In their January 2016 Foreign Affairs article, “Saddam’s ISIS?” Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill argued that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s Baathist policy was not responsible for the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In the article, Helfont and Brill characterized a view that I had espoused, in a short telephone interview with Politico, as “dangerous.” They wrote:
Amatzia Baram, who wrote a book about Saddam and his relationship with Islam from 1968 to 2003, has since stated that Baghdadi “is Saddam’s creation.” These depictions are inaccurate and dangerously misleading, as documents in the Iraqi archives and at Hoover Institution’s Baath Party records make clear. Our rigorous study of those records has found no evidence that Saddam or his Baathist regime in Iraq displayed any sympathy for Islamism, Salafism, or Wahhabism.
The authors are referring to the findings in my new book, Saddam Husayn and Islam, in which Baghdadi and ISIS are not mentioned. But my book makes clear that Saddam’s Islamization and sectarian policies, although important, are only one part of the broader developments that created ISIS. Based on the facts of Saddam’s Islamic “Faith Campaign,” which lasted from 1993-2003, I believe that he was an “Islamist.” By this, I mean he injected a heavy dose of religion, in part radical religion, into politics, education, culture, and the Iraqi legal system. In that, the Faith Campaign was in essence an Islamization campaign, and it contributed to ISIS’ radical Islamism.
In coming to the conclusion that Saddam was something less than an Islamist, Helfont and Brill imply that they have carefully read all 11 million Arabic-language pages of the Baath archive at the Hoover Institution. An effort of this sort would have required that both scholars spend all their working days reading documents, from when the archive opened in April 2010 to some time in December 2015 just before they published their piece in Foreign Affairs. This would have required a “rigorous study” of no
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