As I've written in the past, religion is sometimes a blight on society and sometimes a blessing. The more exclusive and condemnatory religion becomes, the greater danger it is to the rest of society. In today’s world there is a clear example of how rigid religious fundamentalism has brought havoc to the region in which it is found — and even beyond.
There is no doubt that the greatest threat today to the security of the world’s people, beginning in the Near East, is found in what has been called IS or ISIS or ISIL. What has generated this latest cultural phenomenon? ISIS is not a new version of nationalism, the quest for natural resources, the massive movement of a population, or any of the other motivations which often result in some form of unrest. While we must not indict the Muslim world, ISIS is clearly a form of religious fundamentalism.
President Obama has been among those hesitant to call ISIS “Islamic terrorism,” so as to separate it from the vast majority of Muslims who are as appalled by it as are the rest of us. But to not take seriously the destructive intent and nature of that expression of Islamic religion is to deny the reality.
Graeme Wood has written a long article in the March edition of The Atlantic magazine asking, “What ISIS Really Wants.” Much of his extended article deals with the religious roots of this dangerous next generation of Al Qaeda.
ISIS has no national boundaries and is rooted in a literal reading of certain Koranic passages and the subsequent development of rigid Sharia law. One can take any religious text, including the Bible, and find in it passages which excite deadly hostile action.
Consider the biblical book of Joshua. The tribes of Judah came out of Egyptian slavery intent on conquest, and in a series of bloody attacks in which entire populations — including women, children and animals — were often mercilessly slaughtered, these “border crossers” (one translation of the word “Hebrews”) killed under the claim that Yahweh had instructed them to do so. At least this is what centuries later, when this book was written, the editors assumed. It’s all there for the world to see. But that is not the whole history of Judaism, and we do not indict all Jews by the ravages of these invaders. Nor do we judge Christian history by the Crusades or the Inquisition. If ISIS has the Sharia code, Jews and Christians have in their history the Levitic code and a series of papal bulls.
ISIS exhibits no restraints on the savagery it is ready to commit on all those outside its narrow religious borders. Beheadings, crucifixion and slavery are among the ordained fates of the unfaithful. And the unfaithful are defined as anyone, even other Muslims, who sees religion in quite another way.
The question before us is how can we most effectively confront this latest form of terrorism? By now we ought to realize that armed intervention only feeds the terror. It is increasingly clear that U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia generated the bin Laden violent reaction and was the excuse for 9/ll. And our desperately unwise invasion of Iraq sealed for generations the hatred of many in the Islamic world. But the current question is how we protect those ISIS is intent on murdering.
Perhaps containment is our best approach. We cannot undo the reasons for the emergence of ISIS, but actions that offer hope, food, medical supplies and personnel instead of drones and weapons is what a purportedly Christian nation might do. Help on the ground, not boots, might be the unexpected remedy for sectarian hostility. Nobody, particularly America’s warmongers, seems to have a better idea.