How did a rogue band of radicals with such a destructive ideology appear so suddenly and gain such influence in such a rapid timeframe? The answer is an inconvenient truth -- but it is one we must accept if we hope to stop ISIS. Some claim ISIS is merely an informed, practical, or even educated manifestation of Islamic doctrine. This simplistic answer, however, is as incorrect as it is dangerous.
If the goal is to defeat ISIS and stop it from spreading, it is important we recognize what empirical data demonstrates -- that ISIS and radical groups who sympathize with them are anything but Islamic. For example, Al Jazeera journalist Mehdi Hasan cites a 2008 classified report by the MI5 on radicalization that:
Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could ... be regarded as religious novices." The MI5 analysts noted the disproportionate number of converts and the high propensity for "drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes," concluding, "A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.
Picking up right where this MI5 analysis left off, Professor Phyllis Chesler writes at length on Islam and Muslims condemnation of pornography, and contrasts it to the porn obsession of radicals like Osama bin Laden, Anwer al-Alwaki, the 9/11 terrorists, and of course ISIS. The hypocrisy such radicals exemplify is only confusing when we insist on calling ISIS Islamic. When we recognize ISIS is un-Islamic, and for the virus it is, the picture becomes much clearer. That is, whether it means stealing, abducting, raping, prostituting, or killing, ISIS will simply do anything it has to do to survive and spread.
Just as important, however, ISIS was never just a rogue band of militants that emerged out of thin air. As President Obama aptly stated recently, "ISIL is direct outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq which grew out of our invasion which is an example of unintended consequences which is why we should generally aim before we shoot."
ISIS may have come to media headlines in the spring of 2014, but Western injustices played a role long before. This virus was planted in the 1980s when the CIA created and trained radicals to fight our proxy wars. This virus was strengthened by studying books promoting radicalization and terrorism, paid for by U.S. tax dollars and printed at the University of Nebraska. It was emboldened when the U.S. government funded and supported Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. And it was let loose during the illegal Iraq War in which the United States led a coalition of 36 nations to bomb and destroy a nation and dictator they had previously built and empowered, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish words from 2002 ring hollow as he advocated for the illegal invasion, "If you take out Saddam's Regime, I guarantee you, that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region." ISIS is tragically one such "enormous positive reverberation."
Thus, to view ISIS in the vacuum of the last year alone, while ignoring the decades of injustices heaped upon Iraq by Western forces and the international community, is ignorant at best. But the story doesn't stop here. Recognizing unjust Western interventionism is only part of the equation to understanding and defeating ISIS. We cannot exempt the role of some Muslim majority governments.
The key to curing any virus is discovering its origin. ISIS's ultimate origins stretch decades prior to Western interventionism, and helped foster the soil for Western interventionism in the first place. The Guardian's Kevin McDonald notes:
When he made his speech in July at Mosul's Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A'la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state.
Maududi advocated a violent and fascist worldview unprecedented in Islamic history. In Maududi's warped view of how to spread Islam, no person was spared and no ideology other than his view of Islam was valid. He wrote in his book Jihad in Islam:
Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a State on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which Nation assumes the role of the standard bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State.
While accounts vary, all agree that Maududi's education was at most a high school diploma. He had no academic training on Islam, Arabic scholarship, Qur'anic hermeneutics, hadith interpretation, or Islamic history. Still, his warped ideology is whom the alleged scholar al-Baghdadi "heavily cites" as the engine to drive ISIS. This is significant because it exemplifies how dangerous it is to claim ISIS represents some authentic or educated form of Islam. Those who promote the myth that ISIS is spreading internationally due to its education of Islam -- not its ignorance of Islam -- ignorantly empower ISIS while disenfranchising and demonizing the world's billions of Muslims who categorically condemn ISIS.
The role some Muslim majority governments have played in empowering ISIS -- while backed by Western interventionism -- is that of implementing a diluted version of Maududian ideology. In doing so, they have created an atmosphere that in some significant ways mimics ISIS ideology. For example, nations like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia promote death for apostasy and death for blasphemy laws -- just like ISIS. Syria continues to enforce violent and unjust enforcement on its citizens, planting the seeds for future ISIS recruits. The 2011 Arab Spring has left millions of Muslims in the MENA region languishing for just leadership but finding only despotic regimes, ongoing economic inequalities, and social injustices. Thus, ISIS isn't implementing a "pure version of Islam." They're implementing a dystopian fantasy by Maududi, a man uneducated on even the most basic tenets of Islam.
So this is the inconvenient truth we must recognize: ISIS exists due to both unjust Western imperialism, and unjust Muslim majority governments. To stop ISIS requires reversing this trend.
Mirza Masroor Ahmad, worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and Khalifa of the world's largest Islamic organization offered one possible solution to accomplish this during an international peace symposium in Europe last week:
...it would be far more effective for the major powers to support the local governments, by taking them into confidence and seeking to build a relationship of mutual trust. Through close co-operation a joint-strategy should be formed to stop the spread of extremism and its hate-filled ideology. This will surely prove more effective than opposing the local governments by giving military training and weapons to the local rebels. Such policies can only further inflame the existing turmoil and tensions in those countries.
This approach requires the West and Muslim majority nations to look past mere economic interests in oil and land and focus instead in international law and justice. Therefore, the international community can and must act quickly to recognize ISIS's origins as that of a pseudo-political extremist organization -- not Islam. Muslim leaders must restore compassion and justice to the center of morality and religion and decry interpretations of scripture that breed violence, hatred, or disdain . This tragedy of ISIS will be corrected and it is the catharsis of Islam. This purge and purification will in time produce a people who adopt a life of prayers, love and compassion. That is the true destiny of Islam.
We will stop ISIS once Western leaders and Muslim leaders take personal ownership based on absolute justice -- and that's the truth.