Monday, June 30, 2014

Doctor Justice Declares a Caliphate

Doctor Justice Declares a Caliphate
or,  If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em

We were bemused at the ease with which a ragtag of runaways, renegades, and Zarqawiite thugs  could propel themselves to regional prominence, and declare their supremacy over the whole Umma of Islam.  And instead of being laughed off the stage, they have received bay`ah from group after group of former rivals (killing those that did not submit).
With a keen eye appropriate to their craft, the  Accounting Department of WDJ Worldwide Enterprises said:  Y’know, there might be money in this sort of thing.

Accordingly, as the long arm of al-Baghdadi  does not yet reach into our home state, we have decided to solidify our base, before it’s too late.  Thus, Doctor Justice, together with his hardy band of few but fanatical followers, hereby declares the

 => Riemannic State of Suburbia <=

a.k.a.  Riemannistan.

Its capital shall be the cul-de-sac wherein we dwell (Married People’s Circle);  our AOR, all the lands in which the Peano Postulates hold good.  
The state religion is Cantorian Realism;  public punishments for apostate Nominalists will be exemplary and fun to watch.

Dr Justice, wisely rendering judgment
 unto his subjects, beneath an oak 

Herewith our immediate, non-negotiable demands:

* Unlimited rights
* Egg in our beer
* A land corridor through Prussia


Fun Facts about Riemannistan:

*  Official language:  Latin
*  National anthem:  Desolation Row
*  State bird:  what do you think?

Notitia Dignitatum
Recent cabinet appointments :

* Bernard Riemann:  archon eponymous.
*  Dr Massey :  Oberreichslateinmeister
*  Carlos the Pirate:  Minister of Marital Affairs
*  Abu-Yahya al-Irbî :  Proconsul for Greater Jordan (includes all territories  claimed by the ISIL)
* Commander Buckwalter:  Minister of Misinformation, and Lord of the CAStLe

Honoris causâ :

*  Named U.S. wifeperson :  First Lady
*  Airman Bob :  Jihadi Performer of the Year [Note:  This position, being istishhâdi, is filled anew periodically.  Applications welcome.]
*  Fluffy the family hamster : Emblematic Animal (to appear on all stamps and currency issued by the RSoS)

Positions still unfilled :

* Ambassador to Azawad
* Chargé d’affaires for the Ottoman Empire

The cursèd infidels of the next cul-de-sac over, “Chunky Chipmunk Way” (and here I am barely making anything up:  our town is full of cutesy street-names) have refused to swear bay`ah to Sultân Dawûd, and have set up a counter-caliphate !!!  This means war -- War to the knife!

Chunky Chipmunk delenda est !!!!

[Update, Bastille Day 2014]  Evidently inspired by Dr J’s bold proclamation of a local cul-de-sac-based Caliphate, another would-be imam has claimed a somewhat neglected slice of Africa:

The imam with his seven year-old daughter, Princess Emily,
showing off the flag that their family designed
as they claim a piece of land in the Eastern African region of Bir Tawil.

We welcome this new sacred territory, and have offered an alliance to Imam Jeremiah, to wage Holy War against the infidels of the so-called “caliphate” of Chunky Chipmunk Way.
(BTW, those dead-enders over at Chunky Chipmunk  are also pretty sloppy about recycling.  War to the knife!)

[Update 9 August 2014]  Doubtless inspired by Riemannistan’s righteous Holy War against the kuffar of Chunky Chipmunk Way (a.k.a the Dâr al-Harb), Obama has finally got his man-card back, and is going after the sole entity that can challenge America’s hegemonic rule -- The Islamic Caliphate.

[Late-breaking updeate -- Dispatch from the Front]   The raging battle between Riemannistan and the accursèd infidels of Chunky Chipmunk Way (upon whom be grease) has reached a stage of entrenched positions, of the sort familiar from the early years of the Great War: our territories are now separated by an impassable barrier composed of around half a dozen or so  orange traffic-cones.

Meanwhile, our supply lines and economic base have firmed up, relative to those of the foe.  Our yard sale last weekend did wa-a-ay better than theirs did, judging, not so much by the quantity as by the quality of the visitors who dropped by (their SUVs are tacky;  ours are swank).   We even sold an entire, only slightly wrecked swingset (Jenny having outgrown it -- she’s in second grade now)!  Match that, you Gehenna-dwelling Chunkies !!


Update: Riemannistan hosts refugees

[Dateline Riemannistan -- Associated Press]

Cousin Pete will be camping on our sofa for a few days.  His common-law wife Midge threw him out of the house.  The Riemmanic Caliphate is dispatching a crack diplomatic team to negotiate.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sarajevo Mon Amour

For the warmongers, the assassination at Sarajevo  was a godsend, or rather:  a gift from Mars.
-- Martin Gilbert
timeo Danaos  et dona ferentes

The centennial of the assassination of the Archduke, which ignited a powder-train which took thirty years of blood to extinguish, does not bulk large in an American perspective.  We did not enter the resulting conflict until three years later, when the first phase of the long hot-war was almost over;  CONUS itself suffered nothing;  what is left in the memory of us Yankee Doodle Dandies  is “Over There”  and not much more.   Even the principals did not realize for some time that it was leading to a World War.
Yet it marked a powerful and permanent turn, of the groaning millwheel of History;  and on that day, Clio laid aside her pen, and wept.

Sic semper ...

For anyone who has, over the years, studied the history of England and of France, and of Mitteleuropa, and of the international workers movement, that day remains fateful.  The Russian revolution which had failed in 1905, now was forced to go through to the conclusion, will they or no.  And with that, the birth of hope for the class of toilers, and in time (turn, turn) its later dashing.   All that had been golden, and of a stately pace, in Western Europe, departed, never to return. 


Francis Ferdinand, on that day, was killed along with his “morganatic wife”.  A reader of Le Figaro comments:

Et dire que si François Ferdinand avait fait un mariage selon son rang, il aurait bénéficié d'une protection militaire bien plus importante pendant son déplacement et par là même, le cours de l'histoire en aurait été changé.


That mad act of the Servian nationalist  led to ruin for his nation;  yet not without a certain heroic poignancy at sunset.  Martin Gilbert tells it well:

Following the fall of Kragujevac, 
the King of Servia  recognized  that it was only a matter of time,
and of a relatively short time,
before the Austrian,
                                    and Bulgarian forces
would overrun his kingdom.

On a visit to the frontline trenches,
where peasant soldiers were  holding the line,
their bayonets fixed to rifles 
for which they had little ammunition left,

he told them:
ye have taken two oaths:
one to me, your king;
and one to your country.

From the first, I release you;
from the second   no man can release you.

But if you decide  to return to your home,
and if we should be victorious,
you shall not be made to suffer.
As for me and my sons,
we remain here.”

Not a single soldier  left his post.
-- A History of the Twentieth Century (1997), p. 382

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.

(I have set it as poetry;  for such it is indeed.  And archaized the spelling, just a bit.)


