According to Reuters, “the United States has given the remains of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a burial at sea and afforded him religious rites according to Islamic custom after he was killed in a U.S. commando raid in Syria on Saturday.” This information came from “three officials,” all of whom “spoke on condition of anonymity,” but there is no reason to doubt it. There is ample reason, however, to wonder why it was done, since virtually everyone of influence in both parties have agreed that the Islamic State has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.
Establishment Republican strategist Karl Rove said it on Fox News Monday: the Islamic State (ISIS) has “hijacked a great religion” and “stand in opposition to the vast majority of Muslims around the world.” Rove added that “they want to pervert a great religion.”
Rove was simply parroting the conventional wisdom. All through the Obama administration, the main concern of the President and his underlings was not to counter the Islamic State’s advance, but to deny that it had anything to do with Islam. On August 20, 2014, speaking a day after the Islamic State beheaded American journalist James Foley, Obama declared that “ISIL [his preferred acronym for the Islamic State] speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.”
This became administration policy: “ISIL does not operate in the name of any religion,” said Obama State Department spokesperson Marie Harf not long after that. “The president has been very clear about that, and the more we can underscore that, the better.”
Hillary Clinton summed up the guiding philosophy here when she tweeted during her 2016 presidential campaign: “Let’s be clear: Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” Not just ISIS, but all Muslims. And current Democrat front-runner has insisted that “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.”
These confident assertions are bipartisan, and that isn’t just restricted to Rove. On September 17, 2001, President George W. Bush appeared at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., in the company of several prominent Muslim leaders, and said: “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that….The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”
The idea that the Islamic State is not Islamic and that Islamic jihadists are twisting and hijacking Islam is the standard and dominant perspective in the State Department, which was probably responsible for the decision to give al-Baghdadi Islamic burial rites. So why was this decision made? If the Islamic State has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, then al-Baghdadi was not a Muslim at all.
But if the State Department realizes that al-Baghdadi was indeed a Muslim, as this decision to bury him with Islamic rites indicates, then everything Bush, Obama, and a host of others have told us all these years is false. And indeed it is. The UK’s Daily Mail reported Monday that Mohammed Ali Sajet, “one of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s closest confidants” who “is related to Baghdadi via marriage and has been an ISIS member since 2015, described al-Baghdadi’s hideout this way: “He was in an 8-meter-long underground tunnel with a width of 5 to 6 meters. It had a library, religious books and the Quran and things of sort.”
What? The man had a library full of the Qur’an and other Islamic books in his hideout? Didn’t he know that ISIS had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam?
The State Department needs to get its story straight. Either al-Baghdadi was not a Muslim, but a “hijacker” of Islam, in which case he should not have been buried with Islamic rites, or he was indeed a Muslim, in which case the counterintelligence analysts who have been dismissed, marginalized, and reviled as “bigots” for noting Islam’s connection to terrorism should be brought in from the cold. But the latter possibility is only likely to happen if there is a sea change in the Department, and realism introduced where today fantasy holds sway. That change is not on the horizon.