The Atlantic article I discussed yesterday sparked a lot of debate, lots of people appreciated it and lots of people written against it, too, which is not surprising – no one sane likes this ISIS thing and so any attempt to “whitewash” it is going to be met with opposition.
The reactions from westerners are predictable, but also probably the most sympathetic to the author. Some of us, from “scientific” background, are wired to understand things and their internal logic even if we do not approve them. We are not satisfied with simply calling ISIS a monster, we need to know what kind of monster it is, what are its strengths and what are its weaknesses. We want to know what attracts people to ISIS and how we can counteract its influence.
Majority of us, as usual, are not into such subtlety and simply want blood. More bombs, more boots on the ground, more violence – we think violence solves everything. If we can’t bribe them, kill them. We cannot comprehend the religious aspect of ISIS, we cannot comprehend that it could be so important to its followers. As Graeme Wood put it:
..if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul.
I think this is a very astute observation of western approach to Islam, or to any religion for that matter. “They can’t be serious!” we say, but they are. I’m speaking as a westerner here, devotees obviously understand how important religion could be to people.
It’s the reactions from other Muslims that are most interesting, however. It seems ISIS has truly united Muslim world but united it against it, or maybe it’s just an official, politically correct reaction. No sane Muslim would go into mainstream media expressing his adoration and support for ISIS, it’s just not what people say in public.
There’s an Open Letter to Baghdadi, the Caliph of the new ISIS Caliphate, signed by hundreds of Muslim scholars that doesn’t mess about and apparently leaves no scope for ISIS legitimacy. It’s quite long and wants to be scholastic and I can’t force myself to read through pages and pages of Koranic arguments. I wouldn’t read that even if it was about some ISKCON controversy, but I believe the samples I looked at represent the whole paper.
I can’t possibly take sides in those arguments, there’s no way for me to know whose interpretations are right and whose are wrong, but I do know this – it won’t convince anybody but those who signed under this paper already. Well, it will probably convince those who have no idea what to believe but I’m sure ISIS would have plenty of counter arguments and will not take this paper as any kind of authority. Their very first page, the executive summary, is worded in such a way as to make it wholly unacceptable to its opponents. It lists two dozen dictums, most starting with “It is forbidden..”
They do not even try to establish the authority of their proclamations, just state things as self-evident law of God, no interpretations necessary. ISIS, obviously, doesn’t think “it is forbidden” and have an ace argument to beat them all – “We’ve got the power and we’ve done it already”.
In this sense, ISIS drives its legitimacy from its own existence as a caliphate, The Caliphate. They’ve got the land, they control it, they have their Caliph descending from a blessed family, it’s all kosher. They augment this power with their purity in interpretation of what caliphate means, and that rules out ISIS accepting advice from practically any other Islamic leader.
As I said yesterday, ISIS does not recognize any other authority but Koran and the prophet. Practically every other Muslim in the world, otoh, submits himself to secular authorities of some kind. If not the secular state then secular organizations like the UN. A true believe has no obligations to anyone but the prophet and the book, he would never submit himself to the jurisdiction of infidels.
This is remarkably close to our position as well, but I don’t think I’m ready to draw parallels just yet.
So, when somebody like king of Jordan rants against ISIS they are not going to listen. Jordan is one of the worst traitors to Islamic cause, they completely sold out to the westerners. Saudis have no legitimacy either, we’ve learned this even from Bin Laden’s speeches. Bin Laden himself is respected but is not taken seriously. His vision was too idealistic, too Utopian and he didn’t have the land to govern, meaning he wasn’t recognized by God.
We should not underestimate the strength of the “land argument”. Those who get the land and get to govern it are blessed by higher powers regardless of their current views. We, as ISKCON devotees, respect the secular governments precisely because of this – their power must have approval from higher authorities, they earned their position, and so we accept it s given. Besides, having land to rule is the prime goal of any kṣatriya, without the land there would be nothing.
In ISIS case, it’s the land of their ancestors, the land they’ve been ruling over for thousands of years, they haven’t stolen it from anybody. US puppet regime in Baghdad doesn’t count.
So, Islamic criticism of ISIS appears to be too confrontational to be taken seriously but that’s not all of it. What I see it ranting against ISIS obvious excesses – beheadings and torture, but that is only a side point. ISIS leaders do not spend days and nights plotting ever more barbaric ways of killing people, they probably do not concern themselves with such trivial things at all. Any criticism of it, therefore, would be taken in as mildly annoying and irrelevant.
What the Islamic world should challenge ISIS on instead is their core legitimacy, their dedication to their cause and the purity of their motives. To reduce criticism only to beheading would betray the same bias as I quoted from Wood’s paper above – “they can’t be serious about their ideals, can they?”
But they are. They are building God’s kingdom in God’s name and they don’t seem to have any ulterior motives, no personal interests. Muslims who dare to challenge them should display a similar kind of purity. Arab sheiks have obviously no clout there. Muslims who do not follow their regs have no right to speak either. ISIS demands pure, unadulterated devotion to Allah, Koran, and Mohammad. Those who do not possess such devotion have no right to speak, and those who make compromises with atheists in exchange for comforts of modern life have no right to speak either.
This makes challenging ISIS very difficult. We can easily condemn them in our own circles, sure, but they won’t accept our arguments for the reasons outlined above, and why should they? If we were in their place we would behave in exactly the same way, but I already said that I’m not going to draw parallels today, so I’ll leave it at that.