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​Assassins for a place in Heaven

by Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo chairman

To understand why so many Muslim youths are likely to be drawn by the syrens of IS and become eager to carry out the most nefarious murders, it is worth reading a passage of Marco Polo’s Travels, in which he narrates the story of the Old Man of the Mountain who pursued his place in Heaven by turning his faithfuls into assassins.

The Venetian traveller had so nicknamed Persia’s al-Hasan ibn as-Sabbah, the founding master of the Muslim heretic sect of the ismailiyyah (Ismailites), who in 1107 had conquered the fortress of Alamut, making it the stronghold of his power.

Marco Polo tells how in that place surrounded by the mountains, the master had created a true earthly paradise with plenty of food and amusements like those promised by Mohammed, where his young followers could taste all pleasures and meet many easy women.

Thus there was no need for an afterlife to find happiness. The master had provided for everything. Though there was a major inconvenience.

When the Old Man of the Mountain needed a young man for his political plots, he anesthesized him with opium or hashish and had him taken away from that place of marvels.

Hence the unlucky man, when he woke up, felt like the unhappiest man on earth. He thought he had irreversibly lost the privilege that had befallen him. At that point the master appeared and suggested him to become a killer, if he wanted to find the door to heaven again.

What surprised Marco Polo was that, faced with that proposal, the sect’s followers became zealous about carrying out the worst atrocities.

So when the Old Man would have any Prince slain, he would say to such a youth: "Go thou and slay So and So; and when thou returnest my Angels shall bear thee into Paradise.” So he caused them to believe; and thus there was no order of his that they would not affront any peril to execute. And in this manner the Old One got his people to murder any one whom he desired to get rid of.

The promise of paradise is the common feature of all fundamentalist executioners, who thus have the strength to turn their recruits into assassins.

And yet IS differs from other movements such as Hamas and al-Qarda, who promised heaven in the afterlife to those who were eager to self-sacrifice in suicide attacks, in that it promises an immediate heaven to the fighters who embrace its cause.

To the so called “foreign fighters” they recruit in Europe and in the various Arab failing states, they offer mirages of power and glory, accompanied with the opportunity to enjoy a wealthy life with a lot of easy girls.

This is why hundreds “infidel” women have been kidnapped by IS and enslaved, as preys for the fighters.

If we want to win the war against IS, we must unmask this absurd idea of heaven that seems even to remind of the Old Man of the Mountain.

To the young Muslims we must prove that the only heaven that is possible on earth is that of a plural, tolerating world with a taste for integrating the different, friendship and dialogue with the other.

It could seem that this strange idea of paradise stems only from a mad interpretation of Islam. It is not so. The worst kinds of totalitarianism in Europe have created thousands assassins in the name of heaven. Hitler’s willing executioners, like Stalin’s fanatics, turned into villains because they sought to build an unreal world.

Thus, as great historian George Mosse wrote, the great fascist and communist leaders organised mass gatherings on the squares and oceanic parades to incite masses to be eager to sacrifice their humanity, in the name of a bright future.

Such celebrations were supposed to be the anticipation of heaven. So thousands people were prone to carry out any misdeeds. 

Gabriele Nissim

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim

23 September 2015

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