Their Headchoppers and Ours

The colorful term “headchoppers” has been recently used to describe a barbaric national movement that relies on literally chopping off heads to quell dissent and intimidate the population. Like the recent terms “show runner” (for TV producer) or “shot caller” (for prison gang leader) this expression captures the basic actions of those whom it describes.

The headchoppers in recent headlines are indeed a scary bunch. Those ending up on the wrong side of the scimitar are deemed “enemies of the State” and often include anyone not totally subservient to the ruthless leadership. Especially targeted are members of the minority Shia Muslim faction, long at spiritual and physical war with the dominant Sunni faction. The headchoppers enforce a particularly brutal and primitive 7th century version of Islam in the Sunni tradition dating back to origins of the faith.

Shia Muslims or other minority sects are singled out for persecution as apostates and unbelievers. Christians are now largely gone and none of their churches are open. Of course there are no Buddhist, Hindu or other religious temples. Jews are long gone and any crazy enough to enter headchopper territory would be at dire risk. (This despite Mohammad’s explicit tolerance for non-Muslims).

The headchoppers control a large territory, though mainly desert, which has been wrested from the prior governments by force and assistance from outside, mainly European, nations. The violence is ongoing, with armed attacks on neighboring states suspected of opposing them.

The headchoppers claim to represent a pure Islamic nation, so there is no democratic rule. Women are required to be covered head to toe and are treated as property of the males. Those accused of infidelity are stoned in public. Slavery is tolerated though not officially endorsed by the main leadership.

The only real source of income is oil exported to foreign nations. These revenues sustain the headchopper rulers and their military.

Much of headchopper activity is secretly conducted and financed by hidden sources, mainly privately held, some from foreign sources. These headchoppers are notorious for harboring terrorists who travel to other countries or conduct murderous activity in other places, some Muslim, others not.

Ah ha!

It may not be surprising to careful readers that the headchoppers described above are not the self-proclaimed Islamic State, a fiercely Wahhabi Sunni Muslim inspired nation, but rather the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As recently as News Years Day 2016 (Western Calendar) the Saudi Kingdom lopped off at least 47 heads in what was described as anti-terrorist punishments for the “guilty”, though public trials were not held in most instances. A prominent Saudi Shia cleric, who was never accused of any violent acts, was among the first to feel the blade, for angering the ruling Sunni royal family by complaining about discrimination against the large but minority Shia Saudi population, centered mostly in the eastern part of the country.

The Saudi Arab ruling family has long persecuted Shiites, and are especially hostile to the Iranians (formerly Persians) who are Shiite. They tolerate the Shia dominated post invasion Iraqi government but are currently conducting a genocidal, mainly air war, against the “official” Yemeni government long riven by violent civil war. The Saudis are actively financing and militarily helping the Sunni Yemeni factions, who are mainly aligned publicly with either al Qaeda or now, Islamic State. Those two groups are also Sunnis.

It is well documented that the House of Saud came to rule what is now Saudi Arabia (one of the only countries on earth still named for the original and still current ruling dynasty) by means of post-WWI scheming by Britain, France and others after the Turkish Ottoman Empire was divested of control after a disastrous alliance with Germany and Austria. The original King Saud, with arms and assistance from Western allies, conquered competing Arab factions and rulers for most the of large desert nation, though some independent sheikdoms remained (UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Yemen). Jordan, Iraq and Syria were parceled out to other Saud family members or allies, but few of those rulers lasted long (Jordan being the notable exception).

Most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, financed by murky Saudi sources. Key parts of the official 9/11 Report about Saudi involvement remain redacted and “secret” from ordinary US citizens. Al Qaeda founder and former leader Osama bin Laden came from a prominent Saudi business family. Other known terrorists have Saudi backgrounds, though in fairness there is no proof that they were acting as Saudi kingdom agents.

The Kingdom has only token democratic institutions. Women are barred from most jobs and even driving cars, though there is some minor headway on that. The Kingdom officially supports Wahhabi Muslim religious schools, clerics and foreign mosques and no non-Muslim religious institutions are permitted (though some unofficial ones exist in segregated Western work camps.)

The Saudi headchoppers are considered US allies and have been so for nearly all of its current existence. The fact that it is awash in petroleum explains this. Also, the Kingdom has long been allied with Great Britain. Their small armed forces and military equipment are all supplied by or trained by western governments. The headchopper Kingdom has long cooperated with western nations in important matters, though there are many (secret) exceptions.

