Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Lure of ISIS

One question that puzzles some readers of the news out of the Middle East is why ISIS is able to attract so many young men to its banner when even other Muslims are calling ISIS barbaric and savage. Islamic scholar Ayman S. Ibrahim at First Things gives three reasons for the appeal ISIS holds for so many Muslims. Here's a brief synopsis:
First, ISIS knows how to use the Qur’ān....To support expelling, mutilating, beheading, and crucifying their enemies, ISIS provides verses such as (Qur’ān 5:33; 8:12; 47:3-6). To encourage their members to participate in jihad and thus inherit the terrific Paradise waiting for them, ISIS recites (Q 47:15).

Second, ISIS knows how to use the early Muslim history to support its claims and military operations. It is noteworthy to mention that the Sunni Muslims view the early years of Islam not only as history, but specifically as a sacred one. Not only the prophet Muhammad, but also his companions were heroes; examples and role models to follow. The years of Muhammad, his prophetic career, his raids and expeditions, and his first four successors (caliphs) are commonly viewed as the best days in Islam, especially among the Sunni.

Third, ISIS is quite appealing to some as it serves as the fulfillment of the long awaited dream of the one unified Muslim umma (community). With the emergence of ISIS, for the first time in centuries, Muslims from many ethnicities and cultural background can claim to be “one” in Allah’s restored caliphate. They pine for the “golden days” of Islam.
This last is especially interesting. For six centuries Arab Muslims and black North African Muslims have seethed in a stew of inferiority vis a vis the infidel West. They feel deeply perplexed that they, having "the truth" and with Allah on their side, nevertheless, lose confrontation after confrontation with the technologically superior West. They were even out-teched during the crusades and only managed to defeat the crusaders because of the long supply lines and lack of support on the home front that the crusaders had to deal with. At any rate the sense that the infidels are somehow superior to them is galling.

So, when a Sunni Muslim army like ISIS seems to be sweeping all before it, seems destined finally to be on the verge of establishing the long-dreamt of caliphate, and of defeating, not only the hated Shia, but eventually the even more deeply hated Israelis and Americans, disaffected Muslims from all over Europe, Africa, and the Middle East yearn to be a part of it. The atrocities they're expected to commit are exactly what Allah desires of them, as the Qur'an teaches (see above), and thus whatever qualms they may have they set aside because they are doing Allah's will.

Glory awaits them and for young men whose lives are stultifyingly wretched and hopeless, the promise of that glory is a powerful lure.