Joe Gandelman: Evil strikes back
Just as World War I didn't prove to be "the war to end all wars," the 20th century didn't turn out to be when the nearly unimaginable brutality and indescribable evil represented by German dictator Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime was definitively laid to rest.
The evil is back. Big-time.
This time it's in the form of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is battling to take over Syria and Iraq and has already blurred the two countries' boundaries. It's leaving trails of bodies -- and horrors -- in its path. If it were a movie, you could title early 21st century "The Evil Strikes Back."
The images of this Sunni group that even Al Qaeda reportedly found too brutal are coming fast and furious - and sickeningly. Only this isn't Hollywood, but a nightmarish reality faced by those in Syria or Iraq whose lives cross with a group seeking to take over the Middle East and -- some believe -- beyond by imposing an ultra-conservative caliphate.
It's a case of the bloody ends justifying the warped, theological means. According to The Daily Mail, a 21-page letter found at Osama bin Laden's compound after his killing urged the cutting of all ties with ISIS because its ultra-brutality could damage Al Qaeda's reputation. And Al Qaeda didn't exactly enjoy the reputation of a group that played Patty Cake with infidels.
Populations that cross paths with Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's self-declared Islamic State must convert to Islam and pay tribute -- or else. The Internet brims with grim examples of or-elses: photos and videos, many hyped via social media by ISIS to create fear and recruit.
Among other things, they show mass execution shootings of Iraqi security forces, graphic beheadings, and rows of victims' heads on sticks. One shows fighters walking bound prisoners over to the water's edge, making them kneel, then shooting them in the back of the head and pushing them quickly into the water. It's unflinching assembly-line-mass-murder that would make Hitler proud.
According to Reuters, an Iraqi government official recently reported that ISIS has killed 500 Yazidis, including women and children who were buried alive. ISIS is also systematically destroying Iraq's cultural and religious artifacts.
I'll never forget how stunned my late father Richard Gandelman was in the weeks following 9/11. He and other members of The Greatest Generation thought the kind of evil Hitler represented was eradicated when America won the war. Shortly after 9/11, I sat with him and other family members at Carmine's Tuscan Grill in New Haven and when 9/11 came up he seemed doubly anguished. I sensed he had felt that his grandkids wouldn't have to grow up in this kind of world -- and now it was clear that The Evil had not vanished but merely resurfaced elsewhere under a different name.
You get the feeling that the extent of ISIS' threat -- including in the long-term to America's national security -- isn't fully grasped by policy makers or the American public.
"A militarized Islamic State made secure and permanent by dismembering Syria and Iraq is a far worse danger to the world order than Russia's annexation of Crimea," wrote The Moderate Voice's Foreign Columnist Brij Khindaria. "It will alter power equations in the entire region stretching from Lebanon to India and West China. It could inspire creation of similar Islamic States in Libya and Afghanistan, which are teetering on the edge of chaos."
He warns: "It will also trigger a fierce rivalry between IS and the remnants of al-Qaeda..... Both may undertake spectacular acts of terrorism against Americans and Europeans to seek leadership of Muslim extremists fighting against the West's 'decadent' influence and moderate Muslims in the Arab world."
Can Americans take this seriously enough? Khindaria and others point out that President Barack Obama still seems to view ISIS as a regional problem.
Are we too mired in our selfies, and 24/7 partisan and ideological polemical wars? Can we finally get dead serious? Because, from all indications, ISIS is d-e-a-d serious, as the people who were crucified, beheaded, shot or buried alive by them could contest. If they were still here.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.