Coincidentally (or not):

The announcement of the caliphate's creation on the first day of Ramadan, which is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, was no doubt meant to invoke the religious significance of the event. But the Gregorian date has significance as well: The June 29 announcement came one day after the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, which marked the beginning of World War I.

[Update 20 July 2014]  A thoughtful radio-essay by Omar Saghi, on how the First World War resonates more than the Second, for the Middle East:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Power of Intransigence

A historian, on the political landscape of Europe, in 1913:

The power of ‘public opinion’ had increased, and the ‘driving force of the noisiest elements of it  tended  in excited times  to consist, not of majorities, but of minorities.’
-- Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, vol. I. (1997), p. 284

This passage leapt out at me as I reread that book, since I had just finished reading the excellent profile of Ted Cruz, by Jeffrey Toobin, in the current New Yorker.   It is titled “The Absolutist”, and that turns out to be a key point.

(Note:  Ted Cruz does not figure on my list of favorite persons;  for a satirical image, click here. But this portrait really does show The New Yorker at its traditional best.  That magazine does not specialize in takedowns (nor in puff pieces), and I wound up with a considerably deepened appreciation of this unexpectedly complex politician.  As a bonus -- like his politics or dislike them -- Cruz came up with the best one-line retort to the absurd manufactured controversy over the term “Washington Redskins”:  “There’s an easy fix to that:  you can just drop the word Washington.”)

Cruz turns out to be much more intelligent than his shenanigans for popular consumption would suggest.   And suddenly that fact shone forth with a significance beyond one individual biography.   A number of the Tea-Party leaders, who spout nonsense from cock-crow to when the cows go back to the barn, may not be nearly as stupid as they sound:  they may simply be canny, and unscrupulous.

Thus Toobin, using a term that John McCain once applied to Cruz, writes that “by one reckoning, the twenty-one-hour speech Cruz mounted against Obamacare last September  was his consummate wacko-bird moment.”  At the time, I paid no attention to it; it struck me as clownish.  Well, the Corn Belt loves a clown.  They loved Jimmy Stewart’s senatorial filibuster in “Mr Smith Goes to Washington”.   It is not reasoned argument -- but its practitioners know that.  It’s political theatre.  Their base wants panem et circenses;  any actual logic or evidence brought to bear upon the inflammatory issues of the day, would merely be caviary to the general.   The hyperconservatives’ public rhetoric may in many cases be simply ad usum minus habentium. 
(In the case of some of them, like Donald Trump, I instinctively feel that his vulgar nescience goes right down to the core of the man.  But now I’m less sure about John Boehner.)


Ted Cruz began his political career as a real long-shot; in another of his witty phrasings, “I was at two per cent in the polls, and the margin of error was three percent.”  Whereas now he has a real shot at the Presidency.  It is unclear  from whence he would derive his mass appeal among Texas conservatives.   He’s personable enough, I suppose, if you like that sort of snake-oil-salesman style;  he’s foreign-born, not a plus for these folks (and he only recently, opportunistically, renounced his Canadian citizenship);  he is legally extraordinarily astute, particularly in Constitutional matters, but that all goes straight over the head of the average voter. (It certainly didn't buy Professor Obama any slack.)  So what is his trump card?  Quite possibly, his sheer intransigence.

Let us consider some further examples from history …


[Later] [Ach!  There is not world enough, nor time.   Should reader interest warrant -- a remote possibility -- I might flesh this section out.  In the meantime, it is left as an exercise for the reader.  Stepping-stones/data-points: ginger groups, “Tesnyaki”; NSDAP;  ISIL, Tea Party. Plus “asymmetric warfare”, and its bilan over the past fifty-some-odd years.  Connect the dots. ]

[Footnote]  That business of hedging your bets by harboring dual citizenship, enjoying the benefits now of the one  now of the other  as circumstances permit, is actually one of the bugaboos of the Right.  Here is the latest from France:

And here is the standpoint of that two-fisted, red-blooded private detective, Mr Michael Murphy:

It will indeed be an irony, savored by Clio, the muse of History, should the movement of ornery American nationalism (like that of German, which somehow fell into the hands of a certain Austrian-born gentleman) come to be led by a born Canadian.   But the Birthers no doubt will suddenly forget their former, invented scruples, and fall into line.

Κλειώ η μούσα, wryly amused by all this

[Sub-footnote]  The readers of this blog include a certain number of retired gentlemen, of sedentary habits and scholarly tastes, who habitually spend the Lord’s Day paging through their Bibles, and savoring the Greek and Latin classics.   Yet even they enjoy the old surge in the old blood.  For their benefit then (schoolchildren, avert your gaze), this more nearly undraped version of the illustrious Muse:

“… nice swan … “

[Updates]  A useful column on the current Republican mood of ill-timed frugality:

Where were the Teabaggers when the Bush administration was building the Bridge to Nowhere -- specifically, to Sarah Palin’s state?
That state is, incidentally, for all its rhetoric, still busily sucking on the government dugs:

Actually, at this point, both parties are pandering to narrow interests in Alaska.  Cf. the front-page article in this morning’s New York Times (somewhat buried on the Web site -- amazing how often that happens):

Tiny villages that could determine who controls the Senate

And:  Cruz is not the only Texas politician who realizes the street-theatre value of the legislatively impotent filibuster:

[Update 19 September 2014]  Further historical background on Intransigence.

Hitler was a master of diplomatic intransigence. 
In the run-up to Munich, Neville Chamberlain scurried around Europe trying to put together a package of Czech surrender that would satisfy the dictator, and finally managed one -- or so he thought.   He went back with his sacrificial offering, beaming.

Once in the company of the ferocious Fuehrer … Chamberlain’s euphoria quickly evaporated.
“I am terribly sorry,” Hitler said, “but after the events of the last few days, this plan is no longer any use.”
-- Wm Shirer, The Collapse of the Third Republic (1969), p. 369

Later, at Munich on bended knee, Daladier cautiously suggested that a Czech representative be present as their doom was pronounced.

But Hitler was adamant.  He was “not interested”, he said, “in an assurance from the Czech government.”  He would not suffer the presence of any Czechs.
-- Wm Shirer, The Collapse of the Third Republic (1969), p. 399

Stalin, by contrast, was sweet reason in public towards his adversaries -- “Comrades, please!  Let Comrade Trotsky have his say! -- while plotting their murder in private.

Al-Baghdadi is more of the Hitler school (much as Saddam modeled himself on Stalin  -- witness his pre-invasion interview with Dan Rather).  He  has gone with a maximalist, Mad-Max, never-retreat-an-inch total heads-off gonzo image, which gives erections to those who might otherwise never become erect.
Al-Qaeda, by contrast, punked out.   After ISIL’s predecessor in Iraq, ISI, alienated the Sunni tribes with their brutality, the Awakening movement was formed as a tribal counterpunch, just like the later Popular Committees in Yemen.  So AQSL publically said, Chill;  and AQAP created a “kinder, gentler” front-group.   Which has mostly gone nowhere.  And AAZ is off somewhere trying to get anyone to pay the least attention to him.

