The WaPo's Right Call on al-Baghdadi

"Austere religious scholar" is the best, and only relevant, description of the late ISIS leader.

Once again, we have the singular pleasure of agreeing heartily with the Washington Post.  This happens so rarely that it usually deserves an article to memorialize the event.

The last time that happened, we pointed out the WaPo's quoting Hillary as saying that longstanding religious beliefs and practices would "have to be changed."  President Hillary intended to apply the full force of government against Christians who didn't accept her newly-favored positions on gay marriage or LGBTQ issues.

As the WaPo predicted, state governments have started trying to put Christian cake bakers and wedding venues out of business for refusing customers whose desires would violate their consciences.  It's OK to refuse to write Bible verses on cakes because the Bible is "hate speech", and it was OK for musicians to refuse to perform at Mr. Trump's inauguration because they don't like his politics, of course.

We are grateful that the WaPo pointed out Hillary's inner Tomás de Torquemada, a name which has become synonymous with horror, bigotry, and cruel fanaticism.  They brought to America's attention a cancer that has only metastasized in the Democrat party: just last month, presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke called for religious institutions like churches whose doctrines disallow homosexual unions to be stripped of their charitable tax deductions, to thunderous applause from the media and the woke audience members.

Our latest point of agreement with the Post concerns a matter as important as Hillary's remarks about Democrat dreams to wipe out religious freedom in the United States.  This time, the WaPo reminded us of longstanding efforts to wipe out religious freedom throughout the entire world.

Terrorist or Scholar?

The Wall Street Journal reported how the Washington Post chose to treat the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of all Muslims and actual autocrat of ISIS/Daesh/Islamic State, who was killed by a US Special Forces raid:

The original Sunday morning headline on the Post's website said: "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48."

This was itself a rather austere description, given al-Baghdadi's claim to fame.  As even the New York Times saw fit to remind readers:

Acting under the orders of a “Delegated Committee” headed by al-Baghdadi, the group, known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, imposed its violent interpretation of Islam in these territories. Women accused of adultery were stoned to death, thieves had their hands hacked off, and men who had defied the militants were beheaded.

While some of those medieval punishments are also meted out in places like Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State shocked people around the world by televising its executions. It also offended Muslims by inventing horrific punishments that are not mentioned in Islamic scripture.

A Jordanian pilot was burned alive in a scene filmed by overhead drones. Men accused of being spies were drowned in cages, as underwater cameras captured their last tortured gasp. Others were crushed under the treads of a T-55 tank, or strung up by their feet inside a slaughterhouse and butchered like animals.

Twitter users mocked the Post with similarly parodic obituaries of the form "Adolph Hitler, well-known animal lover, dies at 56."  The Post was accused of downplaying the brutal murders which al-Baghdadi commanded as the self-proclaimed caliph.  The Post eventually amended its headline to call the murderous al-Baghdadi an "extremist leader" - equally true, and equally missing the point.

USA Today quoted Kristine Coratti Kelly, a spokesperson for the paper, "Post correspondents have spent years in Iraq and Syria documenting ISIS savagery, often at great personal risk. Unfortunately, a headline written in haste to portray the origins of al-Baghdadi and ISIS didn't communicate that brutality. The headline was promptly changed."  [emphasis added]

Being Edited by Twits

This isn't the first time the Twitterverse has forced a liberal newspaper to alter its published editorial judgment.  In reporting that a Federal appeals court had reinstated Sarah Palin's defamation lawsuit against the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal reminded us:

Monday night's early front-page Times headline, "Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism," fairly described Mr. Trump's remarks at the White House. But after various angry tweets, the next edition's headline, "Assailing Hate But Not Guns," included a subtle gripe that the President had not immediately adopted a more liberal position on gun policy in the wake of weekend shootings.  [links in the original]

In both cases, the Twitter mobs were incorrect.  The Times' first headline was accurate; the Twitter-approved version spun the account into a not-so-subtle dig at Mr. Trump.

Twitter to the contrary, the WaPo's initial headline calling al-Baghdadi an "austere religious scholar" was both succinct and accurate - and more than that, tells us all we need to know about him.

The Post article starts by saying that when al-Baghdadi first rose as a leader of ISIS, he was a relatively unheard of "austere religious scholar with wire-frame glasses and no known aptitude for fighting and killing", much as their headline had suggested.  Their obituary continued:

He graduated from the University of Baghdad in 1996 and received a master's degree in Koranic recitation from the Saddam University for Islamic Studies in 1999. Immersing himself in the arcane world of 7th-century religious codes, he grew increasingly conservative. Acquaintances remembered how the college-age Mr. Baghdadi took offense at the sight of men and women dancing in the same room during wedding celebrations. ...

