Was there a softer side to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

Lots of the obituaries of the ISIS tyrant seem to think so…


Topics Politics USA World

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State, was confirmed dead at the weekend. When US forces found him, Baghdadi killed himself and his three children by detonating a suicide vest.

Baghdadi and his caliphate were responsible for countless atrocities: mass murder across the globe and the attempted genocide, mass rape and torture of minorities and dissenters in the Middle East.

But some obituaries have pointed to another side of Baghdadi.

A Washington Post headline first (rightly) described him as ‘Islamic State’s terrorist-in-chief’. This was then changed to the rather more flattering ‘austere religious scholar’.

The Times drew attention to Baghdadi’s sporting prowess and studiousness, describing him as a ‘promising young footballer and student of the Koran’.

Bloomberg told a rags-to-riches story of ‘a little-known teacher of Koranic recitation’ who transformed himself into the ‘self-proclaimed ruler of an entity that covered swaths of Syria and Iraq’.

Do we really live in a world of such moral uncertainty that we can’t even say the leader of ISIS was unequivocally evil?

Picture by: Thierry Ehrmann, published under a creative commons licence

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William Murphy

31st October 2019 at 5:49 pm

This is certainly not the first time that a mass murderer has been acclaimed by people who were living in freedom and not under the slightest pressure to sing his praises. George Orwell noted that a tyrant was all the more admired if he happened to be a bloodstained crook as well. I’ll skip the diplomatically required shite, such as de Valera offering his condolences to the German Ambassador in Dublin after Adolf’s demise.


I recall the eulogies paid to Chairman Mao after his death in 1976. As one writer at the time said, the only compliment which was not paid was the traditional Irish one: “Doesn’t he make a lovely corpse!”. One writer paid tribute to Mao’s excellent calligraphy. Good to see that the NY Times has backed down on earlier compliments:


nick hunt

29th October 2019 at 3:36 pm

Many leftists are desperately trying to turn Trump’s huge achievement into a negative, not realising how painfully obvious it is to any non-leftist that they fear and hate Trump much more than they fear a mass-murdering, genocidal Islamist leader who threatened the world. They particularly dislike Trump’s use of the terms ‘dog, and ‘coward’, which they say make him sound like the terrorists. But the two terms are known to be the most insulting possible to Arab fighters, which surely makes them the most appropriate choice. Wanting to be polite about mass murdering tyrants like Baghdadi or Hitler is obviously irrational or even insane. But there’s more: Trump is the master troll and very stable genius who knows exactly how to make leftists reveal their bigotry and derangement. He also knows that Christian, Western culture is fighting for its future against both radical Islamification and radical leftism, that we are in a war both physical and cultural against the two great Prophets of resentment, hate and control: Mohammmed and Karl.

Andrew Leonard

29th October 2019 at 1:03 am

Do we really live in a world of such moral uncertainty that we can’t even say the leader of ISIS was unequivocally evil?

Yes, because that uncertainty is the other side of the moral absolutist coin.
It should be noted by all, that the era of moral relativism is quickly giving way to the new era of moral absolutism.
Why this is occurring is complex, but part of the answer is down to how we go about classifying moral concepts.
Essentially, we have a Star Warsian view of good and evil, and a list for each.
Anything in the good list must be endlessly promoted, propagandised, subsidised, and excused from skulduggery.
Anything in the evil list must be endlessly censored, shamed, deplatformed, and punished fiscally, reputationally, legally, or preferably all three.
On the face of it, all this seems reasonable – isn’t racism an uncontroversial evil, for example?
The problem with the ‘two lists’ approach, is two-fold:

1. Real-world complexities result in moral ambiguities, which must be resolved by arbitration. For example, does racism consist of:
a. Opposition to mass immigration from cultures deemed to be incompatible with our own, at the level of fundamentals, when those cultures are predominantly made up of people of other ethnicities.
b. A belief that people of cultures that are predominantly made up of other ethnicities, should not bother trying to build up their own countries, but should simply pack their bags and head to the West, bringing with them cultures that are in some cases vastly more racist than our own, and deal with the inevitable frictions by quarantining these groups from criticism.

2. The human brain functions in a democratic manner. How we arrive at our various social and democratic positions, or even how we decide what flavour of ice-cream to buy, is down to multiple regions of the brain ‘voting’ their preferences, in cognitive ‘elections’. The brain is designed to work with ambiguity, and ‘balance of factors’ is its modus operandi. The brain does not work well with absolutes, but absolutes are what our culture increasingly demands.

