From an Islamic ‘caliphate’ to war with the West, just what is Isis’ ideology?
Islam as a religion is a stronger motivator than economic advantage, social stability, and personal freedom. They are not alone. They have their Muslim counterparts in Muslim countries who insist that Christian minorities are plotting, against their personal safety and economic self-interest, to somehow convert everyone to Christianity and overthrow Islam.
To a mere observer of reality, these claims about the ability of a religion to be a major motivation for violence toward others appear to be abject lunacy. Those motivated by religion of any sort are a miniscule fraction of the more than 16,000 murders a year in the United States. This is true in the world as a whole as well. India has had about as much religious violence reported as any country in the world, but it pales next to the violence in the society as a whole. Yet the rhetoric of western media paints an entirely different picture of Islam and its core beliefs thus deceiving the average man that Islam is evil.
So the first answer to the question “Can Muslims and Christians ever live together in peace?” is that we already do, and almost always have. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t seek to eliminate religious violence, only to realistically note that if we wanted to lower the level of violence in the world, the place to start would be the problems caused by poverty, drugs, and misogyny. These, and not religion, are the real killers in our world. It is worth remembering that religious leaders of all faiths are simply men and motivated by the same emotions as you or me. They are NOT demigods.
But what exactly is this Islamic ideology, and how is it used to manipulate young people into travelling to Iraq and Syria or committing atrocities in their home countries?
While al-Qaeda claims to be fighting for the establishment of an Islamic State, ISIS purports to be one. The declaration of a caliphate across Iraq and Syria by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in June 2014 demanded the universal allegiance of the entire ummah (global Muslim community), and presented the creation of the caliphate as a religious obligation. ISIS rejects the concept of the nation state, and presents nationalism (alongside democracy and secularism) as ‘idolatry.’
Their interpretation of religion is the key unifying force for their caliphate, which is presented as a positive, constructive and expansionist project. The group’s English-language propaganda magazine, Dabiq, revels in the international constituency of fighters that ISIS have attracted, including “Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, Shami, Iraqi… American, French, German, and Australian.”
ISIS is determined to divide the world into two camps, the Dar al-Harb (Abode of War) and Dar al-Islam (Abode of Peace), in an attempt to cultivate an ‘us or them’ narrative. This allows Isis to frame Western involvement in the conflict in Iraq and Syria as a campaign “only against you and against your religion.”
ISIS targets this rhetoric at what the group describe as the “endangered grayzone,” the vast majority of Muslims who reject ISIS and their ‘caliphate.’ It derives from the Salafi ideology of “al-wala wal-bara,” loyalty (to everything considered Islamic) and disavowal (of everything not considered Islamic).
In its propaganda, ISIS emphasises two moral duties above all else, hijrah (migration to the caliphate) and jihad (which it defines exclusively as violent struggle). These prongs of religious obligation are also the ones essential to the future success of Isis’ caliphate project.
The group’s emphasis on migration is intended to marshal support for people to lend their concrete backing to the project: although Isis commends those who commit atrocities in their own countries, it is mainly focused on attracting fighters, but also doctors, teachers and engineers, to its ‘state.’
Violent jihad is presented as the only legitimate demonstration of true faith, with Isis emphasising its claims in Dabiq, that Islam is a “religion of war not peace,” and that the authority of the ‘caliph’ means the jihad is legitimate. The group’s spokesman recently singled out the holy month of Ramadan to be a time for violent struggle.
ISIS ideology is simultaneously constructive and destructive. As well as building a state, Isis also presents itself as an apocalyptic project, identifying greater Syria (or al-Sham) as the location of the final war before the day of judgement. ‘End times’ language from the Hadith literature (sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed) permeates Isis’ messaging; that of great battles involving ‘Rome,’ and ‘Constantinople.’ The name of its magazine, Dabiq, is itself a reference to the supposed location of one of the great battles of the end times, a small town near Aleppo.
This is one of the most powerful aspects of Isis’ ideology, that the final battle between good and evil is here, and that if you want to be part of it, and are a true believer, you must come and join the project.To date the western countries have failed to counter this ideology and instead develop ‘national security’ policies which play into the hands of ISIS. The US is a perfect example of how personal freedom has been eroded in the name of national security, and this ideology is spreading like a cancer across all countries.
Patheos: conversation on faith