The bitter and bloody rivalry between Islamic terror groups Al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has been going on since 2013. This feud has become increasingly bitter, bloody and desperate. In 2019 the rivals, having tried everything else, reached for a weapon Islamic terrorists rarely employ; humor and ridicule. This came in the form of an al Qaeda video featuring material captured from the ISIL faction in Yemen. Essentially it’s a blooper reel of failed efforts to record a new member’s pledge of loyalty to ISIL. The original video appears to have been made in 2017 when al Qaeda and ISIL were having a hard time in Yemen. What made the al Qaeda situation somewhat worse was that many new ISIL members were experienced al Qaeda veterans who saw ISIL as a more worthy “defender of Islam” than al Qaeda. The new ISIL member was, like most men in these videos, not accustomed to speaking on cue for a video and apparently had been told the effort would be repeated until an acceptable video of his pledge was recorded for distribution. The al Qaeda version shows several failed attempts and the new member becoming increasingly uncomfortable and nervous. He is sometimes urged to try again by an ISIL member sitting next to him. The punch line of the video is a loud bird in the background, repeatedly squawking just when the new ISIL member was about to complete his pledge. The end of this blooper reel shows a group of men gathered around a cooking pot, indicating that the loud bird has been taken care of and the remains were being seasoned and cooked for disposal.
Most of the time the relationship between al Qaeda and ISIL is more tragic than humorous. There were many examples of this, usually involving a lot of people getting killed. The best example occurred in early 2014 when it was realized that, for the first time in a decade, combat and Islamic terrorism-related deaths were up (by about 20 percent). The main reason for this was ISIL, a new group that saw itself as the new leader of the Islamic world and was quite proud of that fact that it employed extreme violence in pursuit of that goal. As a result, one thing Saudi-led Sunnis, Iran-led Shia, the West and even al Qaeda could agree on was that ISIL was evil and a threat to all that must be destroyed.
The reality of ISIL and over two decades of growing Islamic terrorism was that it was not the result of extraordinary righteous and virtuous religious violence, but an unexpected and generally unwelcome side-effect of all the oil wealth Saudi Arabia, and other Moslem states, received after OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) was formed and was able to implement higher oil prices in the 1970s. This led to some unsurprising but ultimately tragic moves by newly wealthy Arabs.
This all began because Sunni Islam is what the majority (over 80 percent) of Moslems practice and in Arabia itself, where Islam first appeared in the 7th century, locals believe they are more Islamic than other Moslems. After all, the Koran was written in Arabic and all the founders of Islam were Arabs. Yet for over a thousand years there has been a tradition of different factions in Arabia trying to outdo each other to prove who is “more Islamic” than the other. This led to constant fighting and suppression of new ideas. One of those fanatic Arabian factions is the Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam in what is now Saudi Arabia. Wahhabis, who first appeared in the 18th century, are very conservative and very hostile to non-Moslems and Moslems who are not Sunni. Al Qaeda is an expression of that and ISIL a “can you top this” response to al Qaeda.
This Islamic rivalry meant little to the non-Moslem world until lots of oil wealth appeared in Arabia after World War II. Suddenly it became possible for Moslems to show how pious they were by funding Wahhabi missionaries who went to other Moslem (and many non-Moslem) nations to preach, establish Wahhabi religious schools and mosques, and create the current Islamic terrorism problem. Billions were (and still are) spent on this and the policy of getting the young boys into these free religious schools and turning many of them into hateful (towards anyone not like them) Islamic religious fanatics. This led to a major outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the late 20th century.
Sunni Arab dictator Saddam Hussein had kept this Wahhabi fanaticism out of Iraq until 1991. Many secular rules of Moslem countries (like Syria and Libya) had also resisted the Wahhabi missionaries and money. The Wahhabi problem is most obvious in Saudi Arabia, which practiced what it preached. Saudis comprise the largest faction of ISIL and al Qaeda recruits because so many Saudis have been educated in Wahhabi run schools. The Saudi rulers control the clergy, to a point, and do not allow public expressions of anti-Saudi Islamic radical ideas. But many Saudis back ISIL goals (which include replacing the Saudi monarchy), even if many of them do not wish to live under ISIL rule. This ideological mess is something Arab rulers, particularly in Saudi Arabia, have been dealing with since Saudi Arabia was formed in the 1920s. Change comes slowly in religious matters but meanwhile, religious zealots Arab oil wealth financed threatens everyone.
