I read through every word of Graeme Wood’s interesting piece on ISIS in The Atlantic and thought it impressive per the depth of his examination and the specific ISIS ideologues (apologists) with whom he spoke more in depth. Being able to read through these more primary interpretations and related applications were interesting.
At the same time, I also believe that Wood’s overriding theme and working hypothesis of ISIS as a representation of a ‘pure’ or an ultimately logical direction for Islam and Quranic interpretation to be wholly misperceived.
If ISIS claims to be Islamist, then they are Islamist. To call them the logical fruition of Islam in the early 21st century, however, is remarkably overdone. They may be honestly seen as a perversion of Islam or a self-aggrandizing use of Islam but if they claim Islam than they are Islamist.
The Klu Klux Klan in the United States has long self-identified as ‘Christian.’ And while a huge majority of Christians of deep and honest faith strongly and directly challenge and reject that self-interpretation by the Klan outright; the KKK are ‘Christian’ if they say so. Just as with ISIS, the KKK demonstrates and demonstrated how the misuse of religion; the perversion of religion can not only be deadly but also winds up as a kind of ‘con’ among its own.
That is, while many Christians ardently disagree with the Klan just as a great many Muslims do so with regards to ISIS, too many of those same persons will often remain in an intimidated silence so as not to take any chance that others would misalign them with the deadly and brutalizing hate.
Others who strongly reject such hate will do so in silence, too, if they have been led to believe that the surrounding culture has come to despise anybody claiming such a personal faith structure regardless of dramatically differential interpretations and applications. While not as much the case with ‘Christian,’ it has most certainly been applicable to anyone and anything Muslim.
All that and the fact that the ‘Are v. Are Not Islam’ debate of ISIS serves much more to effectively distract from a more ecological, comprehensive geo- and sociopolitical understanding and, with it, a more efficient response.
ISIS represents the chaotic, repressive, brutal politics and autocratic Muslim rulers of the region to include its being spawned, certainly in part, by the incredible destabilization of the Middle East by American neoconservative war making and war mongering. I don’t blame American neoconservatives or the Bush/Cheney Iraq Catastrophe alone for ISIS either but consider it a highly relevant variable.
ISIS is, primarily, a large paramilitary criminal organization flying an Islamic flag as both a rationale and as its principal recruiting poster. And it certainly seems to be working towards recruitment as young Muslims ranging from sociopaths wanting to kill anybody to young Middle Eastern and African Muslim men who are repressed by and deeply resent their own rulers alike flock in to kill for and die with ISIS.
In this regard, it bears constant repeating that ISIS is much more directly and consistently at war with Islam – with its own – than with the West or Israel as it has routinely targeted, killed and brutalized exponentially more of its own than it ever could or would others. The brutal murders of small numbers of western citizens and regional Christians by ISIS in combination with ISIS encouraged murders in Europe by self styled ISIS ‘sympathizers’ have been horrific and tragic. But these actions also far more represent ISIS media theatrics and recruiting than a true threat or an ability to expand much beyond their regional agenda
The ‘Islam Flag’ also has also become a most effective recruitment tool for those less overtly repressed but deeply disenfranchised young western Muslims to include the increased groups of very young women heeding that siren call to become – as many will no doubt learn to their horror – breeders for the self-identified Caliphate.
The still rapidly expanding cottage industry in the West of paranoid Islamophobia is another effective recruiting poster point for ISIS and other similar paramilitary criminal gangs like Boko Haram whose recent ‘pledge’ to ISIS received far more media attention and time than it deserved or warranted.
People overall will typically tolerate only so much disenfranchisement, dishonor and degradation before searching out an alternative; for those they believe are of their own.
This, then, is the one more immediate strength of ISIS that the West DOES have the power to greatly manage. Having an adequate understanding, the social and political will, however, is something else entirely. And, besides, paranoid Islamophobia has given many western commentators and political satirists a lot of money and attention that they are not going to give up easily.
Just as the horrific excesses of Maoism or Leninism did not represent a ‘pure’ or evolutionary form of Marxist socialism, ISIS can hardly be seen as a way to understand Islam.
ISIS is far more extreme power politics rather than faith driven. ISIS is more of a political proxy for covert and hugely monied concentrated interests in the Middle East, primarily, but elsewhere, too, for whom a violent break up and reorganization of the Middle East status quo holds great motivation, additional wealth and power.
If ISIS claims to be Islamist; than they are Islamist.
But to argue what are clearly and more brazenly political and criminal motivations and priorities somehow represents a ‘pure’ form of Islam and, by this, into what unchecked (by the West) Islam is destined to become is far more of a product of the cottage industry of paranoid Islamophobia than either coherence or an understanding of honest faith, spiritual motivation or Islam.