[Update 15 Oct 2014]  A chilling subpoena.
I'm with him on this.  Might even vote for the guy ...’
Ted Cruz told congregants of his home church Thursday that the city of Houston abused power by subpoenaing sermons and other documents from pastors who publicly opposed a local ordinance banning discrimination against gay and transgender residents.

Cruz, standing among more than a dozen clergy at First Baptist Church in Houston, described the subpoenas as an “abuse of government power” and another illustration of the “indefensible assault by the government on religious liberties.”
“Caesar has no jurisdiction over the pulpit,”

[Update April 2015 ]  Apparently Rafael Cruz -- Cruz père -- is quite a piece of work all by himself.   A cogent sauce-for-the-goose argument for the relevance of this appears here:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Encore «la racaille»

A well-informed review of an important new book has just appeared here:

More anecdotally:

And meanwhile in Paris:

Lundi prochain, l'Algérie affrontera donc l'Allemagne quelques heures après le match France-Nigeria. La seconde des deux rencontres sera l'affrontement de tous les dangers. Depuis les incidents qui ont émaillé les précédents matchs de l'équipe algérienne en Coupe du monde, l'Intérieur est sur les dents. Les échauffourées sont de plus en plus violentes: policiers blessés, saccages en règles de bâtiments, destructions de mobilier urbain, jets de projectiles, incendies de véhicules par dizaines Des incidents qualifiés vendredi «d'insupportables» par le premier ministre Manuel Valls.
Lundi donc, des milliers de policiers et de gendarmes, dont une quinzaine d'unités des forces mobiles, mais aussi des moyens lourds de maintien de l'ordre (canons à eau, hélicoptères pour l'identification de nuit des éventuels fauteurs de troubles), seront mobilisés. Pratiquement comme les soirs d'émeute ou lors des mouvements sociaux de grande ampleur. «Et tout cela pour un soir de fête», se désole-t-on à l'état-major de la Sécurité publique à Paris.

So, stay tuned for Monday’s big match …

[Update 28 June 2014]  In Los Angeles, a miniature version of the same thing. 

[Update] London, too, is trembling:

[Update 1 March 2016]  Knock-on effects of dealing with all this:

FREILASSING, Germany — Traffic along one of Europe’s busiest highways, which used to flow unimpeded, now often backs up for miles at a newly installed checkpoint, where a phalanx of German police officers screens trucks and cars for hidden migrants.
Merkel has much to answer for.

For the roster of posts concerning "la racaille", click here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Three *more* days for the Condor

In the (terrific) movie-thriller, “Three Days of the Condor”, Robert Redford plays an intelligence analyst at a small think-tank (rather like the “Rubicon” group), who steps out one day to get sandwiches for his office-mates  and, upon his return, finds that they have all been slaughtered, down to the last man.  (Sort of an ultimate “While you were out… ” yellow stickie.)   Using his finely-honed analytic skills, he deduces that he himself might be in peril, and takes it on the lam. 
Later, explaining his predicament to a sympathetic ear, he pleads poignantly that he cannot imagine why he was ever targeted:  “I just … read … books!”   Novels, mostly, in fact.
(I used to get to do that when I worked at Merriam-Webster, an hour a day of “Reading & Marking”, and got paid for it. -- Peanuts, but paid for it.)

Well as you will already have guessed, using your finely-honed movie-watching skills, that is just the problem, young fellow:  you read a book that you weren’t supposed to read.  A book that, in the guise of fiction, revealed the outlines of an actual plot.


Now, that storyline was, so far as anyone knows, pure fiction -- both the book-within-the-movie and the movie itself.   But now, in actual reality, a strikingly similar scenario has arisen.   Do not take my word for it, but consult the following article, from today’s edition of the respected, moderate-conservative French newspaper, Le Figaro.

[Note:  complot américain means “American conspiracy”.  But that is really just a euphemism for something much bigger -- see below.]

Somehow -- no-one knows quite how -- an obscure pair of Belgians (William Van Cutsem and Jean Van Hamme) have managed to put out volume after volume of what, in superficial appearance, is nothing but a Jason Bourne knock-off, yet which contains, in ever bolder specificity as the series has proceeded over the past thirty years, hints of and allusions to the most notorious multi-centennial mega-global web of skulduggery ever recorded (and that, written in blood):

Смерть шпионам!

[Here I must pause, and consult my handler;  in the meantime, click on the link.
  If you don’t hear back from me within an hour, it means that I have been murdered.]

[Update 27 June 2014]  Doktor Justiz he just fine.  Go way move long, no thing 2 C here ..

[Update 28 June 2014]  The latest startling revelations on the conspiracy front:

The true reason that Barack Obama has never released a birth certificate that meets the exacting standards of evidentiary scientists like Jerome Corsi is that his birth certificates have been doctored to obscure not the place of his birth, but the date.
Barack Obama was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1871…

Read it and tremble ..

Monday, June 23, 2014

“ISIL” vs “ISIS”

[Update 16 Nov 2015]  In the wake of the Paris attacks, President Obama (and Secretary Kerry) has taken to calling ISIL  "Dash", spelled Daesh or  (in the French manner) Daech.  For an explanation of this term (and a pronunciation guide), try this essay
(section 4).

[Flash update, 9/11:  For a response to the President's speech, click here: The Islamic State.]
[Latest update, 14 Sept 2014:  On the Psycho-Theatrics of Beheadings.]
[Even more-latest update 23 Sept 2014:  ISIL vs. ISIS:  The pronunciation wars. ]
[Even-more-latest-er update 26 IX 14: French appendix ]

Bottom Line Up Front:  "ISIL" (pronounce EYE-sill), referencing  the “Levant”, rather than "ISIS", referencing “Syria” (in its narrowed,  Lebanonless  contemporary sense) is more accurate -- and indeed, in ways crucial to policy-making -- as a translation of the Arabic term in the group’s (former) official name, al-Shâm.  

[Linguistic note:  The word Levant is pronounced le-VAHNT.  The voweling and the end-stress is an influence of the French word from which our English word is borrowed;  however, it is not actually the French pronunciation of Levant (from the active participle of the verb lever 'to rise'), for there the "t" is silent.
The word literally means 'rising (of the sun)';  as such, it is an exact parallel of the word Orient, derived from a Latin active participle of, likewise, a verb meaning 'to rise (said of the sun)'.  By an accident of history, one word got attached to the Eastern Mediterranean lands, the other to the Far East.]

The Levant

As for why President Obama uses the term ISIL, this is simply because that is the term that has been used by well-informed elements of the USG, from the get-go:  it is the term he learned from his briefers.  It is no more a “tip of the hat” towards the group (in the words of one incredibly ignorant TV talking-head) than is his reference to Fox News as “Fox News”, rather than the more descriptive “Faux News”.

