Growing-up under Totalitarianism with a Gun in your hand

Totalitarianism seems to have some kind of sick and twisted fascination with the youth. To totalitarian governments, the affection of the young is pure and untarnished, which adds a layer of sheen when it comes to perfecting propaganda. Youngsters, who are oftentimes susceptible to outside influence, could be easily mold into defenders of a regimented system of governance. More importantly, the young generation is a vehicle that carries on, and actively enforces the state’s poisonous ideology imbued with sadism, hatred and cruelty, usually doing so with a lethal weapon in hand. The following is a collection of photographs showcasing the grotesque combination of cold hard steel and ruddy young faces.

Preparing for a possible gas attack. Stalin's Soviet Union, 1937.

Training for a coming chemical attack. Stalin’s Soviet Union, 1937.

Hitler youth training for war, 1943.

Hitler youth preparing for war, 1943.

Little Red Soldiers. Cultural Revolution, China.

Little Red Soldiers. Cultural Revolution, China.

Young Khmer Rouge fighters with captured American firearms.

Young Khmer Rouge fighters with captured American firearms.

Jihadi baby from ISIS territory.

Jihadi baby surrounded by guns and grenades. ISIS territory.

Nine year-old with rifle in ISIS controlled Iraq.

Nine year-old with rifle in ISIS controlled Iraq.

Young girls are no exception. Everybody must learn how to kill.

Young girls are no exception. Everybody must learn how to kill.

I do not know what this little fella is talking about. But what I do know with crystalline clarity is that the future of children growing-up under ISIS is heading towards a very dark direction. There is nothing more sinister than a young boy holding up a gun while delivering an impassionate hate speech in a former place of worship. Almost like a scene out of Children of the Corn or Omen, except this time it is real.


Is the ISIS Blitzkrieg Already Losing Steam?

ISIS propaganda mural pointing out its adversaries. Note the curious absence of the American flag. From: @ajaltamimi

ISIS propaganda mural pointing out its adversaries. Note the curious absence of the American flag.
From: @ajaltamimi

The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, popularly known by its acronym ISIS in the English speaking world has been on a roll since its surprise attack on Mosul, northern Iraq’s most important metropolis. The Iraqi armed forces, initially caught off guard by ISIS’ speedy offensive, are now fighting back against the black-cladded militants in defense of their homeland. Though recently released ISIS propaganda videos are dominated by shots of advancing ISIS militants shouting cries of victory in jubilation, the situation on the ground speaks otherwise. As ISIS shock troops sped towards central Iraq atop of their all too familiar Toyota Hiluxes, they met stiff resistance and were halted as early as June 12 during clashes near Samarra, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s hometown.[1] In the subsequent days, ISIS was again beaten back in several locations by Iraqi forces. Such signs, yet to be picked up by the global media, perhaps adumbrate the weakening of the ISIS blitzkrieg and an imminent new stage in the ongoing conflict. The ISIS leadership, despite being shrewd and calculating, had committed two grave errors in its latest offensive that are possibly going to prevent their men from seizing any place of strategic importance beyond the Samarra frontline.

First and foremost, ISIS failed to open a western front in Anbar province. Whether it is due to the lack of manpower or strategic considerations, the absence of a concentrated eastwards thrust towards the priced capital of Iraq implies that ISIS is quickly losing the chance to pull off a military envelopment upon Baghdad. This means the forces of the central government, reinforced by newly formed Shia militias, would have the opportunity to confront ISIS’ frontal jab head on in a more predictable sector of Baghdad, and would likely achieve a victory in the forthcoming fight.

Map of Baghdad by sectarian composition. From:

Map of Baghdad by sectarian composition.

Second, ISIS tirades against Shia Islam are only serving to incentivize Iraqi Shias to rush towards the firing line with the imprimatur of their religious leaders. In his latest harangue, the official spokesperson of ISIS, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani urged “ISIS members to push on through Baghdad and into Karbala and Najaf”, cities of utmost religious significance to Shia Muslims.[2] Such statement of extreme hubris is especially alarming given the documented evidence of barbaric treatment of Shia Muslims by ISIS militants. While the goal to conquer Baghdad may be considered political and directed towards the secular regime headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the ambition to sack Najaf and Karbala threatens the very authority of a much greater power axis, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. For more than two decades Ali Sistani has been the most venerated spiritual leader of Shia Islam. The bearer of the title al-marja al-akbar or the “greatest object of emulation”, the Grand Ayatollah is commonly recognized as a paragon of virtue who wields enormous clout over the actions of Shias worldwide.[3] The impetuous statements made by ISIS may be interpreted as an outright threat against the Najaf power center. Not surprisingly the corollary of such recklessness was Sistani’s June 13 promulgation of a fatwa calling for Jihad, an order faithfully heeded by tens and thousands of zealots from Iraq and beyond, thus unleashing the Shia leviathan that ISIS simply cannot subdue singlehandedly.[4]

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most powerful figure in Iraq. Copyright:

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most powerful figure in Iraq.

