Focusing on the Conundrum of ISIS

Is there a correlation between today's expansion worldwide of criminal terrorism and the religious scriptures of Islam? The former, known to be the official policy of a "rogue state," the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, seeking "legitimacy" feeding on the latter? The group commonly known as ISIS, already occupies nearly one-half of Syria and a third of Iraq, consistently aspiring to "statehood" by seizing more land, actively recruiting in the process thousands of gullible young supporters attracted to the easy money on offer. Their success seemingly comes from a lucrative business combining exhibitionist killings and aggression with extortion, arbitrary levies on "citizens" plus overt confiscation of property, all in the name of Allah. Evidently they are not seriously feeling the heat from airstrikes also meant to cut off the flow of vital cash from captured oil fields.

This is a highly sensitive problem. And will become explosive if the religion of Islam is in fact found to be directly involved here. In the meantime, this critical issue is receiving only scant attention on the rare occasions it is loosely recognized. Remaining instead enveloped in a kind of luminous fog, as it were, of our own making, descending upon us with a vengeance these days. Severely reducing the analytical and intellectual acuity of our era, by now practically destitute of a strategic vision to confront the menace.

With the war against ISIS still indecisive, even at this advanced stage, a sense of growing uncertainty and deeper anxiety adversely affects normal social and economic behavior in the world, holding back an already elusive financial and economic recovery. Given that the issue has not been, as it should have, formally addressed, judiciously scrutinized and fully clarified within the religious community internationally. Mostly nebulous, the argument against due elucidation here is that if such a correlation (and its ramifications) were conclusively shown to exist, the "discovery" would inevitably provoke a devastating response. As the world would then be justified in seeking an outright military solution, in self-defense, meeting brutality with brutality. Most probably adopting a scorched-earth policy bound to obliterate selected occupied sites, including the capital Raqqa, and thus terminally crush ISIS. Similar, in short, to the operation that neutralized the Islamist insurgency in Chechnya -- again with only limited concern to avoid civilian casualties. Hence, too, the "unstable equilibrium" in which we live today.

If, on the other hand, as one would hope, no correlation really exists between the horrors of terror and Islamic religious teaching, shouldn't we -- with equal zeal -- accept Muslims as an integral part of the solution? Reasonably drawing Muslim leaders alongside their western counterparts to struggle together to build a solid solution, certainly using intense international diplomacy to mobilize mosques everywhere in the world to expose and indeed eliminate known terrorist infiltration in their midst. With Muslim communities in the end rising against extremist interpretations of religion, no less for their own survival. And further maximizing popular opposition to the profusion of radical imams and those "religious schools" all over the Middle East that freely promote today's inhuman ideology of terror, as if God Almighty could ever have been a party to such an abhorrent criminal perversion.

Within our reach a new era is still possible. Freeing eventually the charitable influence of Islam to emerge as an inspiring fresh element of human decency in our community of nations. But, first, also creating a World Synod aiming to consolidate religious goodwill worldwide. Such a timely initiative, under the aegis of the United Nations, jointly convened by the Vatican and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and naturally including Muslim leaders working together with acknowledged heads and scholars of other faiths, would realistically help reverse the ascent of religious fanaticism before it is too late. In this context, too, we should even have the opportunity to establish whether or not the unprecedented exodus of an entire cosmos of Muslims currently flooding Europe is the Trojan Horse of this day and age. Significantly, an official review by the UK government, published earlier in December, of the Muslim Council in Great Britain, an umbrella body of more than 500 Islamic organizations, claimed that "the Group maintains undeclared links to the Muslim Brotherhood, known to have at times incited violence and terror in Europe and elsewhere."

The question arises: Has the UN Security Council, dodging the fundamental issue of Islam's religious fanaticism still prevailing, perhaps prematurely set a timetable for peace talks next month? Nor, of course, is it any longer a logical proposition for the world at large to go on barricading itself ad nauseam against random outrages of extremist Islam. And subsequently responding to the public's fear and disgust by further debasing each time our way of life in the West and elsewhere with stricter security measures. A reality by now conventionalized at the expense of cherished civil liberties among hundreds of millions of people in the civilized world. Choosing, therefore, one of the options above appears mandatory at this stage in the context, too, of deepening theocratic fanaticism that is intensifying criminal persecution of Christians in the Middle East.


Nicos E. Devletoglou, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Athens, is author of the books Academia in Anarchy: An Economic Diagnosis (Basic Books) written jointly with Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics James Buchanan; and Consumer Behaviour: An Experiment in Analytical Economics (Harper and Row).