Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Atlantic's Must-Read Article on ISIS

For all that my (and everyone else's) general disgust of ISIS tends to cause us to only see the psychotic thuggery of their movement, it is very much worth getting into the heads of these guys in order to consider how to defeat them. Tens of thousands have flocked to the "Caliphate" to wage an endless religious war of constant expansion, very much trying to mimic the expansion of the Caliphate during and after the reign of Muhammed himself. There is something terrifyingly appealing about ISIS in a way that previous extremists just did not have, and it is important to understand their appeal and purpose: these have been the reasons that ISIS has been so frighteningly successful where other attempts at creating extremist Islamic states have failed.

While I am a bit bashful at my own previous lack of curiosity around the theology behind ISIS, I was finally enlightened when a friend shared an article by The Atlantic that is, I think, the most impressive single foreign policy article that I have read in years.

Throughout, the article has a great discussion about the appeal of ISIS's extreme (but not out-of-left-field) interpretation of the Koran.

An interesting digression one could have in response is philosophical. Nietzsche predicted that the modern age (after the "death" of God) would bring about, on the one hand, a sad sort of hedonism ("just enjoy life") and on the other, incredibly destructive fanaticism as a reaction. The natural human need to be part of something bigger than having material comfort and enjoyment--as offered in the West--makes the kind of insanity that is fascism, communism, or religious extremism appealing. The desperate human craving for meaning to our lives makes us susceptible to giddily throwing our lives--and the lives of others--at the State, the People, or God, depending on the circumstance.

In these cases, flexibility is impossible: if someone else's creed is just as plausible as mine, then mine cannot be The Truth, and thus my sacrifice and effort are meaningless.

ISIS has much greater appeal than al-Qaeda: the latter is merely fighting, the former is creating the Caliphate itself and even bringing about the apocalypse of the crude and corrupt material world to finally create God's kingdom on Earth (which from any millenialist perspective is the most important of things).

There has been much writing on the topic (perhaps most famously by Samuel Huntington in A Clash of Civilizations), but I think we must be prepared for religious extremism to be a matter of extended worldwide ideological struggle in the way fascism was in the mid 20th century  and communism was later. The madness and barbarism that is ISIS, al-Qaeda, and all of its fellow affiliates plaguing almost the entire Muslim world will not be stamped out by drone strikes, and the message of "freedom" will do worse than fall on deaf ears: it will reinforce their concept of the total moral bankruptcy in the modern "just have fun" society.
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