I listened to a heartfelt statement by a beautiful young Muslim woman the other day. She was adamant. ISIS terrorists who decapitate people and commit mass killings are not Muslims. They are criminals using Islam as an excuse to commit their atrocities. She was clearly as horrified by the attacks as I am. She insisted that Islam is a religion of peace, and she was devastated by the invective that was being directed at her religion.
Public comments on the recent attacks in Paris, Mali and Beirut have typically been at one extreme or the other…right wing warhawks demonizing Muslims and their religion, or apologists insisting that “no true Muslim” would commit such crimes.
Who is right?
Only the most rabid Islamophobes would claim that most Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. There are large Muslim populations in the US and many European countries that are peaceful, law abiding citizens or legal immigrants who just want to work, raise their families and enjoy life. Anybody with any common sense knows that.
So are the apologists right? Islam has nothing to do with the problem? If that is true, how do they explain the thousands of young men from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East…and even from the US and Europe…who are traveling to Iraq or Syria and joining ISIS? Are they all criminals?
It’s clear that ISIS recruiting is very effective in luring these young people into joining their ranks using anti-Western and anti-Christian propaganda. But even if they are deceiving and inflaming these young (mostly) men, they are using Islamic rhetoric to accomplish their goals, and the recruits are Muslims. If they were Christians, would they join ISIS? Hardly. Were those thousands of recruits criminals before they joined ISIS? I doubt it.
Therefore, I cannot see how anyone can say that ISIS is not, at its root, a religious organization. The people in the organization say they are Muslims, and they joined because they are Muslims. Although some of their hatred may be based on abuses by European colonial powers and US imperialism, it is inescapable that Islamic beliefs are the primary motivating force behind ISIS. They assert it at every opportunity. The attackers in Paris were shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Greatest) as they emptied their weapons into the crowds. To deny this is to deny reality.
The “no true Muslim” argument is a well known logical fallacy, known in its original form as “No True Scotsman.” Using it, moderate members of any ethnic or religious group can dissociate themselves from extremist members of their group without confronting them or attempting to dissuade them from their erroneous beliefs. It is a comfortable method of exonerating themselves.
The terrorists have made it clear that their actions are based on their interpretation of the Koran. Like the Bible, you can find passages in the Koran to justify just about any kind of atrocity. The sacred texts of all the Abrahamic religions are replete with examples of violence against nonbelievers. The Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Salem witch burnings are all part of the gory Christian history. The Old Testament is so full of horrendous massacres committed by the armies of the Israelites that Robert Ingersoll, a famous 19th Century freethinker, declared that it was pornographic, and should be banned.
Some Muslim apologists say that Islam is just a few centuries behind, and that these atrocities will decline as it matures. That might have been an acceptable argument two or three hundred years ago, but today, with global communications, trade, travel, and nuclear weapons, we don’t have time for Islam to grow up. There is a real danger that ISIS or similar terrorist organizations will obtain nuclear weapons. With their avowed religious fanaticism, can anyone doubt that they will use them? This is an existential threat to every single person on the planet. We cannot allow this to happen.
There is some possibility that they have already acquired nukes. Nobody knows where the hundred “suitcase nukes” that the Soviets developed have gone. After the fall of the Soviet Union, they disappeared. Some may have already been smuggled into the US and are controlled by “sleeper cells.” If ISIS could acquire them, they would not even have to figure out how to sneak them into the country. They are already here!
This is a potential nightmare we cannot allow to develop. ISIS is gaining power and wealth every day. We have to take them out. We have no choice. The survival of humanity, possibly all life on earth is at stake. That means defeating their armies in Iraq and Syria, and hunting down and arresting or killing their terrorist cells all over the earth. This must be an international effort. All countries must cooperate and participate. We are all at risk from these crazies.
We may have to suspend some personal freedoms until this problem is solved…like due process and unlawful search and seizure. Some say that if we do this, the terrorists have won. Nope. Terrorists win when we are all dead. We win when the terrorists are all dead or in prison. Then we can restore our freedoms…or at least most of them. We have to put this evil genie back in the bottle and keep it there. We may have to pay a price in loss of personal privacy to ensure that.
It is going to be a long hard fight, and we have to be smart about it. Brute military force is needed, but it must be accompanied by intelligence and concern for the noncombatants. They need to understand that they are also at risk if the terrorists win, so, we need a propaganda campaign that counteracts theirs. We need informers and spies. The drone attacks should continue, but with very careful targeting. Nevertheless, some collateral damage will be unavoidable. They will use local populations as ad hoc hostages by embedding themselves in residential areas. How we handle the political repercussions of that will, to a large extent, determine our success or failure.
Also, we need to starve the beast…cut off their money supply by bombing the oilfields and destroying any other source of revenue. We need to cut off their supplies of arms, and make it clear that anybody who supplies them will be viewed as equivalent to the terrorists and will be treated accordingly.
I have come to these conclusions with great misgivings. I wish it were not necessary to go after these people, hunt them down like animals and destroy them. But they have returned humanity to the law of the jungle…kill or be killed. We cannot be complacent, nor can we afford not to be as cruel as they are. We will be given no quarter if they win, so we should give them none in this struggle. It is literally a struggle to the death. There can be no compromise with fanatics.