Monday, April 28, 2014

The Blood-Spangled Banner of the Mahdi, Jabhat al-Nusra and Syria

Apocalyptic dreams motivate Syrian Jihadists

by Dr Timothy Furnish, MahdiWatch — April 27, 2014

The Lone Horseman of the Muslim Apocalypse does not come meekly, riding on a colt. 

My friend Charles Cameron, who blogs regularly on strategy and other high-brow issues at zenpundit, just recently pointed out that the major jihadist group in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, has yet again (on April 23, 2014) trumpeted its Islamic eschatological beliefs.  As per MEMRI:  

Jabhat al-Nusra cleric: “We are fighting the Safavid-Shiite alliance…and we are fighting the Zionist-Crusader alliance….Sami al-`Uraydi, senior JaN religious authority: “Thanks to Allah, the banner has been raised.  The first to raise the banner in this century was Sheikh Osama, may Allah accept him in Paradise. The banner passes from one lion to another, from one man to another, until it will reach Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Mahdi.  Allah willing, the banner will not be lost, until it has reached Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Mahdi. The age of great wars began with the 9/11 attacks” [emphasis added]. 

The Middle East Media Research Institute entitles this video clip translation “Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra Conquers Military Post in the Syrian Golan, Commemmorates Bin Laden.”  A far more accurate appraisal would be “Major Sunni Jihadist Group Adduces the Mahdi.”

I have been warning of the dangers of Mahdism for years (even before the publication of my book Holiest Wars in 2005), on this site and in other publications and lectures.   

Once again, let me point out that according to no less an authority on public opinion than Pew, belief in the imminent coming of the Mahdi is widespread in the Islamic world—among Sunnis as much, if not more so, than among Twelver Shi`is.  All told, almost 700 million of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims expect the Mahdi to come in their lifetimes.  Yet most analysts and commentators still consider this primary Muslim eschatological belief to be “extremist” and thus not worth studying.  

Wake up, CIA and State.  Call me.  More specifically, I warned about the eschatological elements active in the Syrian conflict—on all sides—in a piece last September, entitled “Intervening (in Syria) Like It’s the End of the World?”  Thus, I was only seven months ahead of Reuters’ “Apocalyptic Prophecies Drive Both Sides to Syrian Battle for End of Time.”  

 What does this latest JaN communique tell us?

1) History matters.  JaN clerics employ half-a-millennium old Islamic discourse, which nonetheless still resonates with many in the umma: the Safavids were the militant Twelver Shi`i rulers of Persia/Iran from 1501-1736 (they were also mystical Sufis—albeit violent ones) and the inveterate enemies of the Sunni Ottomans.  Of course, JaN also trots out the cliched Crusader trope, as well as the Zionist one.  But note that pride of antagonistic place is given to the other Muslim enemy this time.

2) Usama bin Ladin is not just lionized and prayed to be in Paradise, but held up as a forerunner to the Mahdi.  

3) The Bin Ladin-orchestrated 9/11 attacks (sorry, “Truthers”) were not just terrorism but, according to JaN, of an entirely higher register: they commenced the “age of great wars” which will lead to the coming of the Mahdi, who will conquer the entire world for Islam. 

4) That "banner" is the flag with the shahada--the Muslim profession of faith--emblazoned on it.  Eschatology thus intrudes on the present, as the standard by which the many members of the world's second-largest religion live is conflated (quite reasonably and legitimately, according to Hadiths) with the Mahdist moment and movement. 

5) At the risk of sounding like a broken record—when will Mahdism, which is being shouted from not just rooftops but battlefields, be taken seriously in the IC, military ranks and diplomatic corps?  Mahdism has been the most potent form of jihad waged across at least a millennium of Islamic history, from North Africa to Southeast Asia.  It’s not going away because of the Internet or Barack Husayn Obama or John Kerry (in fact, all of those are probably exacerbating it).   To paraphrase a particular movie favorite of mine: “Militant Mahdism is out there.  It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until all non-Muslims are converted—or dead.”