Among ISIL sympathizers, the preferred term is neither the one nor the other, but simply al-Dawlah (literally ‘the State’), rather the way UBL’s buddies referred to his organization as al-Qaeda (which in itself simply means ‘the Base’, without specifying what it is a base of).

The one thing they reportedly don’t like being called, is Dâ`ish, which is what Arabic-language media normally does call them, being based on the acronym (dal, alif, `ayn, shin) of their long name.

Below is the original post  in all its detail.

And here is a brand-new update.

 ~    ~     ~

For various reasons, I seldom write about fine points of Arabic on this site, and hence have not alluded to the confusion concerning the designations ISIL vs. ISIS.  But recent developments make it imperative for non-Arabists to understand the matter, so here we go.

The treatment in Wikipedia,
is, as usual, exemplary.  But I shall add some relevant historical and theological detail.

The Arabic phrase for this group is

الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام

al-dawlah al-islâmiyya fî l-`irâq wa-l-shâm

That is:  The Islamist State in Iraq and ... what?
The final word (morphologically al-Shām, phonetically ash-Shām with anticipatory assimilation), has, like Misr [see below],  more than one level of reference:  

   (1) sensu stricto, referring to Damascus;
   (2) sensu lato, referring to (present-day) Syria; and  -- crucially --
   (3) sensu latiore, referring to ‘Greater Syria’, a.k.a. the Levant.   

The term al-Shām is thus three-ways ambiguous. 

The first two senses have unambiguous Arabic denominations as well, respectively Dimashq and Sûrîya (سوريا‎).  The final, broadest sense  has no traditional, historical, contemporaneously-unambiguous one-word designation, for the very good reason that throughout history, al-Shām has been used in this widest sense -- a geographic rather than strictly political sense, somewhat vague like all terms antedating the introduction of nation-states.  From the standpoint of Mideast history, it is not really that the Levant is ‘Greater Syria’:  it’s that Sûrîya is ‘Lesser al-Shām’.   For present-day Syria, like Lebanon and Palestine, are not well-defined politico-historical nation-state entities (a state of affairs reflected in the earlier expression the Lebanon;  cf. Ukraine vs. the Ukraine).   Rather, they are all of them creations of the Anglo-French colonial arrangements, post-dating World War I.   And neither ISIL nor any other Salafi group has any interest in hewing to those, as such.

بلاد الشام

The linguistically alert historian Bernard Lewis  nicely surveys the onomastic landscape of the states that resulted from the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after the Great War:

Even their names reveal their artificiality -- Jordan is a river, Lebanon a mountain, Iraq the name of a medieval province, not coinciding with the boundaries of the present state of that name; Syria and Libya are Greek names  borrowed and used for the first time in modern Arabic.  Even Palestine was a name unused since the early middle ages …
-- “Pan-Arabism” (1978), collected in Bernard Lewis, From Babel to Dragomans (2004), p. 178

[Update Jan 2015]   Alongside the English-language Dabiq, ISIL has launched a new magazine series in French, called Dâr al-Islâm.    In the first number, celebrating the territorial spread of the Islamic State (mostly via pledges of allegiance from other jihadi groups, rather than actual territorial conquest), ISIL welcomes a Sinai-based radical group into the fold, and footnotes that, while technically part of present-day Egypt, in actual fact  Sinai is “part of al-Shâm” (al-Châm).

The New York Times recently attempted to clarify this, though its effort was not without hiccups:

Incidentally, the Dallas News writer, while twitting the linguistic slip-ups of the NYTimes, perpetuates one himself, saying that the Times erred in saying that Misr (the classical transcription, as against the dialectal-phonetic Masr) refers only to Egypt and not to Cairo.  On the contrary, Egyptians frequently -- within the country -- use Misr this way, exactly the way Mexicans say México to mean Mexico City.  In the Egyptian case, an unambiguous term, al-Qâhirah, is available to specify the capital, just as one can say Ciudad de México  (cf. New York City  vs. New York (state)).  But for Tunisia, Arabic has only one word, تونس, which must do duty both for the capital (which English distinguishes as Tunis) and for the country as a whole.   Likewise for Algeria, English (and French) have words distinguishing this from the capital Algiers, whereas Arabic makes do with الجزائر for both, additional words being added for disambiguation where needed.


And now the point becomes quite important, of interest beyond the boundaries of philology.   Literally, lives depend on it.

As mentioned, the term al-Shām antedates the nation-states, and thus, as a historical term, is not defined as consisting of such-and-such contemporary nation-states; rather, its (somewhat vague) historical area overlaps these nation-states in various ways.   The Wikipedia again tells it well;  here is the Arabic understanding:

بلاد الشام

الشام أو سوريا التاريخية، أو سورية الطبيعية (من اليونانية: Σύρια؛ واللاتينية: Syria؛ نقحرة: سيريا)، هو اسم تاريخي لجزء من المشرق العربي يمتد على الساحل الشرقي للبحر الأبيض المتوسط إلى حدود بلاد الرافدين. تشكّل هذه المنطقة اليوم بالمفهوم الحديث كل من: سورية ولبنان والأردن وفلسطين التاريخية (الضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة والأراضي التي اُنشئت عليها إسرائيل في حرب 1948)، بالإضافة إلى مناطق حدودية مجاورة مثل منطقة الجوف ومنطقة الحدود الشمالية في المملكة العربية السعودية،[1] وتشمل المناطق السورية التي ضُمت إلى تركيا أبّان الانتداب الفرنسي على سورية، وقسمًا من سيناء والموصل، وعند البعض فإن المنطقة تتسع لتشمل قبرص وكامل سيناء والعراق

That is quite a chunk of territory.   Bottom line for our purposes:  It includes Lebanon -- which wasn’t chunked-off from the post-WWI Syria until WWII -- Jordan, and an interesting slice of territory, not large in terms of acreage, but punching well above its weight, traditionally known as Palestine;  or, in terms of the current (and possibly transient) dice-out of nation-states,  Israel.

Do I have your attention?

[Note:  There are good reasons for quoting the Arabic Wiki rather than the English here.
(1) Its treatment is somewhat fuller, and potentially more authoritative.
(2)  It reflects what Arabic-speakers are being told.

(For an English translation, simply plop the text into Google Translate.)
Additionally, although vast areas of Wikipedia are unbiased and authoratative in their treatment (I’m thinking of the math articles in particular), there is an intense propaganda war being fought, over words and everything else, in the area of Western images of Islam, and this has affected -- we might almost say, infected -- certain Wikipedia entries, especially those in English;  we examined the matter in detail in the following essay:

The best-known word of contention is jihad, which certain bien-pensants would have you believe denotes a peaceful, dreamy, inward-looking, brownie-baking sort of reverie;  but it extends to such recherché terms of art as “al-Wala’ wa-l-Bara” (click on the link above for discussion.)

Upshot:  In any sensitive area here, you are better off going with the German Wiki.]


