the world of the Mongols, daily living is unforgiving for the conquered and privileged for the conquerors. Everyone in the Islamic State must show signs of his or her devotion to Islam. This is particularly the case in the Caliphate's unofficial capital, Raqqa.

Raqqa was the first important Syrian city the Caliphate seized and, along with Mosul in Iraq, is one of the Caliphate's two pillars. The city has a long history. Founded around 244 BCE, Raqqa, then named Kallinikos, was conquered by the Byzantines, destroyed by the Persian Sassanids in 542 CE, and later rebuilt by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. In the sixth century, Raqqa was a center for Syriac Christianity. Between 796 and 809 CE, the town was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. Today, it is the heartland of the Caliphate.

War on Christianity

Land in the Caliphate's clutch today was once part of Christendom. The Middle East was largely Christian before Islam. In approximately 400 CE, John Cassian, a European monk, legged his way to Egypt. He heard the "sounds of prayers and hymns of the monks, scattered in the desert, from the monasteries and from the caves." One house of worship was the Elian monastery, in Homs province, Syria. It was named after St. Elian, a native of Homs, who refused to renounce his Christian faith and was killed by his Roman father. After the Caliphate conquered Homs, they bulldozed the monastery.

The Caliphate hates symbols of Christianity. In 2014, its soldiers celebrated Christmas by blowing up a church. Long a symbol of Christian Mosul, the Clock Church was built in the late 1870s. The wife of French emperor Napoleon III paid for the tower, which rose over the city's rooftops. The Caliphate blew it up? In fall 2014, the State destroyed the oldest monastery in Iraq. For 1,400 years it had stood in Mosul, and the Greek chi-rho carved into the stone of the gatepost represented the name "Christ." It had withstood earthquakes and Mongols and Ba'athism, but it did not survive the Caliphate?

The Caliphate continues to eliminate the memory of Christianity in Mosul. Its fighters have torn down crosses from domes of Mosul churches and searched homes of Christians suspected of hiding crosses. All but a few Christians have been driven from the ancient city, and signs of the faith — crosses and Bibles — have been ferreted out and discarded as trash. In neighboring Turkey, near the Syrian border, the Islamic State destroys churches, too. Parts of one of the most ancient churches in the world were demolished by a Caliphate suicide bomber. According to legend, the three wise men visited the site after they had 15 given their presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, under a star? In a perverse twist on history, a Muslim suicide bomber, disguised as a Christian priest, attempted to enter a commemoration for the Muslim murder of Assyrian Christians in Syria. The bomber detonated his bomb outside the hall, killing himself and three Christians?

From the Crusades — The West and Mesopotamia

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
Don John of Austria is going to the war.
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunset and the seas.

— G. K. Chesterton, "Lepanto," 1915

Westerners have long trekked to the Middle East for combat, exploration, and adventure. Medieval and modern conflicts have pitted Europeans against Arabs in the Middle East. Though an all-but-forgotten historical footnote for many Europeans, the Crusades endure in the sulfurous rhetoric and imagination of many of today's Muslims. Islamic intellectuals, theologians, and firebrands promote images of Christian armies at the gates of Jerusalem. The Crusades are a recruiting meme of the Islamic State.

The Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller came with the First Crusade in 1099. Sometimes referred to as the world's first nongovernmental organizations, they supplied Crusaders with provisions, finance, medicine, and military assistance. Some of the Crusaders were young. In 1212, French and German children gathered to trek to the Holy Land. Called the "wandering poor," they were inspired and led by Stephan, a charismatic fifteen-year-old French shepherd? This was the ill-fated "Children's Crusade," few of whose child soldiers survived to reach the Holy Land.

Europeans were ultimately defeated in the Crusades, but men from the West would return as conquerors centuries later. If one battle signified the turning point in the Christian-Islamic struggle, it was Lepanto in 1571. Cervantes fought in the battle, with the Catholic Holy League. The magnitude of Christianity's victory secured a place for the story of Lepanto in Western literature. Chesterton wrote, "Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath ... Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath." The Romantic and prolific Lord Byron was a Western foreign fighter of sorts. In the early nineteenth century, he traveled to Greece to fight against the Ottoman Empire. He died young and his heart was buried there. Later, triumphant Europeans would dissolve the Ottoman Empire and build their own empires in Muslim lands.

America went to war against North African Muslim potentates; they were the Barbary pirates of Morocco in Tunis, Algiers, and Trip- 17 oli. The Muslim rulers demanded tribute, or jizya, because the Koran required it of infidels. Instead, in 1815, James Madison used the navy to defeat the Barbary sheikhs at sea and on "the shores of Tripoli." Later, Americans would come as missionaries and merchants.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, an American Protestant missionary described Mosul as a prosperous trading town known for its diverse mix of religious and ethnic communities. He described Orthodox and Catholic Christians living next to Sunni Muslims, Jews, Kurds, Turkmen, and Yazidis. According to the missionary, "You will scarcely find a lad in his teens who does not use at least two tongues; and to travel a hundred miles from Mosul, four are necessary."

