An Islamic State fighter carries the group’s flag in Raqqa, north-central Syria..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It has taken the Islamic State militia to bring about something not achieved by Syria, Libya, Iran or even al-Qaida: a state of panic in both the American and British governments about the threat to the West from Islamic extremism.
Yet both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron are saying things of such stupidity that they risk undermining not just the fight against Islamic State but the defense of the free world.
When Islamic State started beheading American and British hostages and circulating its disgusting videos, there was obviously profound shock and revulsion. But both America and Britain reacted as if Islamic State represented something hitherto unknown and unsuspected. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gasped that the Islamic State fighters were “beyond anything we’ve seen,” because “they marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess.”
The same people gasped in amazement at the marriage of ideology and prowess that went into 9/11, and the sophisticated and strategic Hamas tunnels under Gaza. They are continuously being amazed by the Islamists because the West refuses to face up to what they are.
Islamic State is no more barbaric than Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram or other Islamist militias.
These are beheading and butchering people all the time. Have Western leaders forgotten Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg, beheaded by al-Qaida? Do they not think the use of children as human bombs by Hamas or Hezbollah is just as depraved? Or Boko Haram burning Christians alive in Nigerian churches? These groups may have differences in tactics, focus or doctrine, but their fundamental aim and ideology are the same: to kill and conquer infidels and ultimately to establish Islamic rule across the world.
Yet astoundingly, Obama and Cameron deny that Islamic State has anything to do with Islam at all. Thus Obama declared: “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.” And dismissing the Islamic State claim that its fighters act in the name of Islam, Cameron stated: “Islam is a religion of peace. They are not Muslims. They are monsters.”
This is ridiculous. Does it follow that those who are slaughtering thousands of Christians in the name of Islam aren’t Muslims either? Islamic State and other jihadists were taught to wage war for Islam at mosques and madrassas funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Islamic states. So are Saudi and Qatar therefore un-Islamic? Islam is not a religion of peace. The Koran’s verses promoting peace were abrogated by later verses promoting violence.
Islam means submission. As its early history testifies, it is a religion of conquest.
And Islamic doctrine defines those whom the Islamic world deems hostile to its tenets not as innocent people but infidels who deserve to be killed or enslaved.
Far from being viewed as an aberration, the beheadings are recruiting thousands of Muslims from Europe and elsewhere to join Islamic State. Are we supposed to believe this is just coincidence? Or is it rather more likely that these young Muslims understand the beheadings to be mandated by religious texts and beliefs and are the way the world will indeed be conquered for Islam? Millions of Muslims believe that Islam should rule the world and that jihad is the path to this end. The fact that millions of other Muslims do not believe this does not make it any less of a core Islamic tenet. To claim that this is not true Islam is like saying the Inquisition or the medieval Christian pogroms against the Jews were nothing to do with Catholicism or Christianity; or that because many Jews disagree with the haredi approach to Judaism, the haredim aren’t really Jews.
What is said in holy texts or by religious leaders matters. The Christian persecution of the Jews derived from their representation in the New Testament as the killers of God.
Conversely, Jesus preached turning the other cheek. People therefore associate Christianity with peace and love. Yet somehow, according to not just Obama and Cameron but also George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the fact that the Koran contains more than 160 verses advocating jihad, including the injunction to behead unbelievers, does not associate Islam with violence and barbarism.
There are various reasons for this state of denial. Western leaders are terrified of alienating the Islamic world, partly through fear of violent consequences and partly because they do not want to endanger their lucrative trade and financial dealings with Muslim states.
They thus pretend that violence in the name of Islam is not really Islamic, and claim that saying that it is would demonize all Muslims. Of course this is an obvious non sequitur. There are not only Muslims who have no truck with the interpretation of their religion which leads to such extremism or violence, but there are also some who, horrified by these forces within their religion, want to reform it. The Obama/ Cameron position simply knocks the ground from under their feet.
Westerners cannot grasp the nature of religious fanaticism. They can’t believe that other cultures may be unlike themselves and motivated not by reason but by dogma. They cannot take seriously the notion of a holy war.
But Islamic State is the purest expression we have seen of precisely that, because all the usual alibis have been stripped away. The fundamental goal of Islamic State is not to remedy some geopolitical grievance against Israel, America, India or Saudi Arabia. It is to establish a caliphate and force the world to submit to Islam. What Islamic State openly stands for is mass murder and barbarism in the name of God.
Neither air strikes nor ground troops will defeat the religious idea for which Islamic State stands and which is inspiring thousands of Muslims to join it and other such militias. To defeat Islamic terror, that idea has to be defeated. The free world needs to help truly reformist Muslims to purge it from their religion.
We must hope Islam can be reformed. If not, the alternative is brutal: either we defeat Islamic extremism or it defeats us. But for sure, denying what it is will hand it victory.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).