Well-informed parts of the USG have long referred to this extraordinarily violent takfiri group as ISIL;  the President still does, in his radio broadcasts.   Likewise in French (EIL, not *EIS), and so forth.  But a chance semi-mistranslation of the Arabic phrase in American media  has firmly implanted itself, probably because many more people are familiar with the word Syria than with the word Levant.  Indeed, a friend just sent me this:

Here are some Google stats (note: the "-" means NOT containing this word):
isis iraq syria -isil   About  64,700,000 results
isil iraq syria -isis   About   5,020,000 results

The problem is, this lets Americans imagine that the stakes are lower than they really are.

Thus, this evening, the NPR anchor was talking with the Reuters bureau chief in Baghdad about what they both referred to as ISIS, and mentioned -- with a certain bemusement, as though this were an odd thing for ISIS to do -- that the group had seized a crossing on the Iraqi border with Jordan;  in subsequent discussion, they dismissed this as an ‘outpost’.   But no:  It is an inpost.  It is a gateway.

At the time that the former ISI  (in the Iraqi, not the Pakistani sense of this acronym) re-named itself ISIL, it was a power-grab in the face of the AQ-affiliated al-Nusrah Front, as well as various indigenous Syrian opposition groups.  At that time and in that sense, the ‘Syria’ aspect of their self-declared AOR  was indeed to the forefront.  But since then, events have moved apace, in a way that nobody (least of al al-Qaeda) seems to have anticipated. 
This very ambitious, ultraviolent takfiri group  named itself al-Dawlat al-Islāmīyah fī il-ʻIrāq wa-ash-Shām -- and not … fī il-ʻIrāq wa-as-Sûrîya.  I assure you:  This strategically-oriented, maximalist group  did not intend by “al-Shām  to refer to any latterday French-carved rump state:  they meant, and they mean, the whole deal.

[Update 13 Sept 2014]  Le Figaro makes the same point:

En 2010, Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi prend la tête du groupe, et l'année suivante, il envoie en Syrie des hommes prendre part à la guerre civile. Cette nouvelle entitée prend le nom de Front al-Nosra. En 2013, al-Baghdadi en revendique la paternité et annonce la fusion des deux groupes qui deviennent «l'État islamique en Irak et au Levant» (EIIL). Cette dernière appellation a pour avantage d'inclure la notion de «Levant», qui, bien plus large que la seule Syrie, représente tout le Moyen-Orient, révélant ainsi les ambition régionales du groupe.

And now, with le califat, we have an ambition globale.


For long, the USG, for reasons best known to itself (though easily guessable by the well-informed) has treated Hizballah as a huge threat to the United States.   It never was;  it reacts defensively when we occupy their country and shell their positions (as happened under Reagan, until he turned tail and ran), but otherwise its charter, its agenda, is largely Lebanese;  it has, shall we say, no territorial ambitions in Texas or California.  (There are other entities that do.)  It is not even quite clear that it is, ab origo, an existential/irredentist threat to Israel, for Palestine has never been Shiite territory.   By contrast, for ISIL,  Israel is -- like Lebanon and Jordan -- part of  Arabia irredenta. 
Indeed, if the ISIL were to invade Lebanon (to go after Hizballah, as they have publically threatened -- Hizballah and ISIL are already at war in Syria) and Palestine (which is Sunni already, in the relevant portions), Israel might find itself in a quite unaccustomed alliance with Hizballah  against the common threat …

Note:  Not making this up.  Cf.

[Footnote]  The AP is on the side of the angels here (or perhaps the jinn):

The lead article in last week’s New Yorker had an elegant solution:  keep using "ISIS", but understand the last “S” as short, not for Syria, but al-Shâm. 

In similar fashion, English journalism has adapted itself to Arabic so far as to say al-Nusrah Front (ANF; and not ‘the Support Front’, which its literal translation), al-Qaeda (and not ‘the Base’), etc.

Other well-clued-in sources:

Another widespread but bogus objection to “ISIL” is that the word Levant is “obsolete”.  
There are two quite independent refutations of this tack:

(1) ‘Obsolete’ means that a word, once common, has grown rare.  But in borrowing terms like jihad, al-Qaeda, takfiri, we are using terms that were until then  not merely rare, but nonexistent in English.   If you need a term, you use it, whether or not  it was previously common or even extant.

(2)  Terms of animal husbandry like:  bullock, springer, freemarten, stirk;  gelding, filly; cob, pen (hint: think swans), might not be in your personal vocabulary.  But the test of whether they are ‘obsolete’, is determined by the use of folks involved with the relevant animals, not by laymen.
And among Arabists, the term Levant is by no means obsolete or even obsolescent.   Indeed, the term Levantine, for the dialect broadly shared by Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine (Arabic:  al-lahja al-shaamiyya), has no synonym.  (“Syriac” is something entirely different, not even Arabic.)

In the following objection to rendering al-Sham as 'the Levant', the New York Times was deeply confused:

That is fairly similar in extent to what Western geographers call the Levant, a once-common term that now has something of an antique whiff about it, like “the Orient.” Because of the term’s French colonial associations, many Arab nationalists and Islamist radicals disdain it, and it is unlikely that the militant group would choose “Levant” to render its name.

Well of course, ISIL did not call itself ".... the Levant": that is an English word, and the ISIL's name is Arabic.  The associations of Levant in English, and al-Sham in Arabic, are quite distinct.
Furthermore, Salafi groups (as their name implies) positively relish  old terms that, to the culturally unclued editorialists at the New York Times, might have an 'antique whiff'.  AQ-inspired jihadis refer to the AQSL area of AfPak as 'Khorasan':  a very 'antique' word indeed.  (And not even especially  historically accurate;  its very antiqueness -- its pre-Westernness -- is what gives it its appeal.)


So -- Why does all this matter ?  It is more than a matter of style-book nicety, like whether to allow contact as a verb or what have you.  And it is more than a matter of Iraqi politics:  indeed, to the extent that Iraqi meshugaas can be contained within Iraq, it need not affect the rest of the world that much at all, just as we ignore years and decades of turmoil in many trouble-spots of the world.   It’s not like having underestimated Ghana’s chances for winning the World Cup:  If they do (and I wish them well), that won’t portend much of anything, even for the World Cup four years from now, let alone for Ghana’s economic pre-eminence in Africa or what have you.  Sort of a “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” kind of thing.
The problem is that, unlike the Chechens or the Tibetans or the Uighurs or any state of sub-Saharan Africa, the ISIL has a world-historical agenda:  the restoration of the Caliphate.  And the Caliphate would ideally extend, at the very least, to all lands formerly ruled by Islam, such as Spain -- excuse me, al-Andalus.

