First Paris and now Maili. In light of these recent attacks it is very easy to blame ISIS for both. This recent NY Times article is quick to remind us that there are at least two flavors of Jihadists.
“All the attention has been focused on the Islamic State, Iraq, Syria and threats to the West,” said Richard Barrett, former head of global counterterrorism operations at Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency and now an analyst at the Soufan Group. “The guys in Mali saw a big opportunity to remind everyone that they are still relevant.”
For both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, killing civilians has been a tactic and a strategy. But they have disagreed over just how bloody to be.
One thing most experts are sure of: Both ISIS and Al Qaeda are trying to fulfill an apocalyptic vision that pits them against the evil Western “crusaders”. Where they disagree is the language used to describe this mindset.
In March of 2015 Graeme Wood wrote one of the best articles on the topic to date. In light of Paris and Mali the article is worth revisiting. Wood on the Islamic State:
Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.
Therein lies the rub. The West–and the U.S. in particular–are quick to not label this a religious problem. I suspect that this avoidance stems from three main reasons: 1) Some fear that calling it what it truly is will play into the End Times mindset of its adherents, 2) Many fear that calling it a religious problem will lead to an anti-Muslim backlash, 3) If it looks, sounds, and smells like a pig Occum’s Razor will tell you that it is probably a pig. That having been said, many academics have trouble reconciling their philosophy of tolerance with the clear evidence. i.e. if you are an egghead in the academy it can be the death of your career to take any stance that suggests you might be intolerant of other beliefs.
According to Wood, adherents to the Islamic State truly believe they are fulfilling Koranic prophecy by brings about the End Days:
The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo… It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.
Wood goes on to conclude that the Islamic State is willing to destroy itself–and the West with it!–to fulfill their interpretation of Koranic prophecy.
Maajid Nawaz recently published an article that supports part of my opinion:
President Obama, and many liberals, shy away from calling this ideology Islamism. Their fear is that both Muslim communities and those on the political right will simply hear the word “Islam” and begin to blame all Muslims. Instead, the mantra that is repeated is “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.”
Truly acknowledging a problem for what it is gives those in power a real problem to solve. Until that happens I fear our collective response will continue to be ineffective and fractured. Or, as Nawaz states:
Refusing to name a problem, and failing to recognize it, is never a good way to solve it. We know that from the Weimar years of appeasement to Nazism, as much as recovering alcoholics will understand it from their 12-step programs.
We should be able to distinguish Islamist extremism from Islam by clarifying that Islam is simply a religion and that Islamism is a theocratic desire to impose a version of that religion over society. And once we do that, we are then able to clearly identify the insurgent ideology that we must understand, isolate, undermine, refute, and provide alternatives to.