I address myself to the organizers and followers of Islamic State, appealing for a process of dialogue and sense in a world that is spinning out of control, riven with sectarian and religions violence, appealing for a new approach which will counter the loathing felt towards you and the determination to destroy you.
Let us start with the magazine Dabiq, which provides a telling window into what Islamic State is. Dabiq is the name of the magazine published by Islamic State and takes its name from the Battle of the meadow of Dabiq (Marj Dabiq), a town in Northern Syria. This battle marked a decisive victory for the Ottoman Empire against the Memluk Sultanate, a battle which opened the gate for the Ottoman conquest of much of the Middle East.
This magazine has been described by many commentators as "slick" and "professional", by others as "shocking" or "apocalyptic". I start with Dabiq for two reasons: first, it fails to achieve what it aims to do, and serves as a good pointer as to where Islamic State's weaknesses lie and secondly, those who appear as opinion leaders speaking about the magazine do not appear to know what they are talking about - another fine example of how blind the West is to cultural issues outside a packet of potato chips, a pile of popcorn, some carbonated chemicals in a plastic bottle and some idiotic nonsense on a TV screen.
As someone who has been involved with journalism and writing from a very young age, and who has held all the positions possible in the profession, from junior correspondent to administrative clerk, from page editor to editor to senior editor to chief editor, from project manager to director, to international coordinator to executive director, to partner and owner of online publications, paper weekly and monthly newsletters, newspapers and magazines, I claim to know something about the area.
Dabiq appears to be a glossy, coffee-table publication with a layout which may fool those who have never worked in the printed media. In fact, it is very 1990s and typical of the type of lettering and rubrics chosen by wannabe publishers whose vision starts and ends at the end of their nose. If Dabiq had a paper edition, it would cost around 6,000 USD per 5,000 copies to print with that type of paper, and after distribution costs had been paid, the gross income would be around one USD per copy sold. The problem is, they wouldn't sell anything more than maybe 250 at the most for the first issue, 81 for the second and perhaps 29 for the third. So as a project, Dabiq would fail miserably after the first few editions.
As for its content, it looks like a glossy magazine version of a leaflet distributed by a religious sect, or the scribbling of the town nutcase who changed his name to Photon, who wears a pointed aluminium foil cone over his head to protect him from proton beams being directed at him from Planet Zog and who prints a hundred flyers a week on his home printer entitled "Photon beats Proton". The article titles follow the lines of "It's either Islamic State or the Flood", or "The Da'wah of Nuh", an "us and them" approach used by the Mormons when they knock at your door and read selected passages from the Book of Mormon or from the Bible, or from those execrable couples who wander around in pairs with briefcases knocking on doors at some uncivilized hour on a Sunday morning, offering to talk about God when all you want to do is nurse your hangover.
For those who do read the leaflet or open the door looking for an escape, the result is the same. A gullible, confused and powerless, jobless person yearning for a cause to release himself from the doldrums of his drab and dreary, boring daily existence will be a white page for those with a poisoned pen to write upon.
But here is the rub: who is writing? I firmly believe that in order to say or write anything of any substance, one has to do a lot of listening and reading before any speaking or writing. This means that before one can speak about any theme relating to religion, one should read the texts, and this includes the Qu'ran. The message from this noble book is basically one of peace and balance between Humankind and our surroundings and all of its contents should be taken with this message in mind. Islam is peace, period.
Therefore statements such as "All Moslems support one another" in some Holy War to kill Christians and then converge on Palestine and kill the Jews, insinuations that only a small chosen group will survive and the majority will be killed, run hand in hand with prophetic statements made hundreds if not thousands of years ago at a time when story-telling was the evening entertainment, in which parable and parody and poetic license sexed up a story with metaphorical illusions, a pre-IT virtual reality sparked by the need for entertainment and fueled by human imagination.
Like the dodo and the dinosaur, such an approach has no place in today's world except perhaps among a handful of dreamers, at best and murderers at worst. One buzz-word used by Islamic State is the Crusaders and the Crusades. Understandably, Moslems abhor these mass murderers as much as the civilized world abhors the evils, xenophobia, homophobia, racism and exclusive approach adopted by Nazi Germany. Yet how can today's Islamic State aim to garner any degree of acceptance or sympathy if they behave in exactly the same way as the Crusaders they so despise?
Beheading journalists and aid workers and planning to take a random member of the public and perform a demented act of murder shocks and frightens people. For a day or two. But then what happens? Such barbaric and inhumane, unhuman acts of butchery provide the collective conscience of humankind with a steely resistance, a sullen hatred and a rock-hard determination to put a stop to what is unacceptable. Such acts serve to unite humankind, to unite former foes, to forge closer bonds between formerly warring parties, to denounce the perpetrator as having no place among us. It is a statement of collective values, an unstoppable force and an immovable mass of morals and morale.
Moreover, such violent acts run against everything that Islam and the Qu'ran stand for. Islamic State is, apart from being a cancer in our midst, an insult to Mohammed and a blasphemous evil which brings Islam into disrepute. Far from uniting Moslems, it is dividing them - even al-Qaeda has denounced Islamic State as an evil sect.
True, on the other side there is ignorance and arrogance, a lack of understanding and a crusade of imperialistic caprices which today underpins Western policy and fuels such hatred. Nobody has been more vociferous in countering Western policies over the last fifteen years than I, but that does not mean that I should or could support a group which preaches and practices more of the same.
True, Islamic State is not just a terrorist group. It has scholars, administrators, it has Sharia courts, military strategists, law enforcers, indeed it has the semblance of a State. But a State does no go around raping little girls, sodomizing little boys, decapitating powerless and defenseless prisoners, violating human rights and harassing women, committing torture and murder. Such acts belong to the Devil, not to Islam or Allah and those who practice them walk on the dark side.
If that is how the followers and supporters of Islamic State wish to be identified and remembered, they are doing a very good job. Yet in so doing, there are consequences and in their heart of hearts, the foot soldiers of Islamic State know very well what is coming, because they have stirred up one of the largest and most powerful nests of hornets the world has seen in recent history. Many of them will be aware of what is coming for a split second between hearing a thud and feeling a splatter on their cheek from the comrade who was sitting beside them, and then the feeling of numbness as a bullet explodes in their brain leaving a hole in the middle of their foreheads. No more dreams.
Perhaps the one gesture which could bring someone to the negotiating table and bring Islamic State onside as a political organism, gaining a degree of credibility as radicalism is exchanged for pragmatism, would be to release Alan Henning and the other hostages, whose only crime was to perform in their daily lives what Islam preaches: sharing and charity, while Islamic State practices the opposite. Perhaps this one gesture could get the frightened and disillusioned young men who flocked to the IS cause back home with their families to celebrate together and put this nightmare behind them. Those who stand in their way are evil.
After the retreat of the Russian Armed Forces, it appears that the long-awaited success in the liberation of the Donetsk People's Republic is coming: Russia will soon take the city of Bakhmut