To get a glimpse of the venom, witness the following reader’s-comment, one item among thousands, which I stumbled upon just a moment ago while searching for something else:

According to "History of Sistan", the islamic armies killed so many iranians that iranians thought that Ahriman (the devil) had appeared. However, they were puzzled as to why the killing machine of the devil continued throughout the day while Ahriman was believed to disappear under the bright rays of the sun.
According to History of Sistan (edited by late Bahar), islamic Caliphs forced hefty taxes on sistan when they finally conquered the land. Sistanites were unable to pay the heavy taxes so instead they were forces to send 1000 virgin girls and 1000 castrated young boys each year to Mecca and Medina to accommodate sexual appetite of islamic governors and caliphs. That is where the arabic word "hoor" comes from. It was used by pre-islamic arabs to refer to iranian young girls and crept into islamic reward system post-islam.

(That, with no reference to Iraq.)

Now, the problem with all this, for the rest of us, is that such deep-rooted antagonisms  have a way of spilling over -- non-linear effects.  Thus, according unconfirmed reports, Nasrallah has threatened a truly game-changing action, were ISIL  further to attack Shiite shrines.  (And no, the target would not be Israel, or any place the layman is likely to think of.)   But ISIL is a loose cannon.
Re-bottling genies is hard.

For a more generous collection of morphosemantic remarks, check out this:

[Late-breaking update!   For the first time in years, a copy of this collector's-item is available for less than a deuce of fitty-bones !! =  ]

Various views of ISIL:

Frankensteins Dschihadisten
ISIS wirkt wie eine Armee von Zombies: düster, brutal, endlos reproduzierbar. Ist die Terrorgruppe ein Geschöpf des von der Lage profitierenden Assad-Regimes? Kein Geheimdienst dieser Welt kann ISIS erfunden haben. Jedenfalls keiner allein.

[Sponsored content]
Clothiers to gentlemen since 1917

If you’ve read this far, you’re a glutton for punishment.  So to feed your hunger (“Please, sir, may I have another?”), here is this, by a diligent observer, the well-informed Mr Gideon Lichfield:

To some news outlets—including the big news agencies Reuters, the Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse, as well as al-Jazeera—it’s the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” or ISIL. To others—among them the New York Times—it’s the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (or in some cases “Greater Syria”), or ISIS. Quite a few places write “…the Levant,” but then bizarrely abbreviate it to ISIS (we’re looking at you, Financial Times and Guardian).
Nor is the confusion restricted to English-language media. In French the reigning phrase appears to be l’Etat Islamique en Irak et au Levant (EIIL). But in Spain, El Pais has chosen El Estado Islámico en Irak y el Levante (EIIL), while its rival newspaper El Mundo has gone with Estado Islámico de Irak y Siria, and uses the English acronym ISIS. In Germany, Deutsche Welle uses ISIS in both its English and German versions, but writes out “…the Levant” on its English site and “…und Syrien” on its German one; meanwhile, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit and the Frankfurter Allgemeine have gone with ISIS while Die Welt plumps for ISIL. The BBC Russian service, like much of the Russian media, uses the Russian equivalent of ISIL—whereas the BBC in English spells out “Levant” but then uses ISIS.


There has been a certain amount of ignorant criticism by the Obama-haters (e.g. wondering darkly why “President Obama began using the term” ISIL, and concocting all sorts of baroque Benghazi-flavored theories to account for it.
Here is a simpler explanation.   He did not just recently "begin" using the term.  It is what he has been hearing in his PDBs for years;  it is the official acronym of the USG; and moreover, he is an intelligent man who, reviewing the arguments, would be quite capable of reaching the conclusion that he need not ditch the term (which already has been used in hundreds of government reports, long before the likes of CNN had their attention briefly snatched away from celebrity diets to notice what is going on in the Middle East).


Well, it’s getting late.   The pageviews have not exactly been flooding in;  and the red wine by now is mingling   with the red blood in the veins.   So, time for some fun and farewell.   The latest on ISIL activity in Iraq:

Additionally,  Abu-Evil ibn-Fulan al-Fulani (some local loser) has been been "put in charge of the cyanide hole”.

Over and out;  good night.

~     ~     ~

[Update 25 June 2014]  On NPR this evening, they reported that ISIL had circumspectly refrained from pressing on to Baghdad at this time, and instead seized all the border crossings with Syria.   The reporter alertly added, that the action can be seen as a way of showing that the two countries are one, and that the group’s name “ISIS” is thus “more than just a name”.
But as we observed above, the same logic applies to the crossing with Jordan  seized earlier.  ISIL.

Another linguistically and theologically thorny point in the Arabic name for the group  is the first word, Dawlah.  As this matter has not received significant comment in the general press, herewith a note.

Nowadays, the word is always translated as ‘state’, and (in general) accurately so;  thus likewise in French, état, yielding EIIL for ISIL.  In everyday use, the word also means ‘government’ (a translation not included in Hans Wehr).  But Muslims in general, and Salafis like al-Qaeda in particular, are quite history-minded;  so let us go back a bit in history.
By the root, the word just means ‘turn’:  as in, rotation, and as in, taking a turn.  Later, in post-classical use, the term was used to mean ‘dynasty’ -- a sort of ‘turn-taking’ in governance.  The word is not really used in this sense today;  thus, the “Saudi dynasty” is not called a dawlah, but an \l (lit. ‘family, kin’).  At no point prior to modern times, did the word dawlah refer to nation-states, for the simple and sufficient reason that there were none, in the Islamic world.  You might have a caliphate (the Omayyads, the `Abbasids), or an empire, or various fledgling, failing, fleeting entities;  but never a nation-state.

So now it means ‘nation-state’ in normal journalistic use; but that likely is not what ISIL means by it. 
Just why they chose that term dawlah, is somewhat puzzling, actually. ...

(1)  In terms of its current everyday use, as ‘government’, the dawlah will be about as welcome to the average jihadi  as the revenooer to the moonshiner.
(2)  In terms of Islamic history, the term dawlah entered the scene in a political sense, with the fall of the Damascus-centered Umayyad dynasty, and the ascension of the Abbasids, centered in Baghdad:

The `Abbâsid government called itself dawlah, ‘new era’, and a new era it was.  The `Irâqis felt themselves freed from Syrian tutelate.  The Shî`ites felt themselves avenged.
-- Philip Hitti, History of the Arabs (1937, 51951), p. 286

All very well for the historical memories of the Shiites -- but the Zarqawi-takfiri ISIL hates the Shiites with unparalleled venom.   And if your aim is to unite Syria and Iraq under your stewardship, the `Abbasids are the wrong dynasty to evoke: 

The Syrians awoke too late to the realization that the centre of gravity in Islam had left their land and shifted eastward … At last they set their hopes on … a sort of Messiah, to come and deliver them from the yoke of their `Irâqi oppressors.
-- Philip Hitti, History of the Arabs (1937, 51951), p. 286

Indeed, the then-ISI, led by al-Baghdadi, when it initially muscled in on the anti-Assad rebellion in Syria, were seen as carpetbaggers by the al-Nusrah Front  and other more indigenous rebel groups. 

And as for historical memories of the center of mass rolling eastwards, these must have been symbolically re-invoked yesterday, when a top ANF commander whose surname means ‘the Egyptian’ (al-Masri) pledged allegiance to an ISIL commander whose surname means ‘the Chechen’ (al-Shîshâni).


