On an unusual surreal day early last summer a man I had never heard of before climbed a podium in Mosul, Iraq. He was dressed in presumably 7th century Arab attire, accurate enough to make Hollywood proud. In hindsight, he may have been playing a role selected for him. He declared the recreation of the Islamic Caliphate (meaning the state run by the heirs and followers of the Prophet Mohammed). He declared himself the new Caliph; to wit, public ruler and religious leader of Muslims- non-Wahhabis need not apply.
Then this character Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi (reportedly né Ibrahim Awwad Al Samarrai) disappeared from view. No more public pronouncements, no appearances. Gradually we have been getting reports, photos, and videos of others, of less swarthy men with red and blond beards dominating the Wahhabis in Syria and Iraq. Chechens (Shishan, or Shishani in Arabic), from Russian Chechnya, have been reported to be in Syria and Iraq for a couple of years. Now they seem to have been flooding the place, if some media reports are accurate. The most famous media face is that of Omar Al-Shishani: his real name is reported to be Batirashvili, which means he originally hails from Georgia (I think any name ending in –Shvili is Georgian, just like one Dzhugashvili who became known as Stalin). They are alleged to be the mainstay of the street fighting, the sharpshooters of city and town warfare. They also presumably have women there, as sharpshooters and as, er, companions and entertainers of the Jihadis when they are not blowing up Iraqi civilians or taking Syrians as hostages and slaves.
That probably explains the extreme bloodiness of their treatment of the captives. That is a typically European practice as we know from the history of the past two centuries. From Germany to Russia (including Chechnya) to the Balkans. The Chechnya rebellion was typically praised in the West, until the inevitable happened, just as it has happened in Syria. The inevitable is that the Wahhabi outsiders with a lot of money and a hateful message, both imported, took over the Chechen rebellion, just as they did the initial Syrian uprising. The Chechens took up chopping heads and hands and stoning quickly in their Caucasus homeland, with the zeal of the converted. Now they are in our region, likely the new European masters of the Caliphate.
One should not exaggerate: there are no doubt Arab commanders as well. We know some of the names, noms de guerre, many others are not known. This reliance on foreign military prowess has normally happened in Islamic history in the declining years of previous Caliphates and Sultanates. It was a practice from Baghdad to Cairo to Istanbul. Often the imported ‘help’, usually imported former slaves, ended up in effective command.
But there are also other ‘Europeans’ involved. This new brief Caliphate, like other Islamic Caliphates before it has fallen to reliance on the imported help. Reliance on the particular Europeans with the bloodiest recent memories and lessons of massacres and mass killings and genocide.
Is this just a repeat blast from past Islamic history? Is this Al Baghdadi (al Samarrai) a hapless figurehead for the real strongmen of the Islamic State?………….
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum