With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein, “How do you solve a problem like ISIS?”
That is not an easy question to answer. A popular suggestion is akin to the militant cry often expressed in identical or similar terms, “Bomb ‘em back to the Stone Age!” The difficulty with that position vis a vis ISIS is that there is a salient argument that the organization has never really left the Stone Age.
But strategic and tactical and practical solutions cannot exist without an understanding of what…precisely…ISIS is. (And please do not invoke the common pro athlete’s cop out, “It ISIS what it is”)
I’m not really sure I trust the government…ours or any other nation’s…to determine and act on this forthrightly. To do so would be to delve into self-interest, self-righteousness, and self-delusion.
On the other hand we have many honest, hard-working journalists with apparently vast amounts of time on their hands. If they did not we would not have witnessed a plethora and effusion of stories about Brian Williams’s war lies, and now Bill O’Reilly’s emulation of Williams which, curiously, took place much more than a decade prior to the foggy mind of war Williams experienced in Iraq.
Just today I have read a friend’s praise for a well-researched essay in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood which, beneath the story’s title, What ISIS Really Wants, summarizes Wood’s findings as “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.”
That immediately called to mind a headline I had read on Salon titled “The Atlantic’s Big Muslim Lie: What Muslims Really Believe About ISIS”. Obviously a negative critique of Wood’s work, it was written by American Muslim scholar and frequent contributor to many media outlets, Haroon Moghul. (For more background on him visit this: http://www.loonwatch.com/2012/12/exclusive-loonwatch-interview-with-haroon-moghul/)
Moghul attacks Wood for his over-reliance on learning what ISIS is from ISIS members and supporters themselves.
Imagine a group of people who rape. Enslave. Maim. Murder. Ethnically cleanse. Extort. Burn. Behead. But then imagine this—they don’t lie? Can’t lie. Won’t lie. That’s what Graeme Wood…really wants us to believe.
That a movement that has earned the world’s nearly universal opprobrium for its grotesque violence and wickedness is nevertheless honest in describing why it does what it does. I beg to differ. The only Muslims who think ISIS represents Islam, or even Muslims, are ISIS themselves.
But is Moghul’s piece in any way definitive?
Well, the common response to perceived Islamaphobia is to deny that it is a hateful violent religion but is at heart a peaceful one, and that the Jihadists are outliers.
Then along comes President Barack Obama, at the National Prayer Breakfast, making note of the overall peacefulness of Islam, with very notable exceptions. In that manner Obama likened it to Christianity while highlighting that faith’s iown violent past both distant—the Crusades and the Inquisition—and more recently in America supporting slavery, Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. All that in stressing that his approach to ISIS, among other issues, is that we are fighting extremists and their religious background is of relative unimportance.
“But not so fast there, Mr. President”, Jeffrey Tayler seems to be saying in his criticism of Obama’s speech, very different from the other criticism Obama generated.
The chief impetus for all this bloodshed and mayhem is, obviously, religion – the commonality Obama conveniently skirted. Had religion not existed, had it waned by our time, all this violence would just not have happened. If some of these people would have found other reasons to fight, the religious aspect of the conflicts renders them intractable, even insoluble.
and adds later regarding Christianity
Straightaway, remember that both the Old Testament and the New sanction and even sanctify slavery, as well as proffer helpful advice to slave masters. The Catholic Church embarked on the Holy Inquisition not to do inexplicable violence “in the name of Christ,” but to rid its “flock” of unclean “sheep” – most notably “secret Muslims” and Jews, heretics and witches.
And, of course, for the “lighter side” of attacks on Islam as a religion per se, we always have Bill Maher.
Are any of these opinions 100% correct? Is there any sense attempting to make religious sense of ISIS?
Maybe yes, maybe no.
This piece appeared in Slate recently
Here Joshua Keating posits that the funding mechanisms for ISIS have been interrupted severely enough that it may possibly collapse or implode of its own accord before the United States or any other power can dispose of it through force.
I posted that story on Facebook together with my own brief commentary.
ISIS is not another terrorist group a la Al Qaeda. It is not really a terrorist group at all but instead a form of rebel army with territorial aspirations seeking to establish its status as a true Caliphate. It mirrors the regular tactics of war while occasionally committing horrific acts of intimidation akin to the terrorism we know and hate. You know, like the KKK and Timothy McVeigh.
But that also makes it more vulnerable to traditional military opposition than have been Al Qaeda and other known terrorist organizations. If indeed its funding mechanisms have been interrupted, perhaps irreparably so, then the utterly misguided idealists flocking to join the “cause” from many corners of the Earth are going to be rapidly disillusioned when they learn they have left the comforts of home for near starvation and only a hole in the desert, not a pot, to piss in.
I’ll reconsider my remarks to this extent. I am not in total agreement with any of the assessments above regarding Islam as irredeemably violent or simply a peaceful ideology perverted beyond reason.
Rather I would offer this.
There are evil people in this world, some of whom only demonstrate those tendencies in a small way…one-on-one murders, spousal abuse, and certain professional sports come instantly to mind. Each of them has a distorted rationale as justification for their actions.
But those with more grandiose ambitions of achieving glory through mass annihilation or war often are not creative enough to develop these more mundane rationales and so revert to the teachings that were inherent in their upbringing or were fervently adopted at more mature stages of their lives, and those teachings are religious in nature.
Yet, in the end, evil is evil and ultimately is due to greed. Whether that greed manifests as financial, territorial, sexual, or religious is irrelevant as to determining motivation. It is relevant as to determining counter-measures.
In applying these counter-measures we must caution ourselves not to become who we deem evil. That has frequently not been too easy for us to accomplish.