Next is the orthoëpic question:  How do you pronounce these acronyms?
For ISIS, it’s clear:  EYE-siss, like the Egyptian goddess.
But now, as ever happens when a story  moves to the fore, and expert versions come to enter public consciousness, the pop media have to grapple with “ISIL”.   A longish segment on this evening’s “All Things Considered”, showed this matter  very much in flux.
The NPR anchor said: “EYE-siss, or as it is also called, EYE-sill.”
The interviewed expert said, initially:  “ISS-ill” (which sounds very lame), but thereafter had recourse to “EYE - ESS - EYE  - ELL”, which is the way I have been saying it myself.
The anchor then came back with “EYE-siss, or EYE-sill as you call it” -- which, by that point, he actually had not done.  But then, perhaps under her influence, he said (once) “EYE-sill”, before lapsing back into the purely letter-by-letter acronymic pronunciation.

Here we witness language practice, as it emerges from the birth-canal of History ...


The Islamic oecumene, as viewed by ISIL

You will notice that none of these named regions  corresponds to any modern nation-state (though “Iraq” comes close).
Cognates:   Andalus / Andalucia [though here including the whole Iberian Peninsula]
Orobpa / Europe [only the portions once penetrated by the Ottomans]
Qoqaz / Caucusus

Additionally, Kinana comes from the name of an ancient tribe of Egypt;  Habasha refers more narrowly to Ethiopia.

It turns out that ISIL is well aware of a certain well-established practice of Islamic history, which has not been carried out officially anywhere for around a century, but which they have now revived in Mosul:

A Christian father who watched his wife and daughter get brutally raped by members of the militant group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) because he couldn't pay them a poll tax in Mosul, Iraq, killed himself under the weight of the trauma this past weekend.

The poll-tax (jizya, جزية) on non-Muslim ‘People of the Book’,  is perfectly orthodox in Islam, and hallowed by well over a millennium of tradition.  You seldom if ever heard the term mention in the mainstream English-language press in recent years:  only now has it entered the headlines, and not in the most widely-read sources;  one honorable exception is here:

[Update 29 June 2014]  More on the linguistics of the Sunni-Shiite fratricide:

For Akheel Ahmed, a Sunni Arab who fled his home in the central Iraq town of Balad, fear and uncertainty were accompanied by familiarity. He arrived in this mountain village along the Iranian border a few days ago with his three sons, the second time in recent years that he has become a refugee in his own country.
Using hand gestures, he described the battlefield that his hometown had become.
“Here is ISIS,” he said, referring to the Sunni militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, “and here are the Shiite militias. We are in between.”
“I have an Omar, an Othman and an Asha,” he said, all recognizable as Sunni names, making them targets for the Shiite militias now working alongside the Iraqi Army. “They will slaughter them.”

Omar and Othman [or, in narrower transcription, `Umar and `Uthmân;  the first name is accented on the first syllable, the second on the second]  were the names of the second and third caliphs (successors to the Prophet at the head of  the Umma -- the Community of Islam).  That these names should be a red flag to Shiites is somewhat puzzling, given that they are generally considered as the ‘Righly-guided’ caliphs,
الخلفاء الراشدون
moreover, they preceded `Ali (cynosure of the Shiites) and can scarely be blamed for the subsequent mess. -- “Asha” is undoubtedly a typo for Aishah (or more carefully transcribed, `Â’ishah, pronounced `AH-‘ee-shah in classical Arabic; or Ayesha, reflecting the pronunciation in dialect).   The prototype and eponym of all Ayesha’s was ‘Ā’ishah bint Abī Bakr, one of the wives of the Prophet;  and she is a bugbear for Shiites, for obvious reasons, having been one of the principal opponents of `Ali.
(Peace be upon all of them, b.t.w.   Not taking sides here.)

[Update, evening of 29 VI]  OK, now all that “S vs. L” business is moot:  they indeed meant the entire Levant, but now they mean everything.  They have dropped the geographic limitation from their name;  they intend to be a caliphate.  From al-Jazeerah:

أعلن تنظيم الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام الخلافة على المناطق الواقعة تحت سيطرته، وبايع عبد الله الإبراهيم عواد السامرائي الملقب بـأبو بكر البغدادي خليفة للمسلمين.

Nonetheless, they continue to call themselves a “Dawlah” rather than an “Imârah” or a “Khilâfah”:

وأضاف المتحدث باسم التنظيم أن اسم تنظيم الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام سيلغى ليحل بدلا منه الدولة الإسلامية فقط.

[Update 30 June] A pleasant phantasy:  al-Baghdadi meets Omar Khayyam:

[Late-breaking update]  An even pleasanter phantasy -- Late-breaking news from the Eastern Seaboard:
       Dr Justice Declares a Caliphate

[Latest Update, 3 July]  With their declaration of a caliphate, the earlier Syria/Levant opposition is aufgehoben -- its validity preserved on the higher plane, but OBE in its original form.  In the words of one of their spokesmen,

"Como pueden ver, estoy en la frontera de Irak y Sham (así es como llama a Siria). Ésta es la llamada 'frontera de Sykes-Picot', la cual nunca reconocimos y nunca reconoceremos", advierte Safiyya en el comienzo del video, asumiendo el rol de presentador de las máximas geopolíticas del grupo al que pertenece.
"Ésta no es la primera frontera que rompemos, vamos a romper muchas otras también, pero vamos a empezar con esta", señala.

That “the Caliph Ibrahîm” (pron. ib-ra-HEEM) was self-appointed, that the whole thing is a publicity stunt, is evident.  But understand just how dramatic a claim it really is.  It is not like declaring an independent nation or a new political party or anything remotely like that.  A caliph (Arabic khalîfah, pron. kha-LEE-fah), is literally the successor to the Prophet as leader of the whole Muslim world; as such, there can only legitimately be one at any given time.   The position is comparable in some ways to that of Pope -- back before the Church split -- but more powerful, since it has always had political/military implications as well.  And nowadays, in Christendom (to the extent that that concept even exists any longer), nobody occupies such a role: the different Christian denominations have gone their separate ways: partially, as regards doctrine;  and utterly, as regards governance. 
But as “caliph” Ibrahîm emphasizes again and again: ex officio, he requires the allegiance of every Muslim, throughout the world, regardless of sectarian affiliation.  The only person who could demand the same thing of every Christian of every denomination, would be … Christ himself, in the parousia.   It is, thus, an extraordinary claim.

