The world is awash in a theological conflict brought to the fore by the rise of ISIS. Yet, Western leaders continue the canard that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. However, ISIS supporters firmly believe that their Caliphate and Jihad against the West have everything to do with Islam. Thus, Western leaders consistently deny what ISIS supporters consistently affirm.
What the Western leaders mean by their denial is that the ISIS interpretation of Islam is built on a false reading of the Qur’an, that the ISIS interpretation misunderstands the Qur’an. However the ISIS interpretation has a long, scholarly, and distinguished history among Sunni Muslims, the largest branch of Islam. The conflict is inherent in Islam itself through the conflict between the longstanding Sunni and Shia factions of Islam. Thus, Western leaders are increasingly fallacious in their constant denial.
To be consistent, Western leaders should similarly argue that Christian radical views that encourage violence have nothing to do with Christianity for a similar reason. But they don’t. They tend to think that violent, abusive Christians are true Christians, but violent, abusive Muslims are false Muslims. Their preference for Islam is curious because every stripe of Islam is clearly opposed to their favorite liberal social values.
The driving issue here pertains to the correct reading of Islamic and Christian texts, the Qur’an and the Bible. It centers on correct religious interpretation of religious texts. Thus, the central concern or conflict regarding terrorism is theological, not economic, political, cultural, or military. Therefore, the resolution of the conflict should center on theology. This is not an argument that economics, politics, culture, and the military have no role to play in the resolution of the conflict, only that these things should be secondary to the role of theology. There are many very good reasons for this line of argument regarding theology, and one of the more important and obvious reasons is that the most aggressive ISIS supporters believe it and act on it.
Western leaders, following in the liberal wing of the Protestant Reformation believe that theological reform will eventually lead to the abandonment of Islamic theological concern in the same way that they understand themselves to have grown beyond their childish Christian beliefs and to have abandoned all vestiges of Christian morality as being similarly childish and immature. However, it is precisely their own moral abandonment that has become a significant driver for fundamentalist Muslims to take up Jihad against what Jihadis understand to be the moral disease of the West. Their intent is to purge the scourge of Western immorality, to get it out of their lands.
Islam has a tradition of having some respect for Christian faithfulness, Christian morality, but not for the modern, Western abandonment of that morality. For instance, it is the abandonment of Christian moral concern regarding “just war” theory (among other things) that has allowed Western (read: American) military dominance of the Middle east for the past hundred years or so. They view our presence in their land as being an infection of immorality. And American domestic and foreign policy has indeed drifted far from its traditional Christian roots.
American leaders are hoping that Islamic fundamentalists can respond to religious reform as liberals who were former Christian fundamentalists responded to the liberal wing of the Protestant Reformation: by abandoning religious concern altogether, or abandoning their traditional Islamic morality and culture as Western liberals have abandoned Christian morality and culture. And no doubt, some do and others will. But not all! Those who do, only inflame Muslim fundamentalists who don’t, as evidenced by the fact that Muslim fundamentalists (Sunnis) kill more Muslims (reformed moderates—Shiites—and backsliders) than non-Muslims. In short, what our leaders understand to be the cure for Islamic fundamentalism is understood by Islamic fundamentalists to be the very moral decay that they object to. The more we push that cure, the more they push back with Jihad.
Those who are caught up in ISIS believe that they are soldiers of truth who are fighting for the God of truth, and that God is currently engaged in the end times judgment of the world in order to create the ultimate Caliphate that will rule the world in the name of Islam. That perspective motivates desperate people to join those who are willing to die for what they believe. They see it as an opportunity to secure an honorable place for themselves in both history and heaven. We know that the best areas for ISIS recruitment are characterized by poverty, unemployment, and hopelessness, which are also areas where poverty, drug abuse, and crime are common. ISIS recruitment thrives in poverty, neglect, and hopelessness.
However, the Western establishment “machine” is unable to remedy the poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, crime, and hopelessness of such areas because ISIS has successfully branded the Western establishment “machine” as being morally and spiritually corrupt. And ISIS has a point in this regard because Western culture tends to flaunt its newest cultural values and practices, which are most offensive to traditional Islamic culture—greed, sex, frivolity, and godlessness—the very things that most religious traditions of the world have taught against for thousands of years! Consequently, much of the “help” that the West might provide is understood to be completely contrary to the values of God, even by moderate Muslims.
Part of the problem is that there is more to Western moral and spiritual corruption than mere brandedness. It is also true! We currently live in the heyday of modern Western corruption. This does not mean that everyone and everything in Western culture is corrupt, but it does mean that the values and practices of moral and spiritual corruption are on the ascendency in that the values of corruption defined by various religious traditions have captured popular culture—the media. The media generally expresses and exports the values of corruption, and particularly those traditional, social values defined as sinful by the Bible.
As awful as this situation appears to be, it is also pregnant with possibility and hope because the very things that we need to do to help stem worldwide terrorism, the very things that can address the problems of ISIS recruitment can also address Western corruption at the same time. The best thing that we can do to stem ISIS recruitment is to strike a blow at the very thing that frightens them into ISIS participation—address our own moral and religious corruption.
Islam has a long history of economic stagnation, poverty, drug abuse, and crime (think: heroine production, distribution, and use). However, these things in and of themselves are not the cause of the rise of ISIS and world terrorism. The ideological or spiritual motivator is the corruption of the Western world, which has become the dominant culture of the world. That corruption is at the heart of the Western occupation of the Middle East and of globalization generally. And the most serious ISIS participants tend to be personally familiar with the corruption of the West because they have been educated in the West. Not all, but many.
We can strike a significant blow at ISIS recruitment by addressing the moral and spiritual corruption in our own culture. A genuine spiritual revival, reformation, or whatever you want to call it, that would have significant impact on Western culture (including the media) could do much to provide for better Christian/Islamic relations—and even the conversion of people generally (Christians, Muslims, and others) to the realities of genuine biblical truth. Perhaps it might even be enough to furnish genuine help toward the rebuilding of the Middle East that could provide a reason to return home for those who have fled the Middle East war, and which would help end the European refugee crisis.
While we cannot manufacture such a revival, and if we could it would be fake because it would be manufactured, we can pray for such a thing, and participate toward the elimination of moral and spiritual corruption in our own lives and local communities. Imagine the power of genuine love and forgiveness marshaled against the powers of hate and vengeance being modeled by our leaders and the media—not as a gimmick, but as a reality in their own lives. The time is ripe for such a thing! But ripeness soon leads to rot if the crop is not harvested. Lord, make it so!