Proofreading the ISIS papers

This week, the Guardian published an Arabic-to-English translation of a leaked document under the title: “The ISIS papers: a masterplan for consolidating power”. The leak is from somewhere behind the “black curtain” (or “Niqab” if you prefer). Titled “Principles in the administration of the Islamic State” in the Arabic original and marked for internal use only, the 24-page document dates from 2014 (1435 AH in the Islamic calendar) and was signed, and maybe drafted too, by a certain Abu Abdullah al-Masri.

How this document was leaked the Guardian did not specify, but from what can be gathered from its own commentaries on it, the newspaper is confident the document is authentic and belongs to the notorious Islamic State (IS) group, otherwise known as ISIS; and we are confident their translation is not wanting and sufficient for our purposes.

The ISIS papers outline mechanisms, by no means comprehensive, for administering territories under the group’s control. The ten chapters in the document cover a wide range of administrative issues from education and external or foreign relations to the media. We begin by making some general observations about the document:

Except for a direct quote at the beginning, there are less of the customary Koranic references. If you take their regular English publication Dabiq for example, they make excessive insertions of Arabic excerpts from the Koran and elsewhere, transliterated into the Latin alphabet – something we see on a much reduced scale in the ISIS papers.

The overall tone is – how can I put it – less ill-tempered than what we have come to expect from that group. The braggadocio is still there between the lines, but maybe due to the commonplace nature of the items discussed, the tone is somewhat subdued; even fanatics are rarely moved to bitter language when discussing bureaucratic issues.

For instance, IS makes the mundane claim that it is a sovereign state and no other state has a right to interfere in its internal affairs. This is an everyday manner of speech anyone could have made; you don’t have to be a fanatic to make the claim. There is no entity past, present or future that calls itself a state and fails to call itself sovereign. Otherwise, it is just pointless to call oneself a state.

Next, we peruse quotations from the ISIS papers to point out the group’s inconsistent views to the extent that the document and its author are representatives of the official IS view.

“God ennobled his true soldiers whom he selected to establish the caliphate state whose fortresses had fallen at the hands of global Zionism in Istanbul 100 years ago.” Firstly, IS has killed a thousand times more Arabs than non-Arabs or Jews. So, we are justified in dismissing the author’s anger against “global Zionism” as contrived. Secondly, to speak longingly of the Ottoman Turkish government some of whose officials maintained sodomy as a way of life is to speak against everything for which IS stands.

For example, T. E. Lawrence, the author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, was sodomized by Ottoman officials for inciting the Arabs against Turkish rule. Only an oversight on the part of the mujahid who drafted the ISIS papers can explain how IS, a group which is decidedly against sodomy and homosexuality and throws people from rooftops on the slightest suspicion of those acts, can embrace the Ottoman system as “a fortress of the caliphate state”.

“Mujahedeen came in great numbers out of zeal for their religion, but some of them harbored Arab nationalist arrogance.” This clear condemnation of chauvinism could have been taken at face value had the author refrained from revealing his chauvinism in these words from the same document: “It was inevitable that Arabic character should precede over the character of the immigrants to the Islamic State, for the language of the Koran is Arabic” and “Arabic character should be cultivated … laying aside foreign identity.” Apparently, we can’t see eye to eye with this group on the right of nations and nationalities to self-determination up to and including secession. (That’s one for Ethiopia - nominally at least, and nil for the Islamic State).

“The previous Baathist and Shia governments focused on glorifying the ruling authorities.” The author prefaced this insincere lamentation with: “The caliphate was the result of the mujahedeen’s realizing the lack of advantage in fighting against the idolaters without the existence of a leader and caliph who could gather the Muslims under his banner and be a figure of strength for them.” It is rather pointless to lambast previous authorities for leader worship if one does the same when in authority.

“Traitorous governments … spread among the Sunni peoples the love of vice and bonds.” It is unbelievable this should come from a group which has at its head a debauched mental case called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This lowlife had raped a 26-year-old humanitarian, Kayla Mueller, days before her execution. (The group had alleged that she was killed by an anti-ISIS airstrike.) With such a lunatic for a caliph, this group’s alleged position against vice does not impress anyone. Also unbelievable is that there should come a condemnation of bondage from this very group whose fighters own sex slaves, to say nothing of their repeated vows to sell American first lady Michelle Obama into slavery for a third of a dinar.

“The Islamic school is one of the houses of worship, whose aims are confined to acquiring knowledge.” The word “confined” sets the tone for the word “knowledge”; its restrictiveness is indicative of the extent of knowledge to be expected from the Islamic school. We could have left it at that had the author not insisted on regaling us with additional contradictions:

“The Islamic school is an educational nurturing ground that raises the individual with the comprehensive development of mind.” The comprehensive development of the mind is of necessity the antithesis of the confinement of knowledge. Either the IS schools confine knowledge to that of worship or they don’t. We already know they do. So, the last bit about comprehensive development of the mind is a non sequitur. Moreover, a group that trains children as “suicide cubs”, and even that for only a few days, can hardly be said to have the patience or the presence of mind to embark on a long-term endeavor that is implied in the comprehensive development of the mind.

“Every agreement (between the Islamic State and other states) must not allow other states to intervene in matters of Islamic rule.” There are at least two possible interpretations for this: IS is establishing a principle to rule its relations with other states, particularly in regards to its sovereignty in territories already under its control – hence its insistence on nonintervention by other states in matters of its Islamic rule, or else it is claiming it represents all the world’s Muslims and is establishing a principle of universal sovereignty on all matters Islamic.

We are tempted to incline towards the latter interpretation by virtue of the group’s global aspirations. Having said that, we cannot square universal sovereignty, or claims to the same, with these words from the same document: “Every agreement must protect the borders of the Islamic State from every idolater and disbeliever” and “The Islamic State should be witness to good treatment of Muslims in its lands and mutual affection with Muslims in other areas of the world.”

Never mind that the text treats Muslims inside and outside the Islamic State differently; those two quotations contravene the group’s pretensions to universal sovereignty. Despite its mediocre efforts at public relations by demolishing the Syria-Iraq border on video, it accepts the reality of borders between countries; IS may not recognize colonial boundaries, but it recognizes boundaries all the same which is tantamount to renouncing universal sovereignty.

The only statements with which we cannot detect sheer contradictions or simple oversights on the part of the author are those that pertain to the administration of the media. “There must be a principal means (media) to promote practical steps on the ground.” Certainly, this statement is familiar to most of us: the job of the media is to promote or justify whatever measures armed gangsters take on the ground.

The document closes with the words “by the poor slave of god”. Here, I choose, deliberately, to ignore what al-Masri meant by that and take him at his word that he is indeed a poor slave.

A certain temperament or mindset (or is it permanent brain damage?) is required to appreciate slavish devotion; one needs – by way of allaying an inexplicable desire to be constantly supervised – to have submitted to a lord or a savior or some kind of an omnipotent overseer to empathize with the author of the ISIS papers; that is to say, one needs to be a slave. The godless, on the other hand, never feel there is any need for constant supervision, much less any need for self-abasement by referring to oneself as a poor slave.