Historian Holland to examine origins of Isis' violence in new C4 doc

In this authored historical investigation, Isis: The Origins of Violence, historian Tom Holland traces the origins of Isis’ barbaric and sadistic violence which it claims is justified by the tenets and scriptures of Islam.

Travelling from Paris to Istanbul, and from Sinjar to Cairo, he examines the roots of Isis’ interpretation of notions such as jihad and caliphate; he investigates why different religious minorities have been persecuted in different ways by ISIS and he asks whether the group’s ideology is in part a reaction to a westernization of Islam that ultimately dates back to the time of Napoleon.

Holland questions the assertion – much repeated by Western leaders – that Isis has nothing to do with Islam. He examines the origins of the group’s beliefs, which he traces back to the very origins of Islam. While acknowledging that most Muslims regard Isis with horror, and contrary to how they interpret their faith, Holland makes the case that the group does represent a strain of Islam that ultimately derives from the first beginnings of the faith - and he demonstrates why they believe they are following the example of the earliest Muslims in order to justify their actions.

Holland traces the origins of the interpretation of ‘jihad’ by Isis to the fight for Istanbul, a city that has always been in the crosshairs of the titanic rivalry between Christendom and Islam. In the early 8th century, when it was a Christian city called Constantinople, Arab fleets were twice defeated in their attempts to invade. Holland argues those 8th century Muslims went back to first principles and decided that God had promised them the world; that God wanted them to struggle and fight. Jihad, originally described as the effort required to be a good Muslim became justified sacred violence. Holland visits the tomb that is said to contain the remains of an Arab soldier killed in the first Arab campaign against the city – who has now become one of Islam’s earliest jihadis and martyrs.

Holland examines Isis’ treatment of religious minorities. He travels to the ruined city of Sinjar and finds the remnants of buildings reduced to rubble still branded with the religion of the occupants so that the militants knew how to treat them. He explains why the Yazidis arguably met the worst fate. It is mandated in the Koran that the, ‘people of the book’, Christians and Jews are permitted to pay a tax, called the jizya and acknowledge their submission, which allows them to practise their religion. In contrast, Isis deems the Yazidis to be pagan idol worshippers - like the early pagans of Mecca, so believe it is acceptable to kill the men and enslave the women.

Holland interviews the leader of Jordan’s Salafists – hardliners who take their interpretation from the example of the earliest Muslims - who quotes the exact verse of the Koran on which that belief is based. Thousands of Yazidis were killed and captured by Isis in Iraq in 2015. Holland visits one of the many mass graves – the one he sees was for Yazidi women, rejected as slaves because they were considered too old. The skeletons of the women and their shawls remain; it is still too dangerous to provide a proper burial.

Arguing that Isis is a product of centuries of clashes of civilizations and religions and that westernization has had some influence on modern interpretations of Islam, Holland returns to Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. Holland explains how the consequences of this ideologically-motivated attempt to bring the values of the Enlightenment to the Muslim world could be seen to persist in mainstream Islam. He demonstrates how, in the 19th century, under Western influence and coercion, that slavery and the jizya were abolished in the Muslim world. Holland’s thesis is that ISIS is reacting to what they perceived as a tarnishing and corruption of their faith by Western influence. That they are going back to the primal sources as they see it.

This is the second film Tom Holland has authored for Channel 4. His first, Islam: The Untold Story, examined the orthodox Islamic account of the history of the religion, and the historical context in which Islam emerged.

Isis: The Origins of Violence will air on Channel 4 on 17th May at 9pm. It has been made by Blakeway Productions, directed by Kevin Sim and produced by Kevin Sim and Alex Niakaris. The Executive Producer is Denys Blakeway.

May 4, 2017 5:53am ET by Channel 4  

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