ISIS often airs its threats to conquer Rome and convert St. Peter’s, above, into a mosque. These aspirations go all the way back to the early years of Islam, when Constantinople — capital of the Eastern Roman empire and bulwark of Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean and West Asia — was an early target of Arab ambitions.
In October 2014 an arresting image appeared on the cover ofDabiq, the slickly produced, English-language magazine of ISIS (the “Islamic State in Syria,” also known also as the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” among other names). The magazine features — as Robert Evans has detailed in an articleof the “I read it so you don’t have to” variety — interviews with jihadis and photos of their brutally slain victims, together with other material calculated to entice the devout to join the cause of world domination.
The Photoshop job in question shows the ISIS flag flying in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, hoisted atop the Egyptian obelisk that marks the center of the piazza. The accompanying headline ‘The Failed Crusade’ imagines a reversal of the West’s medieval crusades, launched against the Muslim world from the Holy See. It also reverses the West’s more recent dispensations in the Middle East, from the divisions of the former Ottoman provinces after World War I to the results of the 2003 Iraq War.