Isis? What crisis? Satirists take a swing at the caliphate

World View: The hilarious songs of the Great Departed help to clear the air

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Many have been reduced to a dreadful silence by the actions of Isis, so it is a matter of amazement and something approaching joy that young musicians only a few hundred kilometres from the Isis heartland have the guts to mercilessly lampoon them.

A group called Al-Rahel al-Kabir, which translates as the Great Departed, perhaps a nod to the Grateful Dead, are playing to packed houses in Beirut with their songs in satirical praise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – Isis “caliph” – and his movement.

“Because there is no duress in religion, we will wipe out apostates,” they sing in devout tones. “Oh master Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, you who rule by God’s rules, you will lead God’s servants to an abyss like no other… Because Islam is merciful we will butcher… I swear to God if I was a cow I would be wearing a bra…”

This week has seen a cascade of condemnations of Isis and their works from within the Islamic world, with most recently the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia adding his voice to that of the ambassador to the US of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi academics and others.

This is all very welcome and not before time, but it’s always hard to know how to evaluate such declarations. Are they having their cojones squeezed by the White House? Are they merely saying what they hope  the West wants to hear? Why did they not pipe  up before?

Few of us have a proper education in Islam, let alone a working knowledge of Arabic, and ignorance abets our suspicions. After all, don’t these muftis and the rest wear the same heavy beards and dingy robes as the executioners of Mosul? 

So the hilarious songs of the Great Departed – much better and more punning in the original, I understand – help to clear the air. Especially because, as one of the band explained to Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper, “Those who consider that Baghdadi represents Islam could  be offended, but the  song doesn’t criticise Islam, it actually criticises the conception of Islam that Baghdadi and his group has.”

And in fact it is that false conception of Islam, whose roots go back to the 7th century, which is now coming under attack from within the religion.

The word for Isis used by its Arab opponents is Daesh, a pejorative acronym which can be translated “medieval barbarism”. And Isis was identified by two Saudis writing in the New York Times this week as the latest manifestation of  the Kharijites, Islam’s  first splinter group, who burst onto the scene  when they assassinated  the Fourth Caliph.

“Kharijite” literally means “those who went out”, and from the beginning they have had very clear characteristics. They looked and spoke in the most pious way but they were always addicted to killing – not in self-defence, but because they saw the world in black and white. Their religiosity was unrivalled: “You shall consider your own prayers trivial compared to theirs,” one authority explained. “What they say is true – but what they want to  do is evil.” And above all, they bring disaster in their wake because of their murderous ways. “Never has a group emerged from our religion causing wanton violence and brought peace,” he said.

The pious-looking butcher who leads Isis showed his identity with these people at the group’s foundation in 2011 when he declared, “The Shia are evil. First we have to kill them. We must cleanse the religion.” Educated Muslims know all about this ancient rogue phenomenon and the mortal dangers it brings. It’s high time they broadcast it from the rooftops.