Thu 19 Feb 2015
Comments Off on Enough on ISIS already
Let’s hope that in another decade we will be back to this ISIS (Isis depicted with outstretched wings (wall painting, c. 1360 BCE) and be thankful the carnage of the current ISIS is past
In the media, cyberspace, Facebook, Twitter and just about everywhere punditry is pandered to we are hearing experts expound on what ISIS really is and really wants. One of the latest broadsides is an article in the Atlantic by the journalist Graeme Wood, who pieces together quotes from scholars with comments of a couple of ISIS supporters he talked with in London and Melbourne. Here is how the Atlantic keyworded the article:
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.
And if one reads further on, the following claim is made:
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
Let’s start with the obvious. If you really want to know what makes ISIS tick, avoid anything a journalist who seems to know little or nothing of the history of Islam says, even if he goes to the experts. Also, what somebody willing to talk to the journalist and not smash in his head with a rock (a point raised in the article as part of ISIS strategy in Western countries) says ISIS is or wants is probably not going to help you understand what the people who claim to be ISIS are actually doing, nor the variety of their views.
I am not interested in rehearsing the subjective misreadings of the article, which others have already done. But there comes a point when the bombast propagated in the media frenzy to cover this made-in-Hollywood real-life action thriller is enough already. So here are four points I want to make about the way in which the story of ISIS is being framed by many outlets in the media and why we need to move on.
First, we are told there is some kind of coherent quasi-statelike group that has established a caliphate in areas of Syria and Iraq where the central governments in both countries have lost control. There is even a new caliph, aka Abu Bakr (may the first real caliph rest in peace) al-Baghdadi, the man with the Rolex. He is indeed an important man, worth a 10 million dollars reward. Yes, he quotes from the Quran. He also has a beard and therefore looks very Islamic. But leave me suggest something. We have had lunatics throughout history claiming to be a new messiah or mahdi or mad mullah or prophet, so al-Baghdadi is nothing new. The notion that he is starting a new caliphate is absurd. These ISIS fighters enforce a reign of terror where they can, but this in no way means that there is a mass conversion going on. Some people are afraid, deathly afraid and for good reason, to criticize ISIS; others callously use the cover to promote their own political agenda or revenge. And the recruits that are coming are disgruntled youth, not serious Islamic scholars.
Second, the Atlantic article goes out of its way to say that what ISIS is doing is “Very Islamic.” Really? I suppose the infamous Spanish Inquisition, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, the witch burnings as late as the 17th century, the revelation of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith in 1830 or the Jim Jones suicide cult in 1978 were all very Christian acts. Or earlier, the command of Yahweh for Joshua to destroy every man, woman and child in Canaanite Ai was very Jewish? Or, to be even more up to date, the slaughter of Muslims by Buddhists in Myanmar is very Buddhist? The problem is with the adverb. To the extent ISIS uses Islamic rhetoric, quotes texts and says it is emulating the first generation it is obviously Islamic. But to the extent that what they are doing is repudiated by just about every reputable Islamic organization and scholar and the vast majority of Muslims everywhere, it is irresponsible to say what they are doing is very Islamic. All religions have individuals who do things that others in the same religion find morally wrong or reprehensible or even heretical. But please leave out any very for the vast diversity of a religion that has over a billion and half adherents spread out over the continents.
Third, it should be obvious from the beheadings and slaughter of fellow Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, gays, foreigners and others that the whole point is to shock the rest of the world. These egregious acts are choreographed for the Internet precisely to draw attention. It is a tactic right out of Madison Avenue and it is called branding. The more we wring our hands and say how terrible this all is (of course it is terrible), the more the propaganda mongers of ISIS are encouraged to do even more outrageous things. They should be fought, yes, but at the same time we should deny them coverage. This may seem trivial, but when a fan runs out on the field in a baseball game, the cameras do not show the fan. The media makes ISIS larger than life and that is exactly what ISIS wants.
Fourth, can we agree that apocalypse is a veneer, an ideological dodge? Do you really think the ISIS fighters believe they are ushering in the end of the world, that such is their motivation? Are they saying “Let me see how many Yazidi women I can rape so the Mahdi will come?” Really? And who exactly is the one-eyed evil Dajjal in all of this? Standard Islamic apocalyptic notes that Jesus will come back to earth and set things right. I imagine Jesus will give a big hug to the ISIS fighters in Libya who beheaded the Copts recently, right? And burning that Jordanian pilot, why that is exactly what Jesus would have done, right? This is all nonsense and we should treat it as nonsense. There is indeed a history of apocalyptic scenarios in all three major monotheisms, but what is reported for ISIS is self-serving and not very Islamic at all.
I don’t want to tell you what ISIS wants, in part because I don’t think there is a coherent view to document, but I can say that I have little desire to give this group of out-and-out terrorists any more coverage. Enough on ISIS already.