At War with Us

At War with Us

While it's as natural as the sun rising in the east, the right-wing reaction to President Obama's speech about taking on ISIS was savage for how he described them: not Islamic.

Now, right-wingers hate Islam more than anything, and describing it less than a murderous ideology will not suffice. But really, what is the president of 300 million people supposed to say? That Islam sucks? That Islam is only good for jihad and everyone who is a Muslim is suspect? That 300 million includes several million Muslims and there's nothing more alienating than being lumped in with the killers of ISIS. And remember this is the same community still dealing with being a fifth column for Al-Qaeda.

Naturally, right-wingers had no problem with George W. Bush qualifying Islam as a peaceful religion, and taking great pains to state that the U.S. was not at war with it. He may have used the ill-advised word "crusade" in the context of fighting terrorism, a word seized on by liberal commentators as confirming their worst fears, but despite the massive blunder of invading Iraq, Bush never struck me as someone "doing his Christian duty" while ordering forces to the Middle East, some of his other claims notwithstanding.

And yet...if you ask the terrorists what their motivation is, it comes back to religion. You see, despite how uncomfortable this makes Western liberals, Islam has everything to do with killers like Islamic State. When the President or whomever talks about ISIS as having nothing to do with Islam, they probably don't want naked prejudice against Muslims to take hold and want to make a clear distinction about who the enemy is. So they appeal to a (Western) ideal of Islam and insist ISIS or Al-Qaeda have somehow perverted it. But when an ISIS murderer is about to hack off the head of a Western hostage, he's not doing it in the name of secular humanism, aggressive Marxism or strictly nationalist fervor: he's doing such because that's how you dispatch an infidel under the self-proclaimed caliphate. (And even Muslim enemies of it. Warning: graphic). These are people who know their religion better than nervous Western apologists, inclined to treat these particular punishments as an aberration. But note how long it took for clerics in the Muslim Arab world to say anything about it: not because they approve (as right-wingers like to indict Muslims on guilty-by-silent assent charges), but because there wasn't anything particularly un-Islamic about it. (Strictly speaking, many clerics may disagree with the implementation and the claims of this so-called caliphate, but these are shariah-based interpretations, not ones done because it offends their sense of decency. In other words, the death penalty may have been abolished in most of the Western world, but not in the Muslim world, because there is no theological motivation to do so. It can be mitigated, but banned entirely).

Witness now the phenomena of hundreds (thousands?) of young Muslim men leaving European countries to fight on behalf of ISIS. While it may not take much for young, impressionable men to join any kind of group, it's a striking and disturbing development in this context. After all, there is not one single militant Christian organization sounding the calls to venture to those areas of the Middle East where Christians are being threatened. No one has recorded a video testimonial that he is doing his Christian duty to save brothers and sisters in Christ against infidels or the like and his preparation to become a martyr. (And no, Western armed forces are not stand-ins for such.) While there is no shortage of Christian organizations trying to tend to communities in the region, there is no onward marching of Christian soldiers.

This flies in the face of many Western commentators who insist on invoking bad and base motivations on the part of Western powers as wanting to re-enact the Crusades. This has always been a poor charge, because while political and military leaders may have the zeal of seeing their involvement there as having a personal religious merit, there never has been anything like that coming from the top. No one ran to priests or bishops or ecumenical councils secure an ecclesiastical basis for invading Iraq, and opposition to it was mostly based on moral and ethical considerations, with religion thrown on top.

This is not the case with would-be jihadis flocking to join ISIS. There is a strong religious motivation for fighting, whether the enemy is the Shia community, other Sunnis whom they regard as corrupt, or Western infidels who are in the Muslim heartland and need to be kicked out. And it could not be possible for hundreds or possibly thousands of these young men so misunderstanding the concept of jihad in Islam that it hasn't by now drawn attention or condemnation from Muslim clerics. It hasn't, because there's nothing to misunderstand here. For whatever reasons, these men are heeding the call of jihad. And many of them will be returning home.

None of this should interpreted as a positive nod to the right-wingers, that silence-is-assent charge. At the same time, Westerners need to start accepting that Islam has everything to do with the actions of this so-called caliphate. It's politically expedient, and quite frankly good taste, to deny that Islamic State is indeed, Islamic. Despite what the Fox Entertainment Channel may drone on about, the President of the United States cannot say that "Islam sucks" as he tries to get the nation behind him and build a coalition to fight these people. Complaining that he said ISIS was not Islamic is inconsequential to the problem of this murderous group. Both liberals and their right-wing adversaries are shouting past each other, trying to force their own version of Islam onto anyone listening.

But the members of ISIS and their jihadi acolytes are flocking to the region because of religion: they have no Christian counterpart. And despite how uncomfortable or "Islamophobic" that strikes Westerners, we had better start addressing it because appealing to things "not being Islamic" appears to have little effect on men and women who believe otherwise. "Their" Islam is clearly at war with us.