By 2003, at age 31, al-Baghdadi was well on his way to a doctorate and a shot at a full professorship. But after U.S. troops invaded Iraq that year, he signed up with a local resistance movement, explaining afterward that he did so as a religious duty. It would take four more years, until 2007, before he returned to school to defend his dissertation, also in Koranic recitation.  [emphasis added]

The truth is, al-Baghdadi being an "austere religious scholar" was indeed the most important, relevant, and momentous fact about his life and death.  His years of austere religious study are what made him a murderous terrorist psychopath - because that's what his religion unconditionally demanded of him.

Like all evil people, including Baby Hitler, Baby Jeffrey Dahmer, and Baby Stalin, Baby al-Baghdadi wasn't born that way.  He wasn't even taught to be a monster at his parents' knees so far as we can discern.  He was converted to that way of barbarism precisely by long study of the "arcane world of 7th-century religious codes" written in a book which promotes evil.

He gave up his religious studies to resist the Great Satan out of religious duty - as taught in the Koran.

In other words, just as Martin Luther's religious studies led him to nail his 95 Theses on religious freedom to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany; as William Wilberforce's religious studies led him to spend his life pursuing the abolition of slavery in the British Empire; and as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s religious studies led him to lead the Civil Rights Movement in which black Americans demanded the rights, as our founding documents put it, "to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them" - so did al-Baghdadi's religious studies lead him to inflict heinous sufferings on innocent people that would have made Genghis Khan blanch.

Luther, Wilberforce, King, al-Baghdadi - the most relevant fact about them, and indeed the only fact that caused them to be remembered, was precisely their religious devotion and the deeds that devotion inspired.  The only difference is the religion to which they were devoted, and its dictates.

Not for Lack of Trying

What brings us nearly to tears is the statement by the WaPo stateswoman, who correctly reiterated the brutality of ISIS and its allies, and then asserted that the original headline "didn't communicate that brutality."

Hasn't she realized that brutality is precisely what austere religious scholars at the helm of any Islamic country do?  We explained the terroristic workings of Islam in our "Hearts of Darkness" series and in articles such as "Allah's Rapists."  We've shown the clear teachings of the Koran in "Burn This Article."  You don't even have to trust our interpretation: anyone in this country or most of the world who'd like to learn what Islam teaches need only order themselves a free Koran - worth every penny paid for it, far exceeding the value it's brought to our world - and read what it says in black and white.

Yet no matter how hard we try - indeed, no matter how devotedly "austere religious scholars" teach, preach, and demonstrate otherwise - our ruling elites refuse to give up their religion of tolerating the intolerable.  That's why they can't acknowledge the inherent evil in literal interpretations of the Koran's commands to all Muslims in the "verses of the sword."

Our fundamental problem is that neither the European nor the American ruling elites understand the power of faith to motivate actions. Mr. Obama thought he could make happy-talk to Muslims and everything would be OK.  He never realized that you can't negotiate with someone who's convinced that God wants him to kill you.  It's hard to split the difference.

Apologia without Number

Google will give you any number of apologia for the passage "fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them," claiming that it was applicable only to a specific incident that occurred before Muhammad's death.

These assertions depend on how you translate the Arabic, and might indeed be correct.  We strongly encourage all Muslims to read them, and to be persuaded!  If the entire Muslim world were to find these apologia convincing, we'd all be in a far better place - us as well as them.

Alas, enough highly respected "austere religious scholars" commanding an audience of billions of Muslims who believe themselves and their leaders to be faithful to the will of Allah, support and spread the violent interpretation.  They fund it with oil money, they broadcast it on media and the Internet, and they lay their lives on the line to work this evil Koranic command.

Thus it is that, no matter what Arabic arguments there may be to the contrary, many Muslims - in fact, countless millions over the centuries right down to today - have been inspired to murder as many non-Muslims as possible.

"Islam - facts or dreams" discuses various Islamic views of violence against non-Muslims.  The author, Andrew C. McCarthy, had extensive experience interpreting Islam while prosecuting the "Blind Sheik" for trying to blow up the World Trade Towers in 1993.  Ih the course of the prosecution while researching to establish motive, he discovered that violent Jihad is not at all radical.

On the contrary: it's a completely mainstream interpretation held to, at least in principle, by the overwhelming majority of Muslims and just about all reputable Islamic leaders, with clearly enough fervent adherents to cause widespread global death and destruction.

As we see it, the WaPo headline about the deceased "austere religious scholar" captured the essence of al-Baghdadi's murderous career.

They reminded us that he studied the Koran for years, becoming more and more "conservative" all the while.