In the 1980s, Saudi control of OPEC crashed international oil prices in a long kept secret deal with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, thus bankrupting the USSR and financially hamstringing the historic Saudi enemy, Iran (Persia). Many believe that the current oil price drop is the result of a similar secret deal by President Obama for much the same reasons.

Headchoppers vs. Headchoppers?

There are many parallels between “our” allied headchoppers and “theirs”, namely the Islamic State. The religo-ethnic basis of both nations is much the same: Arab nationalist with a heavy dose of Wahhabi Sunni theology and 7th century cultural affectations.

Like nearly all nation states everywhere, the Islamic State has come into being by invading and conquering land ruled by others. The birth of most other nations was not seen on color television or graphic Internet videos. But that only makes it modern, not unique.

The Islamic State (IS) grew out of the post US invasion and occupation of Iraq where the majority Sunni factions effectively controlled the national government. IS state leadership is mainly composed of former Baathist Saddam Hussein military officers who are Sunni Muslims. Their extreme Sunni doctrine also has some appeal to the northern and northeastern parts of Syria populated by Sunni Muslims. These former Iraqi and Syrian territories were politically and physically isolated from their respective central governments both by distance and religion. Syrian has been torn apart by a lengthy civil war against the quasi democratic ruling family leader Bashar Assad. He is a member of the small Alawite Muslim sect, though largely secular and religiously tolerant (compared at least, to some of his neighbors). IS also controls some Kurdish areas, both in former Iraq and Syria. Kurds are mainly Sunni Muslims (the Shafi School) but are ethnically closer to the Iranians than Arabs. Many Kurds also live in Turkey, where they have long championed a separate Kurdish polity.

So like the Saudi headchoppers, the IS version holds the same basic religious outlook. It is also founded in conquest and the carving out of former nations, fueled by outside interests. 

The US, Britain, and Turkey have financed Syrian rebels, who are now acknowledged to be mainly IS military elements despite pathetic attempts to control or establish non IS rebel formations. Oops! A few hundred million down the drain.

Western NATO military, along with Iran, are guiding the official Iraqi fight against IS, though this is mostly successful on the Kurdish front, who align with Iran but are also facing Turkish military attacks against the rump Kurdish independent government. Not surprisingly, though often overlooked (as most Saudi deviations from western norms are) the Saudis are not fighting IS in Iraq .Instead they are aiding IS fighters in the Yemeni conflict.

The result of this confusing array of wars, rebellions and secret and not-so-secret alliances by the many active parties is that both headchopper nations are in a de facto alliance. The Saudis have been not-so-secretly financing the Syrian rebellion though it is unclear as to whether this was mainly directed to IS rebels or others. Saudis are not militarily fighting IS in Iraqi territory, though they are permitting NATO to use military air bases and other facilities.

Wahhabi Sunni Muslim religious ties, it seems, are thicker than oil. It should also be noted that the IS “caliphate” governance is not dissimilar to that of the House of Saud’s claim to be the guardians of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Both claim an Islamic religious mandate.

As to funding the aspiring Islamic State, what little is known publicly about their finances leads back to the old Middle Eastern standby, oil. Though IS controlled production areas are all in eastern Syria and by regional standards, pretty small. Oil or oil products produced in the IS territory are either used internally or more critical, smuggled into Turkey for cash. Turkey’s leadership denies it (or that presidential family members profit from the smuggling) but Turkey is the only possible outlet for IS products not under constant bombardment by NATO aircraft. Turkey is part of the official NATO anti IS alliance but in practice is the major IS enabler in terms of recruit transit and exchange of goods. 

So, like religion, IS shares with its headchopper doppelganger the same primary economic reliance on oil production, albeit on a much smaller scale. As a fledging state, the Islamic State resembles the early Saudi Arabia before the massive oil discoveries. The future of IS appears shaky, in no small measure due to this lack of economic sustainability. Local production of goods is minuscule and agriculture is difficult in the desert, with little export potential. Kidnapping and looting are not long run income sources.

What is to be done?

More precisely, what should be done?

