How to Eliminate ISIS

If ever there were a cancer upon modern civilization, surely its name is ISIS. Words are futile to describe the depth and scope of its barbarity. Videotaped beheadings are merely the most public symbol and symptom of its unspeakable crimes. Torture, systematic and organized rape, the wholesale destruction of ancient artifacts, not to mention indiscriminate genocide: there are no limits to its destructive irrationality.

Apart from occasional moments of outrage and a half-hearted military campaign in Iraq, the world has witnessed the spread of this cancer with remarkably little protest. Surely such passivity is not only dangerous but supremely irresponsible. Where is the collective determination to cut out this cancer, to rid the world of it? Why do we seem so helpless and hopeless in the face of this deadly scourge?

Perhaps the world's attitude of futility stems from the assumption that ISIS can only be conquered with weapons of war. The world is weary of war, especially in the Middle East, and with good reason. Missiles and drones can't defeat ISIS, and no nation wants to put boots on the ground for this purpose. If the cancer poses no immediate threat to the rest of us, we are comfortable in our negligence.

But what if the assumption that war is the only solution is deeply misguided? What if there were another approach entirely? The very irrationality of ISIS suggests that another approach is in fact in order. We persist in thinking of ISIS as a form of terrorism, and we assume that the only way to meet violence is with violence. But what if instead we understand that ISIS is a form of mass delusion, a deep psychological disorder, a kind of collective psychosis, a disease of consciousness?

We hesitate to think in these terms because ISIS cloaks itself in the trappings of religion; and our own ideology of religious tolerance makes us hesitate to say that any religion is profoundly irrational. But what other conclusion is possible in the case of ISIS? Not only is its behavior psychotic, but also the rationale for its behavior: a thoroughly distorted reading of an ancient text filled with superstition and mythology.

ISIS, in short, is less a form of terrorism than a collective crisis of consciousness. And a crisis of consciousness can only be met at the level of consciousness, not on the terrain of the battlefield.

What does this mean in practical terms? Three steps are necessary to eliminate this psychological disease: isolate, enlist, and educate. To isolate ISIS requires a collective effort on the part of the world. Every nation, every leader, every sect, every church or temple must go on record as either for or against ISIS. You are either part of ISIS or you are actively seeking its elimination. There can be no middle ground, and everyone must declare where they stand.

Next it will be necessary to enlist the aid of those who can communicate with members of ISIS. Chiefly these will be members of the Islamic world who have some commonality with and basis for an understanding of converts to ISIS. Anyone who can communicate effectively with ISIS will be instrumental in the effort to eliminate it. They will spearhead the effort, but the whole world must stand behind and support them.

The final step in the elimination of ISIS can only be to educate or re-educate its members. The false and irrational basis of its ideology must somehow be communicated to its members. This phase might better be construed as collective psychotherapy, but the distinction between education and psychotherapy is hardly relevant here. Educators, psychologists, sociologists, and others must all lend a hand in developing ways and means of communicating with members of ISIS and delivering them from their collective psychosis.

Those who are accustomed to the ways of warfare may be skeptical of such an approach to the elimination of ISIS. It may seem impractical or soft-headed or even effete. But such objections fail to grasp the nature of the evil that is ISIS. It is an evil grounded in deep delusion, not mere ordinary greed or opportunism. The weapons of war are useless in battling a disease of consciousness. Such a disease can only be met on the field of consciousness itself.