In the twentieth century, Muslims and Christians would be, at different times, both enemies and allies. The British-Arabian partnership against the Ottomans was made world famous through the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia. British general Allenby would conquer Jerusalem in 1917, which would mark the first time since the Crusades that a Western force dictated terms of surrender to an Islamic force in that holy city.

In the wake of the Great War, Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill assembled a band of politicians and scholars, whom he called the "Forty Thieves." The only woman "thief" of this 1921 conference was Gertrude Bell — diplomat, scholar, and spy — who is cited as the midwife for the birth of the Iraqi state. She loved Iraq, and many Iraqis returned that affection. Some tended to her gravesite for years A California professor ventured, in mid-2016, "Bell would be dismayed to see the museum she founded sacked and looted ... or the damage ISIL inflicted upon the ancient site of Hatra in Iraq, which she visited in 1911." But she would be even more distraught to see the devastation it wrought on "Iraq's human heritage," particularly the Yazidis.

There are disputed accounts of political maneuvering of the post-World War I Middle East. Lawrence, calling himself "the chief crook of our gang," wept at what he saw as the British betrayal of agreements, particularly those made to the Arabian King Hussein. Today, leaders of the Caliphate rail against the postwar division of Mesopotamia, but objective scholarship is more sympathetic toward the West. Historians note that the Ottomans had ruled Syria, Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, and other cities as distinct political units. Further, the Western presence did promote sustained human development in the area.

Some Westerners wanted to grab the region's oil wealth, but others loved it for its civilization. Driven by "desert lust" and a passion for history, British scholars subsidized by wealthy patrons rebuilt some of the vanished greatness of Mesopotamia's past. The home of the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Arab civilizations and the birthplace of writing, Baghdad had a substantial library in 1921, funded and supervised by the British. But this symbol of modern Iraq, which housed ancient books and codices, was set aflame by the Caliphate in December 2014. Days after the Central Library's ransacking, militants broke into the University of Mosul's library and made a bonfire out of 900 years of Arab science, philosophy, and literature. Students cried while staring at the flames.

Many Middle Eastern Muslims did not appreciate European gifts of scholarship, law, and technology to the Arab world. The European colonization transformed law in the Middle East in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. In areas under European colonization, many elements of Western law supplanted Sharia, or Islamic law. Western rule abolished many capital crimes, such as converting to Christianity, and it offered greater protections to women and girls. Other elements of Sharia were modified to eliminate amputations, crucifixions, and other practices considered excessively cruel.

Western-imposed modification of Sharia created a backlash among the more conservative elements of both Sunni and Shia sects and spurred nascent Islamic revivalism. This boosted Islamic resurgence in Iran and the surge of the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt in the twenty-first century.

Between 1920 and 1932, Britain tried to build a modern democratic state in Iraq from three former provinces of the Ottoman Empire, which it had conquered and occupied during the First World War. Democracy did not take hold; Britain intervened in 1941 to remove the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali government Iraq became very important during the Second World War. Rashid Ali would have availed the country's oil assets to the Axis.

In the Second World War, Allied and Axis powers clashed over vital oil supplies in North Africa and the Middle East. They fought for control of territory and sea lanes and vied for the allegiance of Muslims in their areas of operations. Germany's Thirteenth Mountain Division of the Waffen SS, the Handschar, recruited Balkan Muslims, and the Mufti ofJerusalem, then living in Berlin, called them to Jihad. These Muslims fought for Hitler.


Excerpted from Jihad and the West by Mark Silinsky. Copyright © 2016 Mark Silinsky. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

<P>Foreword<BR>Glossary<BR>Introduction<BR>1. Black Flag over Babylon<BR>2. Eurabia and Beyond: The Caliphate’s Breeding Ground<BR>3. The Caliphate in Western Culture<BR>4. Blue-Eyed Jihad: The Caliphate’s Foreign Legion, Part One<BR>5. Blue-Eyed Jihad: The Caliphate’s Foreign Legion, Part Two<BR>6. Salafist Dystopia: Life in the State<BR>7. The Killing Floor<BR>8. The Caliphate Abroad: The Anglo-Saxons<BR>9. Black Flags Abroad: The French Speakers<BR>Epilogue: "A Taste of Vengeance"<BR>Bibliography<BR>Index</P>

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President of the Middle East Forum - Daniel Pipes

Curious about the roots of ISIS' bizarre and self-defeating fanaticism? Here's the book for you. Silinsky offers a smart, nuanced, personal, and informed account of its rise, revealing its inner logic and its ability to appeal to some Muslims and to horrify the rest of the world.

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