So what is the likely trajectory of the Iraqi internecine strife in the coming weeks? The differences between Maliki and Sistani were publicized today,[5] but an intra-Iraqi Shia conflict is unlikely to develop since ISIS poses a much greater danger that must be defeated. If the government troops could hold the line at Samarra and hopefully eject ISIS fighters out of Baiji, it will likely compell the Islamic state to focus on consolidating its grip over Sunni-dominated northern Iraq instead of bullheadedly pushing towards Baghdad. In spite of the fact that ISIS still carries heavy momentum at the moment, the lack of a western front and a prematurely declared war against arguably the most powerful man in Iraq, Ali Sistani may well be the double jeopardy needed to stymie ISIS’s strategic objective of unseating the Baghdad government, and furthermore forcing the group into assuming a defensive posture.


(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)


[1] Bill Roggio, “ISIS’ Advance Halted at Samarra,” The Long War Journal, accessed June 19, 2014,

[2] “ISIS Urges ‘March to Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf,’” ITV News, accessed June 19, 2014,

[3] Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, “Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani Succession In Iraq Not Just About Piety,” Huffington Post, accessed June 20, 2014,

[4] Ben Mathis-Lilley, “Spiritual Leader of Iraq’s Religious Majority Calls for Citizens to Take Up Arms Against Rebels,” Slate, June 13, 2014,

[5] “Iraq’s Top Cleric Increases Pressure on Al-Maliki – US News,” US News & World Report, accessed June 20, 2014,

Growing Strong in No Man’s Land: Why the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon

ISIS convoy.  From:

ISIS convoy.

Taking over a city of 1.8 million inhabitants in just a few days is not an easy task. But the world received a shocking surprise yesterday morning when the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) overran key sectors of Iraq’s second largest metropolis, Mosul. A strategic chokepoint rich in petroleum resources, the lost of Mosul raises serious queries regarding the Iraqi military’s defense capabilities and general morale. Moreover, the event places ISIS once again under the international limelight as a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

A group known for its predilection for brutality and narrow sectarian outlook, ISIS, a self-proclaimed Islamic state was officially declared in early 2013. A successor of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), ISIS filled in the power vacuum in northern Syria after the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. Previously an organization primarily operating in Iraq, ISIS had since established itself around the Syrian city of Raqqa as a full-fledged totalitarian theocracy. Like all other totalitarian governments, ISIS is structured around the idea of “oneness”, meaning one leader, one ideology, under one banner. Though such polity might generate little traction during a time of peace, it works relatively well in a warring environment. Its fighters’ blind adherence to terror extraordinaire Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist Islam and the black banner of Jihad gave them strength in unity, an important factor absent in ISIS’ main opponents, specifically the Iraqi government and competing Syrian opposition groups.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS' ultimate impresario.  Copyright:

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The ultimate impresario of ISIS terror. 

Regardless of its ruthless statecraft predicated upon a noxious ideology and its penchant for grisly medieval punishments, ISIS is unlikely to be subdued anytime soon because of two main factors, it’s geographic advantage, and the lack of coordination and cooperation among its regional adversaries.

Formerly confined to Iraq, ISIS broke out of its constrictions in 2012 and established bases across the border in Syria. Its position in the no man’s land tucked between the non-ISIS Syrian rebels, Assad forces, Maliki forces, the Kurdish Regional Government and Turkey proved to be strategically invaluable, given the fact that none of these entities mentioned above have the wherewithal to singlehandedly subjugate ISIS, or would earnestly consider combining their forces for an all-out offensive against the Islamic state.

The non-ISIS Syrian rebels, already drained of their resources, focus more on fending off Assad’s onslaught than organizing attacks against ISIS. Unwilling to fight against a much stronger opponent imbibed with religious fanaticism, the Assad government is otherwise interested in sustaining ISIS and making it into the bogey needed to intimidate rest of Syria’s population into submitting to Damascus. Faced with never ending internal squabble, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki rules a fractured country torn by sectarian hatred which extends deep into the Iraqi military. His troubled relation with the Kurdish Regional Government jeopardizes any genuine chance of mobilizing the Kurdish Peshmerga into confronting ISIS. Holed up in their mountainous homeland, the Iraqi Kurds sees no benefit in jumping into what they view as an Arab slugfest. Lastly, Turkey, once a tacit supporter of ISIS had since cut its ties with a group so extreme that it was expelled from Al-Qaeda. Turkey had targeted ISIS in the past, but refrains from taking a firm stance against ISIS because at the moment, the pugnacious Jihadists serve as a check on the Syrian Kurds by launching periodic attacks against their bases in northeastern Syria.

ISIS Actual Sanctuary June 2014. Copyright: Institute for the Study of War Iraq Updates

ISIS Actual Sanctuary June 2014.
Copyright: Institute for the Study of War Iraq Updates

A dark pall is now descending over the refulgent star of Mesopotamia. Reports so far have indicated that close to half-a-million residents of Mosul had fled across the Tigris. In existence now is the quandary of ISIS gaining more influence and territory without much concerted reaction from surrounding regional powers. If such state of affairs persist, the tightly structured and highly disciplined Jihadist state will soon be able to crush its divided adversaries one after another with ease. First the Baghdad government, then certain Syrian rebel factions, and then whichever the ISIS leadership decides to conquer next. This is far from a false alarm, but a real possibility in the foreseeable future.

(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)