Monday, September 08, 2014

Love your enemies?

I was listening with dismay this morning to a news broadcast that featured a couple of Christian liberals banging on about how ISIS was so terrible, so brutal, so cruel and how they must be persuaded to stop being so nasty to people, but what they are doing has NOTHING to do with Islam. So let's get this straight, an organisation that's killing people and acquiring territory in order to establish an Islamic caliphate has *nothing* to do with Islam - are ISIS aware of this bombshell? In the next breath these same liberals will tell us that regardless of whether or not someone actually goes to church or believes any of the pillars of the Christian story (or is even aware of them) then they should be counted as "Christian" so long as they tick that box on the census form.

This is how religious people play tennis without the net!

Fights between groups of evolved primates are seldom over one single thing. The vast majority of them ultimately boil down to the acquisition of power, property, vengeance, wealth or influence or combinations of those things. However, I think everyone would agree “normal” people don't like the idea of death by predator drone or hacking the living head from another human being. Normal people would not countenance such things without a very powerful motive. Unfortunately there always seems to be some prophet or other around the corner to provide one, and the clever psychopaths who invariably lead the charge in these matters use things like tradition, authority, empty promises and violent threats to subvert or destroy the innate morality and survival instincts of their (ideally) sheepish followers. For Stalin it was communism, for Hitler it was racial purity, for Pope Urban it was Gods' will, all essential ingredients to their stories, all key enablers in a rich tapestry of misdirection. Of course, some fights are engaged in by those seeking to prevent, halt or punish pirates and opportunists, such conflicts are often well intentioned and moral however sometimes even those interventions are fraudulent and the real motive is to acquire something by force or by proxy, the problem with human brains is that they are the ultimate in (devious) survival hardware.

So what has Islam got to do with ISIS? Firstly I think it's important to realise that there is nothing special or unique about Islam, it's a religion like almost every other, it makes the same kinds of unjustified (but contradictory) claims as other religions and is clearly based on an unconvincing plagiarising of prior art for the purposes of acquiring Earthly power. This is nothing new, humans have used the promise of heavenly perks and the threats of imaginary hell-fire to control people since the beginning of history and this text-book example is no different. This simple behavioural constant is why Islam is key to this fight; it's an enabler, it facilitates the motivation of the credulous, especially poor, illiterate and (indoctrinated) literalistic populace of that region, it provides "special" sanction to perform immoral acts and a reason to be afraid of not doing so. If Islam had the same status and following as Greek mythology then ISIS would not be using it to motivate their forces. We can argue that they may have come up with something else (like National Socialism) but this obvious fact seems incontrovertible.

People may argue that ISIS is especially brutal or barbaric, but from a practical point of view there seems little difference between decapitating innocents by blade or by high explosive, the end result is the same, any moral distinction seems pedantic. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for taking the fight to ISIS, but we should be clear about their motives and ours. It seems disingenuous to root our objection to ISIS on the basis of their preferred methods of executing their enemies. As a comparison, in the 21 months that ISIS held reporter James Foley captive, Saudi Arabia beheaded 113 people. President Obama visited Riyadh this year to underscore the importance of a bilateral relationship between the two countries.

It should be easy for us to find (substantial) objections to ISIS worthy of motivating some kind of fight with them. First and foremost they promote a totalitarian theocratic system, based on fundamentalist Islamic principles that, like it says in their holy book, should not rest until the entire world is under their heal. Secondly they commit atrocities outlawed by international law, for example, religious persecution, genocide and summary execution of prisoners and civilians. Having stolen billions of dollars as they rampaged through Syria and Iraq they easily have the ability to attack places like London, Paris and New York using terrorist tactics along 9/11 lines. In aggregate these seem sufficient motivation for people to wish for the destruction of this movement, how, who and when of course are very different questions.

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