The questions are:
(a)  Why did he do it?
(b)  What does the move portend?

a:  Clearly, some idiopathic psychological currents may be in play.  On these we won’t comment, since we know nothing about the man nor his handlers.  But taking a best-case interpretation -- giving credit to such logic as the move may have:  al-Baghdadi had already picked, so to speak, the low-hanging fruit (and even that hung rather high).  A great many forces are massing against him now, both state players (now strange bedfellows) and in-country actors.  He needed to do something dramatic.  Also, the general sense of stagnation and disorder in the Muslim/Arab world at present, means that, just beneath the surface, there is widespread longing for a real leader to emerge, to bring everyone back into line.

b:  I never really know what anything portends, as history unfolds, especially in a situation as fluid as this.  Nobody predicted the twists and turnings of the “Arabic spring”, beginning not long ago (though it feels like an age) in Tunisia.  Only in special circumstances does one have a prayer of predicting anything, and that only in the short term.  But the short term is exactly what concerns me;  by a certain internal logic, there might be quite dramatic and quite violent developments, not so much within Iraq and Syria, as cross-border:  and that, mayhap, within the week.

Al-Baghdadi (the Ted Cruz of jihad) has crossed the Rubicon.  He has upped the ante to go-for-broke.  Unless he now does something spectacular, he will soon look like a fool -- as AQAP did when it (accidentally, actually) declared ‘emirates’ in the towns of Ja`âr and Zinjibâr in Abyan (Yemen), only to make a mess of things and be unceremoniously booted out.
Further, his ‘logical’, play-by-the-rules military options are at present few.  If he tries to take Baghdad, he will run smack dab into the Mahdi army -- street toughs who will not throw away their guns the way the Iraqi regular army did.  Even a single such setback could break his mojo, roll back the Big Mo.
What to do?  Well, you call a hail-mary.
Now, in football, the worse that can happy in that case is that your far-fetched attempt does not get you that touchdown after all, so you lose the game -- but then, you were about to lose it anyway, and your loss now is in no way materially worse.  But for al-Baghdadi, the odds are much better.   For if he “goes long” militarily, and suffers crushing retaliation -- well, that’s just fine, since now
(i) he dies a martyr (and hops on the Firdaus Express)
(ii) he goes out in a blaze of glory, in a manner befitting a caliph.
The early caliphs, after all, took on the Persian empire, and the Byzantine empire, stuff like that.  They did not settle for controlling, say, half of Baghdad, with their enemies in control of the rest (like Beirut).
And indeed, contrary to what most people were expecting, the ISIL did not immediately press on to Beirut.  What they did do was to seize the border crossing into Jordan.
So far, Jordan has been largely left alone.  It is heavily identified with the West, in a way that Iraq and Syria have never been.  If he invades -- even if he is crushed in the attempt -- it will be spectacular.  Caliphal.
There seems to have been very little media commentary on this possibility (particularly, as an imminent, publicity-driven possibility).  Here is one exception:

22 juin 2014. Après s'être emparés de Rutba, située à une soixantaine de kilomètres de la Jordanie, les combattants de l'Etat islamique en Irak et au Levant (EIIL, Isis, Dae'ch) se seraient rendus maîtres du poste de frontière de Tarbil, point de passage entre l'Irak et la Jordanie. Des renforts militaires jordaniens ont été déployés sur les 180 km de frontière, qui sépare les deux pays.

30 juin 2014. L'EIIL a proclamé son «califat», concept qui suppose la fin des frontières nées de la guerre de 14-18 et qui remet aussi bien en cause les limites de l'Irak, de la Syrie mais aussi celles de la Jordanie, du Liban et de la Palestine (mandataire). 

La Jordanie visée 
Même si la frontière semble calme, la menace sur Amman est claire.
«Seuls ceux qui ne sont pas au courant ou qui sont dans le déni penseraient que l'EIIL n'a pas de partisans en Jordanie. Comment expliquent-ils la présence de 2000 djihadistes jordaniens en Syrie et en Irak?», questionne Oraib Rantawi, directeur du Centre al-Quds pour les études politiques.

Thus, IS(IL) already has a fifth column within Jordan.

The other, even more spectacular move, would be to attack Israel in a significant way.  No-one has dared do this in decades.
Hamas periodically shoots off one of its pitiful homemade rockets -- “I shot an arrow into the air;  it fell to earth, I know not where” -- landing sometimes in an open field, sometimes back on Gaza itself, sometimes managing to kill an Israeli dog or cat, at which point Israel retaliates by killing a couple dozen Palestinians. 
Hizbollah has better missiles, but has a keen survival instinct, and a real commitment to its Lebanese home-territory.  Its sparring with Israel, accordingly, is mostly defensive, measure, tit-for-tat.
Al-Baghdadi knows no such constraints.  Already ISIL has boasted of its war-crimes on videos.
Whether the “caliphate” possesses armaments capable of a real strike, is uncertain.  Here is a skeptical view:

And here as well:

But all they really have to do is to out-Hamas Hamas, and go all-out against Israel.  After all, unlike Hamas, they are not cooped up in Gaza, they can scatter all over the world.  Indeed, many of their fighters are Europeans, who could make their way back to their home countries.  What could Israel do then -- bomb London?  And they would have shown up AQSL as relatively moderate do-nothings over the past decade.

Anyhow, um -- Have a safe Fourth of July weekend, everyone.  Be safe with fireworks; don’t drink and drive;  and watch that barbecue.  Meanwhile …

[Update]  A very good historical survey, by Renaud Girard:

[Update 5 July 2014]  Here is a video of Caliph Ibrahim, given the Friday sermon (the principal one of the Muslim week) in the grand mosque in Mosul.  He speaks at length without notes, in perfect classical Arabic, lilting and inflected with the notes of Koranic tajwîd, in a voice both resonant and confident:

As an audio production, it is very impressive.

Consider too the group's long video Salîl al-Sawârim ‘The Clash of Swords”.  In the following episode, they document the raid on Hadîthah (al-Anbar province, Iraq).  Their fondness for the Râshidûn caliphs  is reflected in the names of the individual brigades, each named for one of the four.
[Note: Aiman al-Zawahiri, in a public address from Jan 2014, called for "al-xilaafah al-raašidah”, using the same root.]

صليل الصوارم

The pace and production are compelling.   But -- Trigger warning!  This is literally a snuff film.  These guys do not take prisoners.   And they are quite happy to film themselves capturing Iraqis in a barracks, cuffing them, and then summarily executing them, with silenced weapons.

[Note] There are, as you might expect, various tendentiously misleading videos out there, e.g.
This attempts to portray AAZ has having acknowledged “ISIS” and “al-Baghdadi” as leaders of the Muslim faith community.  But although posted just recently, the video dates from years ago, before ISIS even existed; the reference is to the ISI, in context quite different.  And the “al-Baghdadi” is not Abu-Bakr of that monicker (now “Caliph Ibrahim”), but his late predecessor, Abu-Umar.  Thus, disinformation.
(Similarly, both Hitler and Mussolini, in their early careers, portrayed themselves as Socialists.  An assessment of these figures at that time, by no means carries over to their later careers.)

[Update 4 August 2014]    Alright OK, so now they've seized a town in Lebanon.
Lebanon is Levant; "Sham" is not just Syria.
As indicated.

[Update 10 Aug 2014]  For the latest developments, click here:

[March 2017]  For the very latest developments, here: