Many of us have spent the week listening to various talking heads, experts, and politicians discuss whether it is a good or bad idea to use the term “Islamist terrorists” when talking about ISIS (or ISIL or DAISH). Basically, one side says they call themselves Islamic and they quote the Koran and follow a very old and strict version of Islam while the other side says they are not representative of all Muslims so we shouldn’t use Islam when we discuss their torture, slavery, and mass killing of innocent people.
I think this exercise in wasting time might stem from many Westerners’ lack of knowledge of the history of religions – including Christianity, Judaism and Islam – and perhaps an oversensitivity that we have developed when it comes to not wanting to hurt people’s feelings. I have some very close and dear Muslim friends – some who practice the daily requirements and who don’t drink alcohol at all and some who interpret their religion to allow them in modern times to drink. Just as I have Christian friends who are regular churchgoers and others who are not. In the U.S., most people are extremely tolerant of various religions and personal behaviors. It is very hard for us to believe that people who cut people’s heads off can actually believe they are doing it under their God’s mantra and in order to fulfill the Prophet’s words and wishes.
To use a very modern phrase we need to “get over it.” Yes, there are some psychopaths and thugs who have wandered into ISIS, but there are also some very serious believers who support and implement the violence. They believe their interpretation of the Koran is accurate and they believe the things that Mohammed supported – such as slavery – are legitimate and should be practiced. Many of them truly believe that they are promoting the true faith and that they will one day conquer the world. Their interpretation of Islam does play a very great role in their behavior, just as many of the Christian Crusaders felt they were protecting and promoting their faith.
My friends who are Muslim do not support ISIS’s beliefs and values. Neither do any of my Christian friends think the way to support their faith is through slaughter. My Jewish friends are also believers in our modern way of living and thinking. But to pretend that these terrorists do not believe they are right and are following Islamic tenets, is to delude ourselves which in turn means it is much harder to stop them.
If we want to waste time over trying to figure out what to call these murderers, we only hurt our ability to find a way to defeat them and to stop the spread of their version of Islam. If there were Christians doing today what we did during the Crusades, I’d say the same – call a spade a spade, learn as much as you can about your enemy and then defeat them.
An excellent article by Canadian Graeme Wood in The Atlantic, What ISIS Really Wants, explains the relationship of Islam to ISIS better than anything I can write or have read so I recommend it highly.