ISIS Does Not Have God on Its Side

The Times They Are A-Changin', one of Bob Dylan's early acoustic albums, might be best remembered for its civil rights anthems like the title song, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," and "A Pawn in their Game," ballads about people who have been forgotten by most, names like Medgar Evers and Hollis Brown.

While civil rights issues are once again roiling this country, it is another Dylan song from that album that demands attention right now, a song about religious fervor and war, the brilliant and prescient tune, "With God On Our Side."

In that song, Dylan sang ironically about the moral justification for so many of the wars in history. He sang of how the Germans "murdered six million, in the ovens they fried; the Germans now too have God on their side."

Since he wrote "With God On Our Side" not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis, he also sang of the Russians, "to hate them and fear them, to run and to hide, and accept it all bravely with God on my side."

I wonder what Dylan would make of the evil being perpetrated by ISIS and other terrorists around the world right now. He would probably agree that ISIS and its jihadist followers believe that they too have God on their side.

How many times have jihadists invoked Allah when they murder people, as some of the killers did in Paris last Friday!

Yes, there is plenty of blame to go around for the current predicament facing the world.

As many have stated, the Syrian refugee crisis undoubtedly could have been mitigated if President Obama had declared a no-fly zone with safe havens for civilians four or five years ago.

Iraq might not have become such a quagmire had Paul Bremer, George W. Bush's diplomatic appointee, not de-Baathified that country, a program that marginalized and alienated Sunnis.

And, yes, Bush should never have invaded Iraq.

Having said all that, the real problem is not so much the military or nonmilitary responses of the U.S. government to an artificially demarcated desert land.

The real problem is that ISIS and other terrorist outlets think they have God or Allah on their side.

As Graeme Wood, who has done remarkable reporting on ISIS for the Atlantic, has contended, the leaders of ISIS have a "learned" appreciation of the Koran.

But the writers of the Koran suffer from what Harold Bloom once called "an anxiety of influence."

Anyone who has read the Koran knows that it has beautiful passages, but Muhammad or whoever wrote this holy text went out of his way to denigrate Jews, Christians, Hindus and other religions and their practitioners who preceded Islam.

The writers of the Koran gratuitously bash Jews, the first monotheistic people, although the writers often state that there are always a few Jews, only a few, who are just!

The writers of the Koran also try to coopt Jewish and Christian icons like Moses and Jesus and name them as honorary Muslim prophets.

It strikes me, as it has struck Bloom, that the writers of the Koran have too much to prove. They cannot accept the idea that others preceded them in articulating the concept of monotheism, that others could have come first.

But others did come first, notably the writers of the Hebrew Bible, writers like the Yahwist, known as the J writer, whom Bloom has speculated is a woman, perhaps Bathsheba.

I point this out because no one is saying that there are not rich traditions of advanced civilizations in countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria, lands whose people gave the world mathematics, astronomy, even the Code of Hammurabi, to say nothing of some outstanding storytellers.

One need only recall that Bathsheba herself, perhaps one of the greatest writers and storytellers of all, was a Hittite, not a Jew.

Yet ISIS has no respect for pre-Islamic traditions. It has destroyed antiquities in Syria and Iraq and sold them for profit. It has broached the possibility of attacking Rome, home of the Colosseum and the Vatican, among other treasures. And in terrorizing Paris on Friday the 13th, ISIS might have wanted to spook the French, whose 8th-century war hero, Charles Martel, defeated the Saracens at Tours during a previous and much more geographically expansive caliphate, that of the Umayyads.

Some historians have declared that had Martel not won that battle in 732, Islam might have conquered and taken over Europe.

Right now, France and Europe may not be faced with that immediate prospect but the world fears it.

French President Francois Hollande has declared war on ISIS, a war not so different from the one that Israel has fought for decades since the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Just today, five Israelis were killed in the West Bank and Tel Aviv by terrorists.

It may be that those terrorists were not affiliated with ISIS. And it may be that Hamas and other Palestinian extremists do not view most of us who live the modern life as apostates, a view that ISIS espouses.

But it does not really matter. As Daniel Polisar pointed out in a recent L.A. Times op-ed, a 2015 survey by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that 83% of Palestinians deem the entire area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea as "Palestinian land and Jews have no rights to it."

A December 2014 study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 78% of Palestinians polled expressed support for "the increase in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank in attempts to stab or run over Israelis."

And in a previous poll, 53% of Palestinians did not view the 9/11 attacks on the United States as acts of terrorism.

Yes, there are complicated issues here, issues over land, water and other environmental resources. And, yes, some of the tactics and strategies employed by the United States, Israel, Russia and France, in fighting the scourge of terrorism, have not worked.

But at core the problem remains that jihadists believe that they have God on their side.

They are wrong, tragically wrong. And I say this not as someone who claims to have God on his side. They are wrong because surely no fair-minded God could ever permit the intentional and depraved butchering and beheading of civilians, including women, children and athletes.

No, God is not on ISIS' side. Nor is he on the side of any terrorist.

The only godly aspect of the jihadist organization, once viewed as the "jayvee team" by President Obama, may be that it ironically shares a name with the Egyptian goddess, Isis.

As it turns out, she is the subject of another song by Bob Dylan on Desire, a 1970s album.

Dylan's tune focuses on a tomb raider who regrets his decision to leave his love for an adventure in the pyramids.

The protagonist eventually returns to his love after a harrowing ordeal. As Dylan sings, "I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes, I cursed her one time, then I rode on ahead."

We might all curse ISIS right now. The terrorist group has not only perverted its religion; it has perverted the traditions of the Arabic people, a once-glorious set of civilizations that preceded Islam.