Once ISIS began to dominate the news, the media will rush to inform us that some Islamist group had condemned "terrorism" because it condemned ISIS. Of course that's nonsense. ISIS divides the Muslim world in two. Either you pledge allegiance or you're against it. Al Qaeda and the Taliban and any number of other Jihadist groups aren't willing to submit to the Caliph of ISIS.
And now, in proper fashion, the head of Al Qaeda even condemned ISIS as "extremists".
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urged rival jihadist fighters in Syria to unite or risk death but again decried fellow Sunni Muslim group ISIS as "extremists" in an audio recording posted online on Sunday.
As successor to Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri has the allegiance of al Qaeda branches in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. But the group's dominance is being challenged by ISIS, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq.
In Syria, al Qaeda offshoot Nusra Front and ISIS are the two most powerful groups fighting government forces. Once a single group, they split in 2013, largely due to a power struggle among leaders.
Zawahiri also emphasized once again the ideological divide between al Qaeda and ISIS, describing ISIS as "extremists and renegades" whose followers would eventually disavow their beliefs and methods.
If you think that Zawahiri sounds a bit like some of the Muslim Brotherhood fronts in the US and Europe, that's because he ran a Muslim Brotherhood splinter group. All that's missing is a call to fix ISIS by introducing them to "real Islam". But Zawahiri isn't holding down a CAIR desk. So instead he's actually trying to introduce them to real Islam by having them killed. And that's authentic Islam.
Currently Al Qaeda has an Emirate in Syria. ISIS however went full Caliphate. So the rivalry is sharpening. But while Al Nusra doesn't spend all its time trying to get headlines by butchering people in horrible ways, it's actually a large and effective fighting force. It's also better at getting along with other Jihadists. Most of our "democratic freedom fighters" in Syria have at one point or another worked together with it.
If this sounds like Al Qaeda, despite officially hating the Brotherhood, has learned a few tricks from it, again, see above.
So is ISIS "extremist" and Al Qaeda "moderate"? If you want to be technical, why not. Of course that just means that the terms are relative and therefore mostly meaningless. Goebbels was also more extreme than Hitler. Stalin was more extreme than Lenin. The serial killer who only kills 10 people is more moderate than the one who killed 100 and eats them.
Moderate is a misused term here because it's a relative term that is used in a way that sounds like an absolute statement about character. It's not. Good, kind or decent are absolute statements about character. Playing the extremist game with Islamists is meaningless because there will always be an even worse version of an Islamic terror group coming down the road.
A few years from now ISIS might be condemning some other group as "extremists".