Tuesday, March 22, 2016

ISIS' Cynical Use of Religious Extremism to Serve its Secular Objectives

Like many other groups throughout history the leadership of ISIS is using religious fervor - think of the Crusades and how the Catholic Church and European monarchs preyed on the religiosity of their respective subjects as but one example - and extremism to further totally secular goals of seizing power and controlling territory.  Yes, some may actually believe the poison they spew, but most likely use the guise of religion to recruit followers who can be used as canon fodder and/or recruited for suicide missions.  Normal, sane individuals are generally not inclined to blow themselves up with bombs, but religious zealots and those they have brainwashed are another matter. A piece in The Nation looks at this horrible cynicism and the secular goals ISIS is pursuing under the smoke screen of religion.  Here are highlights:

Terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are widely seen as being motivated by their radical theology. But according to Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and founder of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, this view is too simplistic. Pape knows his subject; he and his colleagues have studied every suicide attack in the world since 1980, evaluating over 4,600 in all.

He says that religious fervor is not a motive unto itself. Rather, it serves as a tool for recruitment and a potent means of getting people to overcome their fear of death and natural aversion to killing innocents. “Very often, suicide attackers realize they have instincts for self-preservation that they have to overcome,” and religious beliefs are often part of that process, said Pape in an appearance on my radio show, Politics and Reality Radio, last week.

According to Pape’s research, underlying the outward expressions of religious fervor, ISIS’s goals, like those of most terrorist groups, are distinctly earthly:

What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion, but a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon and the West Bank in the 80s and 90s, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and up through the Paris suicide attacks we’ve just experienced in the last days, military intervention—and specifically when the military

This view differs from that of Hillary Clinton and others who believe that ISIS “has nothing whatsoever to do” with Islam, as well as the more common belief, articulated by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic, that ISIS can be reduced to “a religious group with carefully considered beliefs.” It’s a group whose outward expressions of religious fervor serve its secular objectives of controlling resources and territory. Virtually all of the group’s leaders were once high-ranking officers in Iraq’s secular military.

Pape’s analysis is consistent with what Lydia Wilson found when she interviewed captured ISIS fighters in Iraq. “They are woefully ignorant about Islam and have difficulty answering questions about Sharia law, militant jihad, and the caliphate,” she recently wrote in The Nation. “But a detailed, or even superficial, knowledge of Islam isn’t necessarily relevant to the ideal of fighting for an Islamic State, as we have seen from the Amazon order of Islam for Dummies by one British fighter bound for ISIS.”

Pape says that it’s important to distinguish between ISIS’s long-term goals and its shorter-term strategies to achieve them:

It’s about the timing. How are you going to get the United States, France and other major powers to truly abandon and withdraw from the Persian Gulf when they have such a large interest in oil? A single attack isn’t going to do it. Bin Laden did 9/11 hoping that it would suck a large American ground army into Afghanistan, which would help recruit a large number of suicide attackers to punish America for intervening. We didn’t do that – we used very limited military force in Afghanistan. But what Bin Laden didn’t count on was that we would send a large ground army into Iraq to knock Saddam out. And that turned out to be the most potent recruiting ground for anti-American terrorists that ever was, more so than Bin Laden had ever hoped for in his wildest dreams.

Another theory holds that ISIS—and Al Qaeda—set their sights on France in order to polarize mainstream French society against its Muslim community. As University of Michigan historian Juan Cole put it after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, “The problem for a terrorist group like Al Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam.” In Cole’s formulation, if violent Islamic fundamentalists “can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.”   Pape says this analysis is also consistent with his research.

In Pape’s view, most of the conventional wisdom about what terrorists want to achieve is wrong, and that disconnect has limited the effectiveness of the West’s response to terrorism.

While far more horrible and violent, what ISIS is doing is but a variation of what the GOP has done for years now: using religious extremism and zealotry to rally ignorant voters - especially in the Bible Belt - to support Republican candidates who profess to honor "Christian values."  Like the captured ISIS fighters mentioned in the article, most right wing Christians are woefully ignorant about the Bible and church history.  Like their Muslim counterparts, they are played as fools and manipulated and encouraged to define themselves by hate and bigotry - and sometimes violence.

1 comment:

Candide said...

They are not "played for fools." They are subjects of superstition. Put another way, these fools are tools. Willing participants as sacrificial lambs for fantasies they buy into mindlessly.