PARIS — The Islamic State (ISIS) is like the Hydra, the multi-headed monster of mythology that Hercules alone was able to slay. Whenever he managed to cut off one its heads, two new ones grew back instantly. Likewise, the jihadists — having recently lost Mosul, in Iraq — are already making headlines again, this time far away from the Arab world and Mesopotamia.
In late May, in the southern Philippine archipelago, on the island of Mindanao, militants of the jihadist organization Maute (which pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2015) overran the city of Marawi and its 200,000 inhabitants. And on jihadist websites, the word is out that: "If you can't reach Syria, go to the Philippines!"
For young Muslims swayed by Wahhabi ideology and dreaming of taking up arms to fight, video-game-style, there are a myriad of opportunities for jihadi tourism. They can visit the banks of the Euphrates, and then head to the shores of the Gulf of Sidra, in the Mediterranean Sea, before making their way to the turquoise waters of the Celebes Sea, in the western Pacific.
In the areas seized by ISIS, Christians are targeted for the sole fact that they're Christians. The BBC published a video from a Christian woman from Marawi who was forced to hide with her six children at a compassionate neighbor's for 11 days, panicked whenever they could hear the noisy outcries of the jihadists. Their story is reminiscent of Anne Frank's — the fear of being killed for who you are, not even for what you've done.
Battles to retake Marawi city from Islamists Rebels in Philippines — Photo: Sherbien Dacalano/ZUMA
When Nazism was defeated in 1945 and when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, we naively believed that totalitarianism would never appear again on the face of the earth. We had forgotten about Wahhabism, this Muslim puritanism preached in the 18th century by an Arabian peninsula sheik allied with the house of Saud. We didn't understand then what immense lever the addition of petrodollars and of America's obsession in solely fighting against Sovietism would provide to this deadly ideology. As soon as the head of Muscovite Communism was cut, the hideous figure of internationalist Islamism started growing.
Philippine special forces still haven't retaken full control of Marawi. At least 400 jihadists have already been killed, along with about a hundred of the government troops. There is the fear that many Islamist militants will try to leave by sea and head to Indonesia.
Laying down roots
There is, in the West, an intellectual tendency toward seeing Islamist jihadism as just another form of radicalism. A bit like we used to see West Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang or Italy's Red Brigades in 1970s Europe. The comparison is justified by the fact that, like leftist armed groups of the past in Europe, jihadist movements today have no chance of taking over a country. In Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim country, jihadists regularly carry out attacks, but no more so really than the former red brigades did. And openly Islamist parties are losing ground election after election.
Authorities demolished churches in 2015 for fear they might be torched by Islamist groups.
Still, the thought leaders of this Western intellectual tendency are dead wrong in that they fail to grasp the immense impact these radical movements have had on Muslim societies for the past 40 years. True, Muslim societies still reject the extreme violence of the jihadists, but not the content of their ideological message. Part of the Wahhabi preaching, in other words, still manages to take root.
In the 1970s, on Java, there were extremely few veiled women. Now, almost all of them are. In the Aceh province, on the northwest tip of Sumatra Island, the authorities demolished churches in 2015 for fear they might be torched by Islamist groups. Many Indonesian students have been offered free studies in universities in the petromonarchies of the Arabian Gulf. They often go back to their homelands to become teachers and, naturally, they preach a Wahhabi doctrine.
Inside a mosque in Aceh province, Indonesia — Photo: Fauzan Ijazah/ZUMA
Drastic anti-blasphemy laws were passed during the mandates of Susilo Yudhoyono (between 2004 and 2014), the first Indonesian president elected by direct universal suffrage, pushing the legislation ever closer to Sharia law. Religious tolerance is gradually vanishing in Indonesia, as shown by the electoral defeat in April 2017 of the efficient and upright Jakarta governor, Basuki Purnama, victim of a campaign that targeted his Christian faith.
Sliding toward Sharia law
Officially, the Indonesian state's philosophy still is the Pancasila of 1945, whose five principles are: the belief in one God; a just and civilized humanity; the national unity of Indonesia; democracy dictated by wisdom through deliberation; and social justice. In other words, there is no constitutional privilege for Islam.
And yet, in the minds of both the governing and the governed, there's nothing abnormal in gradually sliding towards Sharia law. De facto, if not de jure, the state's religious neutrality wanted by Sukarno, the father of Indonesia independence, is gone. As a religion of conquest, it didn't take a lot of effort for Wahhabi Islam to devour its minor, and a lot more pacifist, rivals: Buddhism and Christianity.
At a time when Saudi Arabia is accusing small Qatar of sponsoring "terrorism," it wouldn't be unwarranted to demand of Riyadh a little soul-searching regarding its Wahhabi ideology, the very same it generously exported to all parts of the globe, thanks to oil money.