According to news reports it is very likely that the United States military killed ISIS Military Commander Omar al-Shishani yesterday. From CNN:
The strike took place on Friday near the Syrian town of al-Shaddadi. A Defense Department official said Shishani was “likely killed.”
The man CNN is referring to is in fact named Tarkhan Batirashvili. He has been the northern-commander in ISIS’ military since being promoted into that role by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014.
Batirashvili is also famous for being a Georgian convert to radical Islam. Because of this I wrote about him extensively in Fistfights With Muslims In Europe: One Man’s Journey Through Modernity, excerpted below:
Scores of ISIS fighters are thought to be non-Muslim Western converts. One of the most well-known is Tarkhan Batirashvili- also known as Omar al-Shishani. Batirashvili – a convert from Birkiani, Georgia- had been a sergeant in the Georgian Army. He had distinguished himself during his military service and fought in a special reconnaissance group. After contracting tuberculosis, however, he received a medical discharge and returned home.
Unable to find work he considered satisfying, Batirashvili converted to Islam and left for Turkey, from whence he crossed into Syria to wage jihad. In the fall of 2014 he would become the scourge of the Syrian military, and pictures of the red-bearded, blue-eyed Batirashvili- now an ISIS military commander- began appearing in news outlets across the world.
Every time such pictures appear, and the West is confronted with young Caucasian men holding Kalashnikovs and wearing Middle-Eastern dress, a sense of collective hysteria and consternation ensues. Little tangible comes from it however, because the majority of Westerners viewing such pictures are unable to draw any concrete conclusions from them. The reasons are there for anyone wishing to look for them however. For these men’s conversions, and their decisions to wage jihad, allow them to meet the unmet needs for which the West is so wholly failing to provide them: brotherhood; valor; aggression; danger; sacrality; and meaning- everything that men throughout history, from the days of The Iliad onward, have sought in life.
Within these gangs of Muslim holy-warriors they are able to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They are able to not only use their strength- but use it to advance a cause and a group which in turn vitally needs their strength. They are able to use their courage- not in a masturbatory sense but in a real and vital one- where their lives and the lives of those around them are on the line.
It is perilous for us to overlook the attractiveness this represents to men. As Glaucus says to Sarpedon in The Iliad:
Glaucus, you know how you and I
Have the best of everything in Lycia-…
Well, now we have to take our stand at the front,
Where all the best fight, and face the heat of battle,
So that many an armored Lycian will say,
’So they’re not inglorious after all
Our Lycian lords who eat fat sheep.
Men today, thousands of years later, have this same innate desire to prove their courage and worth. Like Sarpedon and Glaucus, they are possessed of all the comforts of life, yet this only strengthens their resolve to test themselves and demonstrate their valor. Sarpedon and Glaucus were nobles, but do not such desires exist doubly within the hearts of young Western men, who are even further from renown and glory?
In the deserts of the Middle-East, and the training camps high in the Afghan mountains, such men not only meet their martial dreams, but find an honor group that fulfills their masculinity and its corollaries. They find a tribe, and even though they may die in the process, they feel they are creating a distinctive future, in which their legacy as men will live onward, and so imbue their short time on earth with meaning.
I certainly rejoice at Batirashvili’s death, as I view ISIS- beyond being a horrific scourge in their own right- as a reserve army for the Islamists in Europe. There are also the obvious moral reasons to rejoice in his death, as he was responsible for the military arm of a group that has committed more atrocities, and more brutal and evil ones, than any in recent human memory.
But at the same time, I still respect his journey. Not the particulars that it was ISIS he joined, and certainly hot the horrid actions they are guilty of. But the journey from lone western man, floating in the sea of meaningless existence, buffeted only by the cheap pleasures of modernity; to man of action, willing to give one’s life for a brotherhood, and a cause larger than oneself.
It is something we can all learn from, for lest we forget, our ancestors were far more like the Tarkhan Batirashvili’s of the world, than the David Cameron’s.