Masood N. Khan M.D.
The above opinions about ISIS oating around among Muslim circles conrm the truth that Muslims have mastered the art of formulating lively conspiracy theories and rumoring them around – unfortunately a symptom of people with low morale and easy susceptibility to loss of touch with reality. They cherish the habit of extracting stories from gossipy get-to-gathers and spreading them around with added sensationalism and melodrama.
So all of the above stories about ISIS could be selectively discussed and enjoyed as being true in any Muslim gathering depending upon the general makeup of its constituents. In spite of these unrealistic perceptions about ISIS, which have made it a mysterious movement shrouded in conspiracy, the reality is that ISIS is a reality. It has gathered enough meat that the world is forced to take notice with great apprehension and anxiety. Muslims directly affected by it, have been watching with bafing horror as to what to make of this so called ‘Islamic State’, how to relate with it and distressfully enough, how to keep up the sanctity of Islam when their presumed cobelievers have acted so disgracefully, giving the media a blast, to show Islam once again in bad light.
So what about ISIS? And how to dissociate its myths from the facts.
Over the past few years during the uprising against Assad, when ISIS’ name was mentioned in the news, nobody took it seriously thinking it another militant force that had mushroomed against Assad. Then the news that ISIS was trying to dominate other rebel forces causing an internal bloodshed and tug of war for power, alarmed Muslims as the cohesion and unity of action that needed to be directed against Assad became the unfortunate casualty. In order to become the sole force against Assad, ISIS had turned its guns more against other rebel ghters than against Syrian army and had killed many rebel leaders. This bafing situation forced even sane minded Syrians who happened to be objective observers from remote, to believe that there was somebody behind ISIS trying to sabotage the revolution against Assad. While those who wanted Assad to go did not like what was happening, ISIS’ victories continued to become the headlines.
From its base in Syria ISIS ghters then moved into Iraq derecognizing the borders between the two countries and capturing a vast area that included Mosul the second largest city in Iraq. Once in power, there was widespread reporting that ISIS gave ultimatum to religiou minorities to either accept Islam or give “Jizya” a special tax levied on non-Muslims and if neither be pre pared for death. Tens of thousands of refugees mainly Shiites and people of other faith notably the Yezdes were hounded down over to mountains in scorch heat without any supplies and water. This was followed by the declaration of a so called ‘Caliphate’ which quite antithetically to the system of pious Caliphate of early Muslims unleashed heinous acts of brutality, bigotry and violent persecution against religious minorities, presenting to the world very effectively a picture of Islam imbued with blood thirsty impulses. It was a total misrepresentation of the faith that could not be approved by any saneminded Muslim. Unfortunately, it was the same old story that whenever Muslims took up arms for any cause they had to seek justication by Islam no matter how crooked that justication might be. By foolishly injecting religion in their strivings against injustice, corruption and violation of human rights, Muslims have failed to convince the world that their resistance struggles though marred by violence indeed have political, economic and social causes that needed to be addressed. An added complication was that the religion Muslims resorted to did not have a clue about effective political approach capable of succeeding in the modern world, because for centuries religion was stagnated in antiquity and never dynamically upgraded to its potential. An unfortunate fall out of such behavior had always been that Islam got a bad name and those who had oppressed Muslims and done lot of mischief were able to successfully deect the attention of the world from their crimes and justify their evil deeds as an inevitable necessity. They have been successful in convincing the world that violence and bloodshed in the Muslim world is because of Islam, a religion that poses danger to world security.
It seems that in its origin, causatively, ISIS was an ugly amalgam of power politics and abuse of faith. As for the political causes of its origin, no doubt the governments of Syria and Iraq have played an effective role. Regardless of whether the dictator is on as in Syria or the dictator is gone as in Iraq the machinery of injustice, marginalization of people and their oppression was ever operative in these countries with full energy.