His many years of diligent and dedicated study can't help but have made him far more familiar with what the "sword verses" actually mean in the original Arabic than any of the apologists for other interpretations.  Other verses made him outraged to see unrelated men and women dancing in the same room, and he fully absorbed the teaching that homosexuality is a vile sin which is punishable by death.

His eloquent denunciations of such immoral depravity as men and women dancing in the same room persuaded his followers to proclaim him to be the caliph, the living embodiment of the prophet Muhammad.  His followers created an effective Internet campaign to persuade people to follow al-Baghdadi's example and kill non-Muslims - and that's exactly what they did.

When will our liberals admit that it doesn't matter what the Koran "really" says?  When will they realize that enough Muslims are willing to believe that Allah commands all Muslims to kill all non-Muslims to cause much mayhem all over the world?  What they think the Koran says is all that matters.

As al-Baghdadi's depravities amply illustrate, their targets include Muslims who aren't doing their share of killing.  He probably annihilated more self-professed devoted followers of Mohammed than followers of Moses or of Christ.  Yet for all that, enough millions of Muslims agree with his Koranic interpretation that we'll be dealing with what Mr. Obama refused to call "Islamic terrorism" for countless decades if not centuries to come.

Twitter was wrong, though for once well-intended.  The WaPo was right - "austere religious scholar with wire-frame glasses and no known aptitude for fighting and killing" was the key attribute of al-Baghdadi.

By far the most frightening aspect of the entire ISIS situation is that studying the Koran could turn a mild-mannered religious bookworm into one of the most brutal terrorist psychopaths we've seen since Mao or Pol Pot.  We are reminded of another book and leader whose doctrines turned a glasses-wearing chicken farmer into the man who personally oversaw the Holocaust.  Yet while that book and thankfully-deceased leader are rightly reviled by all, the book and equally-thankfully-deceased leader that inspired al-Baghdadi are treated with dignity and respect.  Why?

How many more austere religious scholars studying in mosques all over the world are turning themselves and their acolytes into murderous Jihadists?  One is too many, and the potential is frightening indeed.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

I'm not buying this. I've got maybe a dozen books on Islam under my belt,, so I am progressing in an infidel's understanding of Islam. Even though it is accurate, the phrase is deceptive in its blandness.

Perhaps it would be better as "austere ISLAMIC scholar". That would serve to educate people as to what is truthfully going on, rather than slander other religions by putting them next to this outlier one.

November 13, 2019 10:48 PM

@Mark Johnson - yuou are right, of course, but I can't imagine the WaPo ever saying anything that might indicate too strongly that Islam could in any way be linked to terrorism. It was amazing that they later said he studied the Koran.

November 14, 2019 12:44 AM

the thing which has astounded me ever since i learned about islam myself is that virtually *nobody* - left, right, or center - seems to have taken the time to examine the tenets of islam (including me, and for decades). all seem to think, "it's a religion, and all religions are safe, so what's the big deal?"

i am *so* glad that there are people like Hobbes who have taken the time to learn about this poisonous death cult. my only quibble with this article (haven't yet read the other articles to which Hobbes linked) is that he did not explain that the quran is *not* the entirety of islamic scripture. without the traditions of the prophet (called the sunnah), the 5 pillars of islam and the 6 articles of faith would be unknown, because they are not in the quran. most people are also unaware of abrogation, where allah revealed that if he had revealed 2 conflicting revelations to muhammed, the one revealed later should be observed, rather then the earlier one (q. 2:106). since most of the violent revelations in the quran came latter, while the muslims were in yathrib (medina), most of islam as observed by pious muslims is violent and abhorrent.

the sunnah, for those who are unaware, consists of thousands of brief descriptions of what muhammed did, or what he told the first muslims to do, in different situations. since all pre-islamic guides for behavior were discarded by islam, allah revealed to muhammed (q. 33:21) that *he* was the "good example to follow," and as a result, muhammed is considered the perfect man (al-insan al-kamil) and the model of conduct for all muslims (uswa hasana). therefore, it is imperative for all pious muslims to look to muhammed for what to do in every situation. the sunnah provides that explanation in most cases; sharia - islamic law - provides a guide for those situations not explicitly found in the sunnah. if muhammed did it, it's a Good Thing, and all muslims should strive to do it. therefore, things like child marriage, stoning for adultery, loss of limbs for theft (and sometimes for being an unbeliever), beheading for being an unbeliever or blasphemer, slavery, sex slavery, rape, and theft (if done to unbelievers) will be acceptable for all time. THIS CANNOT CHANGE without gutting the underpinnings of the death cult.

all this information is readily available, in english and other languages, online. so why don't the nazicrats ever look at it? they claim to be the smartest people in the room, but they invariably look to me like the ones with their heads furthest up their a**es.

November 14, 2019 2:28 PM
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