With the Saudi headchoppers, the US should stop pretending that they are trustworthy allies or perhaps more bluntly, that they are not going to be under the continual thumb of foreign governments doing their bidding. While small in population, the Saudis have ample mineral wealth and a firm hold on important places sacred to all Muslims. But like any absolute monarchy, they are fragile as a state. Ruling families rarely last as long as the House of Saud and the outsiders constantly roiling the Middle East will not leave them alone indefinitely. Powerful nations, like Russia and Iran, are not fans of the Saudi monarchy. Foreign intervention will not be able to prop up that government should it show serious signs of weakness. Change in the Kingdom is glacial.

And many Americans, among others, are no longer blind to the fundamental hostility to Western values which Saudi Wahhabism endorses. Regular headchopping among them.

As to the nascent Islamic State headchopper caliphate, it is currently under attack by the states from which it has grabbed territory, as well as by NATO countries and others such as Russia and Iran. Though in the post-Constitutional tradition, no actual American declaration of war has been made. Instead, through various bureaucratic declarations of hostility, some via US Congress, others from the UN or NATO, the IS has nonetheless been targeted by most major world military powers.

Since it lacks huge mineral resources or sacred cities it could hold hostage, its future seems bleak. But it attracts mostly young, jobless Sunni Arab youth to its cause, and many of their former homelands are glad to see them go off to be killed. The main worry in the West is that some jihadis will come back home to fight, trained and battle hardened. That has yet to be seen aside from a few selected terrorist operators, some of whom are now posing a “migrants” welcomed by soft hearted and soft headed European socialist politicians.

Most of the IS headchopper “terror” is purely second hand imitation, though actively and officially encouraged by IS leadership. Other Muslims may soon come to resent the blowback against all Muslims due to the reckless and seemingly suicidal behavior of the IS leadership. Immigration controls for Muslims in many nations are already in the works.

Being a Sunni Muslim undemocratic headchopper state doesn’t rule out becoming one of the most powerful nations in the Middle East. A “caliphate” after all is merely an archaic name for a supposed divinely sanctioned royalty which may or may not sustain itself over the long run. Ancient caliphates rarely lasted longer than any other local monarchy or self-professed divine leadership.

The Saudi headchoppers may last longer than the IS version, but looks can be deceiving. If the Islamic State tones down its hostility towards virtually everyone else in proximity and renounces support and active promotion of foreign terrorism, a new script could be written. Both Syria and Iraq could simply accept the status quo since continued warfare is impossible without outside funding and military assistance. How long do Russia and NATO really want to spend billions over national ownership of remote desert wastes?

IS could drastically change its policies. No more persecution of minorities or non-Sunnis. Recognition and even support for Kurdish separatism. Meaningful tolerance for non-Muslims and at least local standards for treatment of women and prisoners of war. No more headchopping (they can’t afford that, unlike the Saudis).

These changes could come quickly, either by IS leadership choice or by physical liquidation of current “caliph” al-Baghdadi, formerly a Sunni resistance fighter (and US prisoner) in Iraq. Though there is no sign at the moment that IS foreign enemies are encouraging that sort of change. While the current war goals are not made explicit, it appears that they are either unconditional surrender or complete annihilation. So much for “hearts and minds.”

Since the future of the IS headchopper regime seems bleak, facing economic and physical destruction, it is obvious that the Islamic State must change its ways or face being another footnote in the bloody, messy history of the Middle East.

The current  IS “scaring the normals” strategy – encouraging random attacks on Russians and NATO country civilian targets in their homelands – appears to be a purely self-righteous and self-indulgent course of action on the part of IS leadership. While the Islamic State strategy may lure Arab cannon fodder, it is hard to fathom this self-destructive strategy. It is either the work of crazed fanatics (an all too common label put on ones enemies) or purely temporary. It is the Shia branch of Islam which reveres martyrdom after all, not the Sunni.

But the Saudis have shown that headchopping is not an absolute bar to continued state existence. However distasteful, it can be overlooked if kept hidden. Or if one has enough leverage to quiet the critics. And to survive, the IS will have to demonstrate a change of national strategy and peaceful accommodation of both its own citizens and its unhappy neighbors.

After all, we are told the House of Saud is our firm and lasting ally. The headchoppers in Riyadh are “our” headchoppers. At the very least, the headchoppers in Raqqa can learn to not be our implacable enemy. Whether they choose to do that is an open question.

The path to peace is open, or should be. For the sake of everyone involved this must be our hope.

Mike Holmes is a practicing CPA in the Houston Texas area who formerly traveled to the Middle East on oil related business. He has been active in libertarian causes since the 1970s and is former editor of American Libertarian. He is an occasional contributor to