In Syria a minority community of Shia ideology has been ruling with iron hand for decades even though majority of the population is Sunni. After Hafez Assad the power was simply transferred to his son like a dynasty though sham elections were regularly conducted to create a deceptive legitimacy. In Iraq after Saddam Nuri al Maliki, though a popularly elected leader, stupidly tried to govern the country with dictatorial style mirroring Saddam. Like a typical Arab leader, he had a vision less about the country and the people and more about self-aggrandizement typical of a gloried upstart. The unjust oppression of Sunnis in shite run countries, in the background of historically deep rooted theological and political differences between these two sects, was bound to create passions of revenge that took the form of ISIS. The tragic divide between Shias and Sunnis among Muslims is a phenomenon of later period in the Islamic history . In any faith, in the beginning all are only devout followers with no sects or divides in spite of few natural theological differences. But gradually, deceit, exploitation, and political differences mix with religion to cause sects and groups. Islam, obviously, was not immune to this degenerative process.
In addition to regional factors the west has also given rise to violently extremist reactions on the part of Muslims. Over the last two decades Muslims have been massacred at alarming numbers in various parts of the world, a major portion of these killings taking place at the hands of western countries mainly US and UK, not to mention massacre of Muslims in Bosnia and India and many other parts of the world. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims were killed by direct aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan and by proxy means in Palestine. In invading Iraq especially there was no justication whatsoever. To make the situation very frustrating UN has been completely impotent in applying any burden of accountability to the culprit countries which committed the crimes in blatant violation of established, internationally recognized conventions. World has witnessed that justice, accountability and prosecution are all reserved for poor countries of the world. Powerful countries are unjustly kept immune to any blame much less accountability and punishment. United States for example, doesn’t even recognize International Criminal Court. When world order is ridden with such a degree of injustice and hypocrisy the reaction could understandably be violent and bloody as well.
In analyzing some of the non-political issues related to Muslims’ psychology that could also have played a role in the creation of ISIS, we see an underlying passionate longing to create a center of power for Muslims so they could stand with dignity, get even with those who shamed and humiliated them and revive the glory of Islamic past. While the emotions underlying such psychology are quite understandable, the manner of their execution adopted by ISIS is disgraceful, undignied, unworthy of Islam and bound to fail. The misguided passion to establish Caliphate simply indicates a tragic loss of wisdom, a disease Muslims have been suffering for centuries, only to unfold into debilitating symptoms now. Institution of Caliphate was never divinely ordained in Islam otherwise the Prophet would have left clear guidelines for its establishment. It was a form of governance that was established by early Muslims, as democratic as it could be given the lifestyle, culture and understanding of that time. It is sheer lack of common sense to think that it could be transplanted, in the modern time. The political institutions evolve with time and resultant changes in human culture. Muslims will have to devise for themselves a system of governance compatible with modern world. They need to understand that the lost glory of Islam can only be reestablished by moral elevation, compassion, respect towards others, hard work, justice, wisdom, knowledge and contribution of value and goodness to humanity, not by copying the past. Secondly, religious extremism among Muslims has also been a factor in how Muslims are ocking around ISIS. Sadly, misinterpretation of religion has been the precursor of religious extremism and this mutation was taking place for a long time in Muslims’ history. It was simply ignored because it remained dormant and benign when Muslims were in power and times were peaceful.
In the face of violent assault on Muslims, it has come out of the hat with its ugly face. When desperate protest combines with religious extremism and lack of wisdom it takes the form of ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda and Taliban. The real Islam has nothing to do with them. Their outcome is nothing but more bloodshed and destruction.
Muslims need to understand that ISIS is neither a conspiracy nor anything noble. It is simply a misguided and revengeful protest against injustice with causes predominantly political. The behavior of ISIS and others like it has made a mockery of a magnicent message called Islam. Never should they be given the privilege that they represent Islam because that is exactly what they don’t represent. Muslims should be utterly clear that choice for them is either ISIS or Islam, not ISIS for Islam. On a collective level it is the duty of all Muslim countries especially the regional ones to make ISIS spiritually irrelevant. They should assure the world that they would take care of ISIS provided western countries stayed out of it, specially the US because of its reputation in the middle east. US involvement will not solve the problem but compound it to violent and chaotic outcomes causing more destruction in the Muslim world. ISIS has served at least one good purpose. Hopefully it should be an eye-opener for the people of these countries to realize that they have got to eliminate injustice and oppression from their countries by removing the corrupt governments that have lost moral courage and are unable to stand up for their dignity and respect in the world. Nothing wrong in seeking vigor from faith in this challenging struggle but Muslims need to be invigorated with Islam in a positive way, by letting their faith evolve to encompass the future and by bringing value to society through it.