So, to return to the uncontroversial evil of racism, another problem with that is going to be that moral absolutes are not socially benign – they take on a life of their own and become monsters. What we really need is an update of the ancient ‘golden mean’ concept. Between racism and anti-racism, the mean is not golden – we want to lean heavily anti-racist, but without becoming fanatics. We must aim for the hardest to achieve position – the ‘almost, but not quite position’ – which advances our moral preferences but avoids us viewing political life as though it were an episode of Star Wars.

Brad McPower

28th October 2019 at 11:23 pm

James Knight

28th October 2019 at 9:48 pm

Like the infamous Pirhana Brothers:

..but he did nail your head to the floor..

Yeah, but nice with it.

William Murphy

31st October 2019 at 6:10 pm

Great scene! As the guy with the plank nailed to his head explained: It was only a friendly warning. I had broken the unwritten law.

Ven Oods

28th October 2019 at 7:32 pm

“Was there a softer side to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?”
I’m guessing that, like Ronnie and Reggie Kray, he was probably nice to his old mum. So that’s alright, then.

jessica christon

28th October 2019 at 3:24 pm

What real difference does it make anyway? The lesson of the past is that as soon as the head is cut off this snake, another one grows in its place because this isn’t about leaders, but ideology.

Another preditction based on past lessons is that just as Al Qaeda became ISIS, ISIS too morph into something else. That’s when we’ll be told ISIS are the “moderates” and pussycats compared with the new outfit, just like we were told this about AQ when ISIS came to prominence. Plus ça change.

jessica christon

28th October 2019 at 3:27 pm

– prediction*
– ISIS too will* morph…

Why on earth can’t we edit, at least for 10 minutes after posting?

Jane 70

28th October 2019 at 4:24 pm

Quite right Jessica; it’s so annoying! Surely Spiked could provide an edit function.

Ven Oods

28th October 2019 at 7:34 pm

I’m guessing an edit function would cost money to implement.

jessica christon

28th October 2019 at 8:57 pm

@ Jane
Another one: why do some articles disappear after just a few hours while others live on the homepage forever? 🙂

Dominic Straiton

28th October 2019 at 6:31 pm

All we have to do is listen to Gladstone.

Jane 70

28th October 2019 at 3:08 pm

Down here in the real world, far removed from the wilder shores of the broadsheet media’s equivocations,, we could simply sum up as follows: good riddance; a blood thirsty sadistic religious maniac has met a timely end.

Mark Lambert

28th October 2019 at 2:13 pm

This *might* make some Islamists happy, who all moaned to the heavens when the Christchurch murderer was described as “angelic boy who grew up a monster”, claiming that this would never be done for an Islamic terrorist, ie “angelic”. Although it was, with Mohammed Emwarsi (Jihadi John). Now they might be happy that Baghdadi got such headlines. Let’s see. Or they might realise how stupid they were anyway.

Winston Stanley

28th October 2019 at 12:27 pm

Blair and Bush killed far more, 500,000 in Iraq. How about a tribunal for war crimes of the British parliament? “Take the beam out of your own eye first” like Jesus said.

nick hunt

29th October 2019 at 3:17 pm

‘Far more”? So do we have reliable figures for the victims of ISIS and related groups in the Middle East, especially in relation to the Yazidis and the many hundreds of thousands of other Christians subjected to enslavement and genocide because of their religion? I don’t think Blair and Bush were motivated by a desire for genocide, do you? Also, do you really think the ways in which western leaders conduct warfare is morally no worse than that of ISIS, which enslaved, tortured and raped thousands of its prisoners, not forgetting their use of women and children as suicide bombers?

Dominic Straiton

28th October 2019 at 12:02 pm

Hitler was a teetotal, vegan who brought in strict animal rights laws. His ideas form the basis of enviromentalism so he cant have been all bad !

jessica christon

28th October 2019 at 3:34 pm

And he was an unmarried cohabitee back in a time when this was deeply unfashionable, yet sadly history vilifies this misunderstood progressive!

William Murphy

31st October 2019 at 5:59 pm

Yes, Adolf loved his dogs (at least, until he had them poisoned). And he hated vivisection. And he was ferociously anti-smoking! What more proof of sainthood do we need? And his secretary Traudl Junge reportedly declared that he was the kindest, most considerate boss she ever had (See early scene of “Downfall”). And he largely abolished unemployment. And he was fully committed to European unity. And he was a genuine war hero in WW1. The vegan bit?? Apparently he still ingested a few animal products. But no one’s perfect.


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