[ by Charles Cameron — four recent tweets, some lines of inquiry, & no certain conclusion, no date certain ]
The four recent tweets that set me off..
— SITE Intel Group (@siteintelgroup) May 21, 2016
#IS: "Do you think that you will be victorious if you killed ['Umar] al-Shîshânî or Abû Bakr [al-Baghdâdî] or Abû Zayd [?] or Abû 'Amr [?]"
— Mr. Orange (@Mr0rangetracker) May 21, 2016
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) May 21, 2016
ISIS knows Al Qaeda is planning to challenge ISIS in its stronghold — Syria https://t.co/Wq9ArSDbX2
— Mike Walker (@New_Narrative) May 21, 2016
There are a multitude of voices now raising the question After ISIS< What Next? They can be heard from as far back as October 2014, onwards:
Al Arabiya English, What comes after ISIS’ defeat? Foreign Policy, What Comes After the Islamic State Is Defeated? Lexington Institute, What Do We Do The Day After ISIS Is Defeated? The National Interest, We Defeat ISIS. Then What? The Telegraph, What happens once Isil is defeated? Wilson Center, Iraq: Now and After ISIS The [Huffington] World Post, The Middle East after ISIS
and most recently:
The Atlantic, The Hell After ISIS
If IS continues losing territory, as suggested in the tweets above, this question can only gain in force.
I have been following Islamic eschatology since 1998 or thereabouts, when I met David Cook, and I thought that what was at that time an eerily unappreciated question had at last made its way into informed consciousness after..
2002, David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic 2005, David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature 2011, J-P Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam 2014, Martin Dempsey, speech: IS has “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision” 2015, Jessica Stern & JM Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror 2015, Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants 2015, Will McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse
But no, the question I’m interested in has not been raised:
Is there a more potent form of apocalyptic movement than the two we have most recently seen?
a Mahdist movement, one focused on the army with black flags from Khorasan — AQ a Caliphal movement, one focused on the establishment of the rightly-guided kingdom — IS
It seems to me that you can have a Caliphal (kingdom based), or a Mahdist (leader based) movement, and that the Caliphal approach, should IS be a clear failure as a global quasi-state, will be exhausted for quite some time — and that since AQ, to the extent that it is or was an apocalyptic movement, was one that looked to a future Mahdi, the only route “up” from either one would be the declaration of an actual Mahdi-claimant with armed insurrection to follow.
The worst messianic movement, in terms of fatalities, would still be China’s 19th Century Taiping Rebellion, 20-30 million dead. Strangely enough, Gordon of Khartoum was involved. The most recent and widely notable Mahdist rebellion was the Sudanese one that killed Gordon, led initially by Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi. The next highly plausible date for the appearance of a Mahdi would be at the start of the next Islamic century, 1500 AH / 2076 BCE, since ahadith suggest a Mujaddid or Reformer will be sent every 100 years, and there have been assertions that the Ummah will not endure longer than 1,500 years (see here eg)
My guess is that we’ll have a cooling-off period in terms of Islamic apocalyptic if IS is seen to fail — but as they say, mortal mind cannot know the time of the end, and Allah knows best.