SILVER SPRING, Maryland — According to renowned counterterrorism expert Sebastian Gorka, the Islamic State is not shy about its intentions of trying to usher in the end of the world with a series of battles in one "final jihad." In fact, the jihadis' apocalyptic aim can be seen just by analyzing the terrorist group's real name.
Gorka, the author of the New York Times bestselling book Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War and chair of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University, spoke Saturday at the first annual The Bridge conference for the persecuted church hosted by International Christian Concern and addressed the threat that the IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL) poses not just to Iraq and Syria, but also the world.
Gorka, who is also adjunct professor at Joint Special Operations University and adjunct national security professor at Georgetown University, said that while most people call the group the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" and the U.S. government refers to the group as "Islamic State of Iraq and Levant," both names are technically wrong by intelligence standards.
"When you do intelligence preparation on the battlefield when you get ready to go to war, what do you call the enemy? What they call themselves," Gorka asserted.
"So, what do these guys call themselves?" Gorka continued. "Before they declared the caliphate, their actual name — and this is where the Arabic acronym DAESH comes from — was the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham."
Gorka said that it is the "al-Sham" part of the name that has the most significance.
"Please bear with me because that last word, al-Sham, is very important. Most people, even in the intelligence community don't understand it," he explained.
He said that the al-Sham connotes a geographic area of the world where "land rises from the sea." But in particular, it connotes greater Syria and the Levant. However, Gorka stressed al-Sham has a much "deeper" theological meaning within the eschatology of Islam.
"Like every religion, Islam has an eschatology. It has a story of the End Times. Just as in Christian eschatology, the talks of a final period of tribulation or judgment day and a series of battles between the believers and non-believers, Islam has the same," Gorka detailed. "Everybody will be resurrected and judged by Allah at the End Times. But prior to that judgment, there will be a series of battles in al-Sham. The pivotal jihad, the last jihad will occur in this territory."
When people understand the eschatology that is central in IS' name, it is easy to understand how the militant group has been so successful in recruiting foreign nationals to come and fight in Iraq and Syria and other sympathizers around the world to carry out terrorist attacks in their own lands, Gorka added.
"It is crucial to understand how powerful that message is because when ISIS gets up on the internet or Twitter, Facebook and Telegram and say 'We are the Islamic State of al-Sham,' what message are they sending to that Pakistani immigrant in San Bernardino, to that man with Afghan descent in Orlando or those people in Istanbul and Brussels?" Gorka asked.
"They are sending a simple message: 'Have you ever wanted to be a jihadi? Have you toyed with the idea of salvation? Guess what? Look where we are — on the site of the final jihad. If you don't come now, you are going to miss guaranteed salvation.'"
Gorka asserted that over 86,000 terrorists have joined jihad groups in Iraq and Syria in the last five years, with as many as 36,000 of them coming from outside of Iraq and Syria and as many as 6,000 Westerners.
"This is stunning," he said. "So, whether it is the guy in Orlando who is swearing allegiance to ISIS or the people who are traveling to the region, this group is very effectively leveraging eschatological and religious themes, which if you listen to the president [Barack Obama], you would have to deny the existence of."