An unusual video released last week purports to show ISIS jihadis going through some rigorous, if perhaps unconventional, boot-camp training. For example, among the activities highlighted in the group's endurance regime are shorter jihadis leapfrogging over taller jihadis, an activity more likely to evoke summer camp than boot camp. Certainly the most striking spectacle in the video is footage of some trainer-looking jihadi facing recruits who are lined up platoon-style, and kicking them rather forcefully in the groin.
This is not the first look at ISIS' often original preparations for battle. Britain's Independent, in its brief report on the footage, noted in an almost rueful tone that, "Absent from the video are the burning hoops ISIS fighters have leapt through in previous videos." Who would have expected that laying the groundwork for Apocalypse itself would so resemble a circus rehearsal?
What is the explanation for such hoop-jumping, leapfrogging, and groin-kicking on ISIS' part? Analysis suggests several possibilities:
- Eunuchizing the Caliphate. ISIS claims that its dearest wish is to reestablish the Caliphate. Of course, the last time there was a Caliphate, the Caliph was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans are famous, or notorious, for many things, but if ISIS wants to embody any of that empire's notable institutions itself as part of its Caliphate restoration project, it really has only three practical choices: It could transform itself into a sultan's harem, into the Janissary corps, or into eunuchs. It's apparent from the video of the "trainer" smashing his leg into the recruits' groins which of these institutions it has chosen to embody personally.
- ISIS Has a Plan B. If the Caliphate thing doesn't pan out, ISIS has a back-up plan: ISIS' Flying Circus. While there may not be any burning hoops to jump through in this video, the latest training release does feature jihadis leaping acrobat-style over piles of other jihadis. Perhaps the next video will feature multiple jihadis bouncing amusingly on a trampoline, or even soaring on a trapeze; it would be consistent with what we've seen from them so far. These sorts of acts may have declined over the years in the U.S., but you can still get enough bookings on cheesy European TV variety shows to get by.
- Captagon Side-Effects. A recent series of hysterically excited news reports from Syria has focused on the use by fighters of Captagon, a pill, if one believes these pulsating stories, with perfectly amazing powers. The Washington Post, for example, has written that this "powerful amphetamine tablet… quickly produces a euphoric intensity in users, allowing Syria's fighters to stay up for days, killing with a numb, reckless abandon." (But see Jacob Sullum's wet-blanket take.) Among the quotes gathered from users: "[W]hatever you take to stop it, nothing can stop it." "I felt like I own the world high"; "[I feel] like I have power nobody has." "There was no fear anymore after I took Captagon." Surely if a Capagon pill can turn you into a sleepless, slaughtering killing machine, it can make you kick your comrades in their crotches with wild abandon, or even make you willing to receive such assaults because you think (and this would be a further Captagon side-effect) that they will help restore the Caliphate.
- A Zionist Plot. The idea that kicks to the groin and games of leapfrog constitute effective military training is the result of a satanically clever plot. Infiltrators, inevitably under the control of Israeli intelligence, have persuaded a gullible ISIS leadership that what their fighters really lacked were enough powerful kicks to their testicles; these agents then succeeded in institutionalizing such activity in ISIS' training manual. The result is that while ISIS camps may be ringing with pained moans, Jerusalem is now echoing with mocking laughter. Note that this is quite different from the notion, widely believed in the Middle East, that ISIS itself is a Zionist enterprise. Furthermore, it's likely that if the Israelis have pulled off such a scheme, the U.S. is certainly aware of it. Perhaps President Barack Obama intended to refer to this plan recently when he engaged in ill-timed swaggering about the anti-ISIS strategy. We have ISIS "contained" he told George Stephanopoulos just prior to the Paris massacres, when what he meant to say is that we have ISIS "in pain." The president, against all advice, wasn't using his TelePrompTer.
- Mere Military Tradition. According to this view, there's nothing unusual or bizarre about this training video. It simply reflects a long-standing tradition of utter contempt by military leaders for their rank-and-file recruits, especially in the East. The Ottoman Empire's Janissaries, for example, supposedly subjected new arrivals to pederast hazing. Robert Graves, in his 1929 memoir, Goodbye to All That, reports witnessing officers of the Sultanate Egyptian army spitting into the mouths of the low-ranking soldiers. Veterans of the region's current armies commonly refer to their experience as being treated for years like "shoe soles." By such standards, ISIS' training video reflects a humane approach to soldierly fitness.
- This Video Was Posted to be Ridiculed. By whom? Perhaps by the same kind of people who posted this curious video snippet (graphic content warning). It features a jihadi figure beginning to boast on camera about the ease with which some position has just been taken. "Praise God!" he says. "Things went much easier than expected, in spite of the fact that this place was very important." We never learn where "this place" is, or why it is "very important," because the boasting spokesman is hit, mid-boast, by a bomb. The camera falls to the ground, and you don't see much else, but the snippet continues long enough to hear a woman screaming as well as some abject moaning by seriously injured persons. Maybe the camera was picked up by the enemy when they came back through "this place," and the macabre boast ending in sudden death was seen as ripe for macabre ridicule. Maybe ISIS' leapfrogging, crotch-kicking extravaganza ended up somehow in the same kind of hands, and they have put it to the same use.