The PJ Tatler

A Dead Caliph vs. the Hydra of Jihad

Is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled “caliph” of the Islamic State, injured or dead, as some in the media are eagerly speculating?

Better question: does it really matter?

For almost a decade now, every time an Islamic jihadi leader is killed, the Western mainstream media exult, portraying the death as a major blow to the jihad.  And, for almost a decade now, I have responded by posting an article that I first wrote in 2006 for Victor Davis Hanson’s website, Private Papers.

Although I changed the names of the jihadi leaders killed to suit the occasion—first Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi, then Abu Laith al-Libi, then Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Misri, and finally Osama bin Laden—my conclusion has remained the same:

The West’s plight vis-à-vis radical Islam is therefore akin to Hercules’ epic encounter with the multi-headed Hydra-monster.  Every time the mythical strongman lopped off one of the monster’s heads, two new ones grew in its place.  To slay the beast once and for all, Hercules learned to cauterize the stumps with fire, thereby preventing any more heads from sprouting out.

Similarly while the West continues to lop off monster heads like figurehead Zarqawi [or bin Laden, al-Baghdadi, etc.] it is imperative to treat the malady — radical Islam—in order to ultimately prevail.  Victory can only come when the violent ideologies of radical Islam are cauterized with fire.

But alas, the Hydra-monster is myth, while radical Islam is stark reality.

Eight years later, this “stark reality” has manifested itself into a head-chopping, infidel-crucifying, mass-murdering, female-enslaving Islamic State.

And yet, in the previous years, proclamations of “victory” were habitually made by media and politicians whenever a top jihadi was killed.

Recall all the exultation that took place in 2006 after al-Zarqawi—the forefather of the Islamic State, or “Al-Qaeda Second Generation”—was killed.   Then, almost every major politician, including President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki, gave some sort of victory speech.  The New York Times called his death a “major watershed in the war.”

Similarly, in 2008, after Abu Laith al-Libi was killed, Congressman Peter Hoekstra issued a statement saying that his death “clearly will have an impact on the radical jihadist movement.”

More myopic triumphalism was in the air after Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri were killed in 2010 during a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation.  Then, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden said the “deaths are potentially devastating blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq [the original name of the Islamic State],” adding “This operation is evidence in my view, that the future of Iraq will not be shaped by those who would seek to destroy that country”—an assertion that has now proven woefully wrong.

Similarly, U.S. commander Gen. Raymond Odierno asserted that “The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency,” adding that it would be “very difficult” for the al Qaeda network to replace the two men.

And who could forget all the media triumphalism, if not hysteria, surrounding the 2011 death of Osama bin Laden?  Then, CNN security analyst Peter Bergen declared that “Killing bin Laden is the end of the war on terror. We can just sort of announce that right now.” Insisting that the “iconic nature of bin Laden’s persona” cannot be replaced, Bergen further suggested that “It’s time to move on.”… Keep reading