Pre-Islam, ISIS and Idolatry: A Mimetic Rivalry by Jack Vates
“You sat that a good cause makes a good war, but I say that a good war makes a good cause.” Nietzsche-Zarathustra
It’s not often that current events demand a response from occult milieus. Sure, we get the occasional Satanic Church espousing a Black Mass in Oklahoma. Or there’s always a possession just waiting to happen in the ranks of the West Baptist Church. These things happen. But rarely do what we see in the News pertain directly to the trajectory of occult thought. This has happened just recently with the advent of the terrorist group ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Modern media is quick to blame Islam for actions of the arguably secular group known as ISIS. That’s not to say there are no socio-religious nuances in ISIS but perhaps it’s not Islam that’s being invoked. As a matter of fact, the actions of this group seem more aligned with a pre-Islamic pantheon still practiced in large areas by indigenous peoples. As Emile Savage-Smith remarked, “this assumption of the existence of evil beings including a pantheon of demons, was inherited from pre-Islamic societies as were many of the methods of counteracting them”. Entities such as Jinn and other tribal spirits are very much ontologically relevant to this day by groups of Iraqis and Syrians. It is these beliefs that ISIS has sought to manipulate in their onslaught.
It’s important to know that Muslims accept the existence of demons such as Jinn as part of their faith. In fact, Muhammad shared his contemporaries’ beliefs concerning Jinn and integrated them into the Koran without qualms insofar as they did not endanger God’s uniqueness. So what are these demonic entities known to Islam and still interacted with or ritualized in modern times? According to Wellhausen, “while the Jinn are not made of flesh and blood but are mysterious and generally invisible, they are, in some way, physical beings”. Jinn can eat, drink, marry and even be killed. They are in some way corporeal and on the same ontological level as humanity. Is it so hard to believe that ISIS may be attempting to re-embody this entity in their exploits?
Although this may seem like the ranting of a paranoid occultist, the evidence comes from ISIS themselves. Sacrifices are not unheard of in areas that ISIS inhabits. Sacrifices to spirits are most important, and are still found, sometimes very clearly, sometimes only in a weakened form. No clearer example of ritual sacrifice can be found than what has happened in the past few weeks concerning two American journalists and a British aid worker. For those of us who watched these videos, it was clear that what was occurring was a ritual. Think about it. Each murder was filmed in the exact way by probably the same murderer. The backdrop was identical as was the process of the killing. After all, a simple beheading could be accomplished without the exactness of the event. No, what occurred was ritual. It was a ritualized beheading. Whether this was a deliberate invocation to a pre-Islamic entity or way of embodying the Jinn as a way of securing Mana, either way is certainly un-Islamic. The local Iraqi and Syrian population know this. This is the reason for local parodies and dissent by large groups in the area. These people inherently know that something is very awry with how ISIS is attempting to gain political power. And perhaps the ISIS goal of performing horrifying atrocities is to enrage the U.S. so that the Western powers will invade Syria and finally remove Assad from power. Then ISIS can claim ‘moderate’, and instill their own chosen leader in power. In essence, let the U.S. do the work for them and still accomplish their bid for control. In either case, what they are perpetuating is a form of idolatry.
And this is only the proverbial tip of the idolatry iceberg in regards to ISIS. Rene Girard’s idea on sacred violence and mimesis lends itself perfectly to the action of this terrorist group. In Girard’s theory, all desire in mimetic. In other words, desire and mimicry of another’s prestige or goods go hand in hand. Because of this, all conflict originates in a mimetic rivalry. The other person is the model or mediator between what is desired and the status quo. In the case of ISIS, they desire the prestige, power, and respect that come with ‘statehood’. They desire the recognition of ontological relevancy and yearn to be accepted. Through the object (statehood), they are drawn to the mediator (The Western World). They want to mimic the West’s success as a powerful socio-political and religious entity and project superhuman virtues while depreciating themselves.
This is made perfectly clear in their ritual sacrifice of American and British citizens. In their desire for statehood, they are aroused by the mediator and it’s not long before that desire is perverted or re-located into hatred. Elimination of the mediator by beheading appeased the group. But again it’s the mediator (sacrificial victim) that is responsible for renewed peace within the group. He becomes sacred. As Hamerton-Kelly remarks, the “state of a mimetic rivalry is the pathology of a “deviated transcendence”, of a desire that should be aroused from a truly transcendent spiritual source but instead is aroused by the immanent neighbor. The biblical name for this is idolatry”. The bondage of sin is where the idolater falls in their perversion of mimesis. This is how ISIS fell by making beheading a ritual sacrifice. They became idolaters in the eyes of Islam and criminals in the eyes of the world. No longer relevant to Islam, they cannot claim Muhammad as progenitor. At best, they are attempting a pre-Islamic interaction with Jinn, and at worst they are a purely secular and petty gang of idolaters. They can take their pick.
 Magic and Divination in Early Islam. Ed. By Emile Savage-Smith. Ashgate Variorum. 2004. Burlington. Xvii.
 Ibid. Pg 40. See Surat al-Ahqaf 4b vs 28-31; Suarat al-Jinn 72 vs 1-19- Muhammad even preached to the jinn.
 Wellhausen, Reste arabischen Heidentums. 148-49.
 Belief in Spirits Among The Pre-Islamic Arabs. Joseph Henningen. In Magic and Divination in Early Islam. pp. 21.
 See Sacred Violence by Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly. Fortress Press. Minneapolis. 1992. –For a detailed analysis of Girard’s thought..
 Ibid pp. 21.