ISIS’ bombings are not acts of ‘senseless violence’, nor are they acts of revenge. ISIS have been quite clear about their motives: they want to take over the world so it can be properly governed, for the eternal welfare of all mankind.
One of two clichés are recycled after every terror attack in Europe: what happened is described either as “senseless violence”; or, simply the natural reaction of the West’s foreign policy. The Manchester attacks last week were no exception, with Jeremy Corbyn cogently outlining the latter view. Corbyn’s view – that this is the result of the West’s actions – enjoys a wide degree of support in the population, with 53% of the public agreeing with him.
Both of these views are mistaken. They suggest that ISIS has no moral autonomy. In our launching editorial we argued that we should generally take people’s reasons for acting at face value. We must apply this principle to ISIS as well. As it is, ISIS has repeatedly told us why they do what they do, we just never seem to be listening.
Starting from 2014 ISIS has been publishing a glossy magazine in English called Dabiq. Dabiq is the name of the town where, according to ISIS’s eschatology, there will be a battle between ISIS and its enemies and, after ISIS’s victory, the Apocalypse will begin. As it is, the Dabiq offensive happened in October 2016. We won. Decisively. Following that, the magazine was renamed Rumiyah (Arabic for Rome).
The last issue of Dabiq was called Break The Cross, and was published in July 2016 after the Orlando Massacre. The whole issue is designed to explain to the West why ISIS does what it does. It also contains arguments against Christianity, Judaism, Atheism, and Liberalism. I must confess to having been surprised by the level of sophistication of the arguments therein. One of the footnotes (yes, there are footnotes) says that the English Standard Version of the Bible will be used unless otherwise indicated. This is the sort of thing I expect to find in journal articles, not in the magazine of a terrorist organisation. The theme running through the whole issue is “this is why you are wrong, now convert or we will kill you.”
There is a four-page article entitled “Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You”. The author of the piece is clearly exasperated at the “senseless violence” narrative that followed the Orlando attack and he (I assume it is a he) seeks to clearly explain why ISIS hates us.
The author suggests that this lack of recognition is due to “political correctness”, and only a minority of people get it.
So, why then does ISIS hate us? The author identifies six reasons.
First “and foremost”, because we are “disbelievers”. We blaspheme Allah by, inter alia, “claiming that He has a son” (that’s Jesus); and our religion, Christianity, is nothing but a form of paganism. But there’s a get-out clause that can save your life. Just trade your rosaries in for prayer beads: “we have been commanded to fight the disbelievers until they submit to the authority of Islam.” Whilst there might be a possibility of a truce, this will only ever be temporary:
you cannot bring an indefinite halt to our war against you. At most, you could only delay it temporarily. “And fight them until there is no fitnah [paganism] and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah” (Al-Baqarah 193).
The second reason is because of liberalism.
We hate you because your secular, liberal societies permit the very things that Allah has prohibited while banning many of the things He has permitted, a matter that doesn’t concern you because you separate between religion and state, thereby granting supreme authority to your whims and desires via the legislators you vote into power.
Some of the things we have allowed but that ISIS disapproves of are “gay rights, alcohol, drugs, fornication, gambling, and usury”. Worse than just allowing these things, we want to spread our secularism, “perverted liberalism”, Christianity, and atheism (quite how we want to both spread Christianity and atheism, I am not sure), and “all the depravity and corruption they entail”. And so they will fight back against us:
You’ve made it your mission to “liberate” Muslim societies; we’ve made it our mission to fight off your influence and protect mankind from your misguided concepts and your deviant way of life.
Third, they really do not like our “atheist fringe”. They consider it supremely arrogant that
You witness the extraordinarily complex makeup of created beings, and the astonishing and inexplicably precise physical laws that govern the entire universe, but insist that they all came about through randomness and that one should be faulted, mocked, and ostracized for recognizing that the astonishing signs we witness day after day are the creation of the Wise, All-Knowing Creator and not the result of accidental occurrence.
Fourth, they hate us for having mocked and insulted Islam. So, they “will continue to retaliate, not with slogans and placards, but with bullets and knives”
Fifth, they hate us for the bombing of islamic lands and for supporting regimes that oppose the Caliphate.
Sixth, they hate us for invading their lands. Hence, “as long as there is an inch of territory left for us to reclaim, jihad will continue to be a personal obligation on every single Muslim.”
Only the last two of these points seem to back up Jeremy Corbyn’s thesis. But, note well, they are the least important motivations for ISIS.
So what if we stopped all intervention in Muslim lands, made it a crime for anyone in the West to insult Islam (no more cartoons), and stopped spreading our “perverted liberalism/Christianity/Atheism”? Would this mean that ISIS would no longer attack us? Sadly, this is not the case. The author points out that our foreign policy is a secondary reason for hating us.
The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.
Why would ISIS do that, though? We might have different values to them, but so long as we are not attacking them or trying to impose our values on them, why do they care? Sure they might not like our drug-fuelled sex parties (with a bit of gambling on the side), but so long as it does affect them, why fight us? Why not live-and-let-live?
This is where it gets particularly chilling. The reason is that ISIS wants what is best for us (i.e. for us to become Muslims). What this is is a form of extreme paternalism on the part of ISIS:
What’s equally if not more important to understand is that we fight you, not simply to punish and deter you, but to bring you true freedom in this life and salvation in the Hereafter, freedom from being enslaved to your whims and desires as well as those of your clergy and legislatures, and salvation by worshiping your Creator alone and following His messenger. We fight you in order to bring you out from the darkness of disbelief and into the light of Islam, and to liberate you from the constraints of living for the sake of the worldly life alone so that you may enjoy both the blessings of the worldly life and the bliss of the Hereafter.
Perhaps the reason why we think this is all senseless violence (or a retaliation) is that madness easier to fathom than the reality. We have difficulty imagining that people act for reasons which we consider to be evil, but we are also wary of saying that people who do horrible things have good intentions.
ISIS’s rationale completely undermines our framework for thinking about these things. We have people committing horrible acts of violence not because they have been provoked, or those acts are in their self-interest, real or perceived. But, rather, because they consider it to be in our interest.
To be clear, by saying that ISIS does it because they believe it is for our own good, I am not attempting to defend them or to suggest that this in any way excuses them (it doesn’t). It is a word I rarely use but ISIS is evil. But in order to fight ISIS it is important to understand what we are up against. Far from it being senseless violence or an angry retaliation, ISIS has fairly sophisticated thought system which leads it to do that it does. For example, the most recent issue of Rumiyah has a six page justification for the Palm Sunday attack against Coptic Churches in Egypt. ISIS does actually have some limits on who may be targeted. That case was a borderline one and so they provided a justification.
This isn’t “senseless violence”, but the opposite – and its sanity makes it much more evil.
Our featured image is adapted from Trajan 117’s depiction of the Flag of Islamic State, used under the GNU Free Documentation Licence.