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Tim Blagg

Blagg: New-age holy war

August 22, 2014

August 22, 2014

Back in the year 613, when the Prophet Muhammad was preaching to the first few converts to what would become Islam, his message was one of peace.

When he and his followers were expelled from Mecca, a small town in Arabia, they fled to nearby Medina. As they gained strength, the Prophet was urged to return to his home community and force his way in, destroying the leaders who had rejected his teachings of a God called Allah ... whose faithful included what he called “the People of the Book.”

That umbrella of faith, Muhammad taught, included all those who studied and revered the Old Testament story of Abraham (Ibrahim to Muslims), Moses, Noah and the Prophet Jesus — Jews, Christians and his new converts.

But Muhammad refused to rely completely on bloody force. Instead, he traveled back to Medina with 10,000 of his followers, entered quietly and preached to the crowds. Overawed, the authorities reversed their decision, and within a very short time, abandoned their ancient worship of idols and sacred stones and converted to the new religion.

After the Prophet’s death, his followers began to spread out across the region, converting by example, by evangelical preaching — and by the sword. Within a decade, Muslims had conquered Mesopotamia, Byzantine Syria, Byzantine Egypt and large parts of Persia, and those who refused to bow to Allah were subordinated to new rulers, marginalized and sometimes put to death.

The recent rapid spread of the influence of ISIS, the self-proclaimed “Islamic State,” reminds me irresistibly of the original Islamic conquests some 1,500 years ago. Those long-ago warriors were convinced their mission was a holy one — to spread the word of the Prophet through the world and to impose his rules on everyone within their new borders.

Like the soldiers who follow the black banners of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant today, they were implacable and without compassion, dedicated with religious fervor and not afraid to die — or to kill — in the pursuit of their goals.

ISIS recently brutally murdered a gentle, dedicated journalist whose only “crime” was to attempt to report on their heinous activities, to tell the world of their punishment of anyone who dares to smile in public, to dance, to sing, to wear bright colors.

James Foley, who studied writing in a graduate program at UMass Amherst a few years ago, was committed to trying to tell the truth — and paid the ultimate price for it.

The fact is that unless some combination of nations is formed that has the political and military power to stop this new jihad that is filling the vacuum left by the Syrian rebellion and a dysfunctional Iraqi government, we may very well find ourselves dealing with a repressive, expansionist, implacable enemy of the West, situated square in the middle of an already chaotic Middle East and squatting on Iraqi oil fields and water control facilities.

Well financed by pirated oil revenues and stolen money from Iraqi banks, ISIS is also well placed to plan and back terrorist operations against Europe and the U.S.

It’s a threat we simply cannot afford to ignore.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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