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We Need to Talk about ISIS

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2/21/2015 6:39:08 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
There is no civilizational struggle between the West and Islam, because ISIS is not Islamic. There are people who call themselves Muslims who believe that they are doing some horrible things in the name of Islam. They're not. They subscribe to a belief that is no more than a lie; their existence is predicated upon falsehood. There are some things that have happened in the Middle East that have had significant meaning. First, Middle Easterners have come to realize the extent to which they are behind the Western World in terms of cultural and technological development. Second, Middle Easterners have realized that they are connected to the West, in ways that constantly remind them of the differences between West and East. Third, as West and Middle East have collided, the Middle East has been judged by the West by Western standards, reinforcing their own cognizance of their region's inferiority.

There are ways of interpreting the Koran which indicate that life under Islamic Law is the highest good which is possible within the scope of human existence. The implication, there, is that those who live under the highest good must, therefore, be the "best" people. For the gulf oil barons at the top, life has never been better. But for the average Muslim (especially male muslim), who is connected to his friends by social media, that has a smart phone, a twitter account and access to the internet -to the extent that he sees the west, he is forced to reconcile mutually exclusive facts.

Life under Islamic law cannot be the best, if the West is also the best. So, he feels one of two things: (1) a desire to forsake the values of his culture, in the hope of a better future, or (2) a rejection of reality, filled with anger and rage, directed at the West who made him conscious of where his society has fallen short. Which choice he makes depends on what matters more to him: his respect for what people older than him say that their god says about things, or what he thinks about things.

(Women are important too, that goes without saying. Especially in places like Syria and Iraq, women have been indispensable in facilitating social advancement... but women are subhuman to members of ISIS; women do not join ISIS for the same reason that young muslim men join ISIS... and I don't know enough about their experience to speak on it intelligently. Given that ISIS is overwhelmingly composed of men, I think my limited scope here is appropriate.)

Keep in mind the context of that decision. If you are a middle eastern late adolescent male, or a young adult (like, someone under 35), you are old enough to probably remember at least two, maybe three or four major Western military encroachments into the Muslim world. Maybe the first and second gulf wars; definitely Afghanistan, Iraq and some of the things that Western countries through various auspices have done in Northern and the Horn of Africa. You're likely to view Western civilization as both a belligerent threat, and an external judge. Or not...

You could view the West as a promise land of freedom and tolerance; where multiple people of multiple races and creeds can coexist in peace, work side by side, and not regard the other as less than human because of a theological difference. If you spend a lot of time studying abroad in the West, or if you had parents who were educated in the West, or if you had friends or family who have lived in the West, you're more likely to view the West favorably.

Conversely, if your exposure to the West has been more limited, you're going to form irrational opinions of it on the basis of some combination of fear and loathing; an irreducible contempt that sprung from the feeling of inferiority which was the result of seeing a picture of New York, and comparing it to Kabul, Mosul, etc. I'm not sure what the critical mass of exposure is; but I think that forming very close friends who you communicate with more than your family is probably just past that dividing threshold of favorably v. unfavorably viewing the West.

The point to all of this is that joining ISIS is very much an individual choice; and we have to accept that the way to win the War on Terror is to make people not to want to be terrorists. Obama was right when he said that poverty does not cause terrorism; it is a necessary but not sufficient factor. Islam does not cause terrorism, even though there is a correlation between Islam and terrorism against the West that is unique among all world religions.

The young men and women who live in the middle east with a sufficient connection to the west that they empathize with the west on a level that is sufficient to make them want to fight ISIS are the people who need to be the future leaders of the Middle East. They are also the people who have to, in their own communities, stamp out extremism wherever it surfaces. They don't even have to be Muslims; they need only have standing in their communities that is enough to make people respect them.

Understanding ISIS requires understanding the people who compose it. These are people who feel powerless; denied what they feel and believe is their birthright. These are people who have a sense of entitlement that is uniquely modern, even though their views are decidedly of a fundamentalist character. ISIS isn't even Islamic. As I said before, that was the essential point that Obama was making the other night. He was more or less chastising what is nothing more than the equivalent of a street-gang writ large. Said in more colloquial terms, Obama's message to ISIS was "Y'all mothafukkas are a bunch of wannabe poser b!tches."

And yes, the President claimed new power for the American chief executive in making that claim. This is the first time that the President of the United States has ever delineated between legitimate and illegitimate exercises of religious practice. I think the reason that Obama did that is because he is probably the only president in the history of this country that actually understood how Islam works. So, he has an intellectual framework through which to evaluate ISIS's religiosity. Bush was more or less inclined to paint Muslim crazies in the Middle East with the same brush. Obama knew enough about Islam to have an informed opinion about these little fvckers. That is hugely significant, again, because it's never happened before. But that message of "Y'all mothafukkas are a bunch of wannabe poser bitches." means nothing to the young men in the Middle East who may be contemplating joining ISIS unless it comes from the mouths of people they respect.

However, I think Obama laid the groundwork for leaders in the Muslim World to do that. He gave them the words that they probably couldn't think for themselves, and it is my hope that he planted an idea in their minds, that will inspire top-down action that will reverberate all the way down to the young men in the Arab world who may not have a sufficient connection to the West to empathize with us. Muslim leaders have to be vigilant to inoculate their youths against the bastardized versions of Islam, as surely as American leaders have to be surely to inoculate our youths against joining gangs, dealing drugs or engaging in any of a host of socially undesirable activities. Except in the Muslim World, the stakes are a whole lot higher.
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2/21/2015 11:53:09 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/21/2015 9:59:58 PM, YYW wrote:
Again... I thought this would spark more conversation.

You said something everyone agrees with on a debate website.

From what I've seen universal pariah's don't really get much discussion around here unless it's a troll debate.

That being said I think that calling ANY group "Islam" is stupid. It would be like calling the Bolsheviks "Communism". In a purely grammatical sense, it's undoable.

To be honest the Islamic world has done amazing things in terms of advancing the West and we would do good to remember that. Calling them barbarians is only underestimating our greatest competitor.
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