During my strange, solitary, aimless wanderings, I get caught up in, and enraged by, certain debates in cyberspace. The latest centres on whether the terrorist group ISIS (or ISIL or IS or Daesh) adheres to or does not adhere to Islam. Graeme Wood in The Atlantic wrote a seminal piece on the subject, “What ISIS Really Wants” that seemed to settle the matter with an emphatic “yes!”, but, dispiritingly, no-one who previously thought — buggered if I know how — that Islamic State are somehow not Islamic seems to have been persuaded. The rebuttals to Wood, all of them off the point and uniformly incoherent, have come thick and fast. No one is ever persuaded by anything.
The allegedly “serious” criticisms of Wood come from Islamic scholars who disagree vehemently with another set of Islamic scholars who are cited in the article. Wood was making the case that ISIS has no shortage of scriptural ammunition to go along with actual ammunition, an argument that is in no way negated, not even a tiny wee bit, by the presence of academics who disagree with that contention. Like every other debate in the so called field of so called theology, it is a version of this:
Scholar A: The Easter Bunny wears glasses.
Scholar B: No, he doesn’t.
Scholar C: Ahem. He?
For goodness sake, ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh may or may not conform to an acceptable interpretation of Islamic texts, but it’s clear they think they do — and who am I to argue? Or you, for that matter?
The question about ISIS and its religious roots is not really as serious or important as it first appears. Squabbling over which religious texts to take literally, which to relegate to metaphor, and which to ignore outright, is a feature of all intra-faith discourse. Of course ISIS is deeply marinated in their own version of Islam in ways no more or less ridiculous or arbitrary than any other iteration of religious belief. Muslims who disagree with them say that ISIS are not true Islam in the same way Martin Luther rejected Catholicism’s claims for itself. It’s like people arguing over who should rule Westeros, only a lot less interesting.
The near universal loathing of the military funeral picketing Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t stop its adherents from being both Christian and motivated by their understanding of what being a Christian means. Or — here’s a better example — how about the entire Catholic Bloody Church? I haven’t read the bible, but I’m pretty sure it provides provides greater scriptural justification for Westboro’s “God Hates Fags” (Leviticus, apparently) than, say, transubstantiation or papal infallibility (nowhere).
The more interesting development is how large swaths of the political far-left have become eager and subservient poodles to radical Islamism. At first glance, it is a baffling development — but quite straightforward on reflection. A cursory review of modern history will confirm that the dogmatic left will happily support genocidal maniacs as long as their shared enemy is the United States (oh, and Israel). (And it’s not hard for them to ignore or downplay the religious component of Islamic jihad since Leftists, almost always non believers themselves, just won’t take terrorists at their word;they refuse to accept that terrorists actually believe this shit).
Aside from an inability to take religious belief at face value, Leftists far prefer to shoehorn radical Islam into their conception of human events as a binary conflict between “the oppressed” (good guys) and “the oppressor” (bad guys).
(There is another reason — that elements of the Left are bored with Western civilisation and find the destructive nihilism of ISIS exhilarating — but I cannot summon the energy to mount that case).
There is only one determinant to ascertain where one sits on the Left’s perpetrator-victim continuum: relative proximity to the U.S. (oh, and Israel). This does not always work out in Islam’s favour: Saudis, Jordanians and Turks are roundly maligned for their refusal to sufficiently hate America, which explains why a flogging in Jeddah or the suspension of Twitter in Ankara attracts many times the outrage on the Left than the atrocities of ISIS. Leftists also tended to side against majority Muslim Indonesia, and with the Catholic Timorese, over Suharto’s criminal annexation of East Timor largely because Jakarta was perceived as being on the wrong side of the Cold War. (The case of Timor Leste creates considerable cognitive dissonance on the Left since Osama bin Laden, heralded as a product of U.S. imperialism, cited Timorese decolonisation as a central Al Qaeda grievance — highlighting the terminal fallacy in the the Left’s coddling of Islamism: jihadis don’t reject imperialism at all; they just want their own empire.)
This victim-perp algorithm applies even in extreme cases.
Hutu Power leaders who carried out the genocide in Rwanda have been embraced as cause célèbre by Radical Leftists because the mostly Tutsi army that stopped the killings (and now form the post-genocide government) have close ties to Washington. By association, the Rwandan Government (which I consulted for three years) is branded an “oppressor” whenever it so much as glances in the direction of the hapless Democratic Republic of Congo, and is pilloried relentlessly for alleged human rights abuses that pale in comparison to those carried out in countries run by governments less tainted by ties to the West.
In the case of the Balkans, the “good guys” were not Muslims, but the Serbian nationalists who were killing them. Why? Because Slobodan Milosevic was an avowed Marxist who opposed NATO and thumbed his nose at America. In fact, before acting as lead counsel for Rwandan genocidaires, a Marxist cretin by the name Christopher Black was Vice Chair of the International Committee for the Defence of Slobodan Milosevic. No coincidence.
As a guiding principle, the enemy of my enemy is my friend is embraced just as cravenly by the Political Right. Take, as one of countless examples, Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge continued to enjoy diplomatic ties with Washington and London years after commiting one of the worst atrocities of the 20th Century. Why? Because it was the communist Vietnamese who stopped the Killing Fields and backed the subsequent government. Better to ally with Pol Pot and his henchmen than recognise a Cold War adversary. Despicable.
Whoever wields the shovel, bullshit is bullshit. It is bullshit to claims that Islamist acts of terror have nothing to do with Islam, or that ISIS are freedom-fighting anti-imperialists in sheik’s clothing. However tenuous their grasp on scripture, these are swivel-eyed religious fanatics on a killing spree of shocking proportions. Common antipathy towards U.S. (oh, and Israel) is a very bad reason not to stop them.