The American War on Terror, declared in late 2001, has evolved into a Moslem civil war between those (mainly Islamic terrorists) who want a worldwide religious dictatorship run by themselves, versus those representing the majority of Moslems who are getting tired of being threatened and murdered by Moslem religious fanatics. This religious radicalism has always been around, for Islam was born as an aggressive movement that used violence and terror to expand. Past periods of conquest are regarded fondly by Moslems, who are still taught by many of their religious leaders and teachers that non-Moslems ("infidels") are inferior and in need of Islamic conquest.
The early 21st-century enthusiasm for violence in the name of God had been building through most of the 20th century. Historically, Islamic radicalism has flared up into mass bloodshed periodically, usually in response to corrupt governments, or as a vain attempt to impose a religious solution on some social or political problem. The current violence is international because of the availability of planet-wide mass media, which needs a constant supply of attention-grabbing headlines, and the fact that the Islamic world is awash in tyranny and economic backwardness. This is why the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, and their desire to establish democracies, was seen by Islamic radicals as a grave threat with the potential to do some permanent damage to the Islamic terrorism tradition. After 2011 there were more condemnations of Islamic radicals by Islamic clerics and media in Moslem nations. These changes did not come as quickly as many hoped, but at least they finally arrived and some even survived.
This came as a surprise to many Moslems. That’s because the past has had a huge influence on Islamic societies, usually for the worse. For many, this resistance to change is considered a religious obligation. Many Moslems consider democracy a poisonous Western invention. There is still a lot of affection for the clerical dictatorship of legend; a just and efficient government run by virtuous religious leaders. The legends are false and there are centuries of failed religious dictatorships to prove it. But this legend has become a core belief for many Moslems and tends to survive assaults by reality or the historical record.
Islamic radicalism itself is incapable of mustering much military power, and the movement largely relies on terrorism to gain attention. Most of the victims are fellow Moslems, which is why the radicals eventually become so unpopular among their own people that they run out of popular support and fade away. This is what is happening now. The American 2003 invasion of Iraq was a clever exploitation of this, forcing the Islamic radicals to fight in Iraq, where they killed many Moslems, especially women and children, thus causing the Islamic radicals to lose their popularity among Moslems. This sharp decline in the Islamic nation opinion polls was startling. When ISIL showed up a decade later the same pattern repeated itself. Such repetition is a major feature in the history of Islam.
Normally, the West does not get involved in these Islamic religious wars unless attacked in a major way. Moreover, modern sensibilities have made retaliation difficult. For example, fighting back is considered by Moslems as culturally insensitive ("war on Islam") and some of the Western media have picked up on this bizarre interpretation of reality. It gets worse. Historians point out, for example, that the medieval Crusades were a series of wars fought in response to Islamic violence against Christians, not the opening act of aggression against Islam that continues to the present. Thus, the current war on terror is, indeed, in the tradition of the Crusades. And there are many other "Crusades" brewing around the world, in the many places where aggressive Islamic militants are making unprovoked war on their Christian and non-Moslem neighbors. Political Correctness among academics and journalists causes pundits to try and turn this reality inside out. But a close look at the violence in Africa, Asia and the Middle East shows a definite pattern of Islamic radicals persecuting those who do not agree with them, not the other way around.
This “enemy of Islam” accusation has long been more often directed at other Moslems who are a bit different and thus not authentic. In Moslem tradition, heretics are considered a greater danger than infidels (non-Moslems.) That is what the al Qaeda-ISIL feud ls about. To ISIL Moslems who do not agree with them are heretics and a situation like that never ends well.