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Channel 4 Documentary: ISIS is Islamic | Tim Dieppe

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Tim Dieppe comments on a documentary broadcast on Channel 4 this week called ISIS: The Origins of Violence. In it, historian Tom Holland asks what motivates ISIS to commit the appalling acts of violence and genocide that it does. He bravely visits areas close to ISIS control, and exposes that ISIS self-consciously draws on the Qur'an and other texts to justify its violence. Tim wonders if this will put an end to the claim that ISIS has 'nothing to do with Islam'.


On Wednesday Channel 4 broadcast a documentary by historian Tom Holland called: ISIS: The Origins of Violence. It is available to view on demand here
 

Death threats

Tom Holland previously produced a documentary for Channel 4 on some of the historical questions around the origins of Islam. Islam: The Untold Story was based on Holland's book In the Shadow of the Sword which shows how the traditional account of the origins of Islam lacks historical support. Inevitably, the film drew criticism from Muslims, resulting in Channel 4 cancelling a private screening on security advice after death threats were made against Holland.
 

What motivates ISIS?

That was five years ago. Since then, ISIS has emerged and engaged in a shocking display of violence and genocide in the name of Islam. Holland bravely decides it is time to investigate their motivations. His documentary asks the question "Why do ISIS, and groups like ISIS, do what they do?"

To answer this question, Holland steps back into history and discusses the Ottoman Caliphate which ruled over the Middle East for some 600 years. This Caliphate came to an end in 1924, an event viewed with shame by Muslims. Osama Bin Laden made reference to this loss of the caliphate in his warning statement post 9/11 in which he said: "Our nation has been tasting this humiliation and contempt for more than 80 years." Then in 2014, ISIS declared that it was establishing a new caliphate, an event that clearly reached back in history and sought to unite Muslims around the world.
 

A new caliphate

Holland went to visit some of the places where this new caliphate has wrought its destruction. There are some disturbing scenes of visiting a city turned to rubble, and a place where women too old to be sold into slavery were summarily slaughtered. Off camera, Holland vomited. Interviewed in the Evening Standard, Holland explains that he went a mile away from Islamic State territory where "Our security advisor gave us 20 minutes because that's how long it would take ISIS to load their mortars or come and grab us." He was told "You're within sniper range, so if you hear a crack, drop to the ground."
 

Violence justified from the Qur'an

Holland explains that ISIS "self-consciously draws on Islamic scriptures, texts and episodes from Mohammed’s life to justify what they're doing." The documentary focusses on the plight of the Yazidis who are facing genocide at the hands of ISIS. Holland focusses on a verse from the Qur'an used to justify this treatment.

"And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists [Mushriukun] wherever you find them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush." (Qur'an 9:5)

The Yazidis are regarded as 'polytheists' or 'Mushrikun' by Muslims, and thus this verse is applied to them. Jews and Christians are regarded as 'people of the book', and according to the Qur'an, they can opt to pay a subjugation tax, the jizya. This means that while Christians can, flee, convert, pay the jizya, or be killed. Yazidis can only flee or be killed.

There is a scene in the documentary where Holland confronts Salafi cleric, Abu Sayyaf with these ideas from the Qur'an. Sayyaf does not agree with ISIS – he thinks their caliphate is not valid. Nevertheless, when Holland poses the question, he says:

"Any Muslim who turns his back on Islam becomes Mushrikun. Either he reverts to Islam or he is killed. No Jiya, nothing. Either Islam or death.

For those who are born Mushrikun, unless there are treaties or agreements, we must kill the Mushrikun wherever we find them."

As Holland points out, in saying this he is quoting the Qur'an, and it is these words that are used by ISIS to justify the killing of Yazidis.
 

'Nothing to do with Islam'?

Holland is to be commended for bravely treading where others fear to go, both literally and metaphorically speaking. It makes no sense to try to pretend, as too many politicians have, that ISIS has 'nothing to do with Islam.' Holland has shattered that myth. Is it too much to hope that we will now see some honesty from politicians and others on this subject?


Related Links:
ISIS: The origins of violence (Channel 4)
Channel 4 cancels Islam documentary screening after presenter threatened (Telegraph)
ISIS: The Origins of Violence – Tom Holland investigates the roots of the terrorist group's extreme violence in Channel 4 documentary (Standard)
 

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