Every few days, we seem to wake up to another massacre committed by ISIS. And these are, of course, only the ones that the media reports. ISIS, in reality, is committing massacres on a daily basis. We have become familiar with their crimes in Syria and Iraq since last summer. But now their latest playfield, we are learning, is Libya. And their latest scapegoats are the Copts of Egypt.
In a recent, 21-page long analysis in The Atlantic, entitled ‘What ISIS Really Wants,’Graeme Wood argues that the ISIS interpretation and application of Islam is one of many ‘legitimate’ manifestations of Islam. He nowhere argues that this is the only, or even the main, interpretation of the religion. Therefore, though it is important also to read and be aware of Wood’s critiques, it seems to me that many have been too quick in accusing him of contributing to the stereotyping of Islam. For instance, the article of Jack Jenkins, on the website thinkprogress.org, ‘What the Atlantic Gets Dangerously Wrong about ISIS and Islam,’ dismisses him far too quickly. In my opinion, his dismissal is based on arguments that he readsinto Wood’s analysis, rather than on actual affirmations Wood makes. We all need to form our opinions based on our own analysis of the arguments offered, but here are 5 takeaways that I propose, taken from the most recent events and their analyses
A Christian Response to Shifting Alliances in the Middle East
So as political alliances shift, form and reform, our ultimate allegiance must be to the messiah of peace and his peaceable Kingdom. To stand firm upon the rock of our crucified king amidst the shifting tides of regional politics – to hear his words and put them into practice in our lives and communities – is to eschew the mobilizing rhetoric of whichever country, faction, axis or alliance with which we might otherwise most naturally resonate. To believe at this point that Saudi Arabia is an ally in a new war on terror is…
There are typically two responses to ISIS. ‘ISIS has nothing to do with Islam’ or ‘ISIS are the real Muslims’. It’s easy to understand why so many Muslims—especially in western contexts—dissociate themselves from ISIS. They are thoroughly embarrassed to think that non-Muslims around them might assume that because they are Muslims, they must have some sympathy with ISIS and all that it is doing. They therefore argue that many of the practices of ISIS are completely un-Islamic, even anti-Islamic and cannot be justified by the legal traditions that have been developed over many centuries.
At the other extreme there are many Christians—and, dare I say, especially evangelical Christians—who believe that ISIS is much nearer to the spirit and practice of early Islam than moderate Muslims of today. They point to particular verses in the Qur’an (e.g. about beheading, crucifixion and slavery) and passages in Hadith literature, the biographies of Muhammad and legal texts to show the connections between the brutalities of ISIS and early Islamic texts.
Both of these approaches are thoroughly unhelpful and need to be challenged.
One of my students asked me why would any Muslim in his right mind join ISIL. I said to her that I can give you right away at least five reasons but if you are willing to wait till tomorrow I will come up with a longer list. ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was the first name that was given to the organization since its territory was in Iraq and Syria. Their vision is far bigger than Iraq and Levant. They want to expand into Asia, Africa and Europe. The next morning I gave my students 25 reasons why Muslims are eager to join ISIL; here are 10 of them.
Success and a staying presence. Muslims see the black flag raised on expanding landmarks and they appear to be winners. Unlike foreign armies who would sooner or later leave, these people are there to stay.
Up-to-date attractive social media. Unlike the boring monologues of Ayman Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qa’eda, they use clever propaganda videos that have an appeal to the youth.
Purpose for living. So many young men and women whether in Muslim countries or in the West have no demanding or consuming purpose for living. ISIL offers young Muslims what they see as a large enough purpose for living and for dying.
America’s support for Israel. A Muslim American young man was arrested on his way to Turkey to join ISIL in Syria. His reason for wanting to join ISIL was: “Why should the taxes of American Muslims go to support Israel killing Muslims in Gaza.”
Western Societies are immoral. In spite of the abundance of church buildings in Europe and in the United States, Muslims see moral standards deteriorating rapidly as they see Americans and Europeans accepting as normal same sex marriages and people living together without being married.
Shock and Awe through decapitation. With their “shock and awe” strategy of decapitating some of their captives or burning them alive, they are aiming to intimidate not only individuals and armies but even nations. ISIL fighters are volunteers who are not afraid of death.
Influence of bridge builders. There are several famous bridge builders such as Anwar al-Awalaki who are well equipped to use the internet and can motivate and recruit disillusioned young men and women in the West to join ISIL and other radical groups.
The Shiites got inflated with power and they abused it. The Sunni majority in Iraq perceive the Shiites as syncretistic or even heretical. They would rather be ruled by the Sunni ISIL rather than by the abusing Shiites.
ISIL’s strong financial status is attractive. ISIL has a strong financial base. They have captured banks, sell oil, get taxes and get easy money in exchange for hostages. Muslims see ISIL as an organization which will keep going for a very long time and cannot be disarmed, dismantled and destroyed.
Hope for a restoration of the Caliphate. Many Muslims yearn for a day when the Caliphate will be restored and Muslims around the world will be united under one leader like Catholics are united under the Pope. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the Caliph of the Islamic State and called himself Caliph Ibrahim.