why the west cannot defeat Isis

In his Friday New York Times column, David Brooks explained that President Obama mistakenly underestimates the attraction of ISIS. He thinks that people join ISIS because they lack jobs and economic opportunity, when actually they are motivated by religion. They believe they are serving God and ushering in the last days. What is a job compared to that?

If Brooks is right, and I suspect he is, then while the west may have armies to contain ISIS, it doesn’t have the firepower to defeat their ideology. In his column, Brooks offers only the thin gruel of nationalism. He suggests that ISIS fighters might leave the caliphate for a chance to contribute to the rise of Egypt, Syria, or Lebanon. But ISIS fighters already have a patriotic cause. And it comes with the bonus of serving God. How can a mere nation compete with that?

Brooks’ evaluation was worse on the PBS Newshour on Friday night. When asked whether ISIS was a Muslim group, he replied:

“They are. In some sense, it’s a stupid debate, because is it true Islam, is it perverted Islam? The fact is, religion is all interpretation. God doesn’t come down here and tell us exactly what he means. We have interpretations within Christianity, within Judaism and within Islam. If you call yourself a Muslim, you’re a Muslim.”

“They have different interpretations, but it’s all interpretations. So, one is a perverted or a sick form of Islam. A lot of people fortunately have a much more peaceful form of Islam, but it’s all an interpretation of a faith. What’s the real one? It’s all a matter of interpretation.”

Note Brooks’ secular assumption that “religion is all interpretation,” “it’s all an interpretation of a faith.” Brooks doesn’t believe that any religion has a revelation, as “God doesn’t come down here and tell us exactly what he means.” But without a revelation, all the secular west can offer ISIS members is money and a job. That won’t win the heart of a man who believes he is fighting a holy war on behalf of God.

We’ve come to an interesting place in American life. The West needs people with a brighter, bigger view of God to win the hearts of ISIS and their swelling number of converts. But those are the same people the west seems bent on destroying, all because they believe God has given them strict orders regarding marriage. What happens when the people you can’t live with are the people you can’t live without? We’re about to find out.

Image by Stuart Rankin. Used by permission. Sourced via Flickr.

4 Comments

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  1. I agree. And the issue is further compounded by the reality that most Muslims equate western society with the Christian Faith. This seems like a perfect storm of a watered down Christianity, an administration in denial, a media saturated with licentiousness, and a growing ideological threat that is claiming to give substantial purpose to the disenfranchised. The irony is, that the only thing that western culture devoid of Christianity has to offer is wealth and consumerism as the ultimate purpose. But those who have been disenfranchised economically, come to a crisis that often goes deeper than money or provision. Those with means look at those without means and assume that all they want is means. But the human heart deeply longs for purpose and a communal cause that matters.

  2. I hesitate to include a link to Fox News but this OpEd written by Open Doors president David Curry has some insightful reasons why the religious reality (persecution of Christians) should matter to secular governments.
    http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/02/09/persecution-christians-significant-indicator-future-world-chaos/
    The deeper issue in the Middle East is that for nearly 1000 years Arab/Muslim culture has not had anything worthwhile to celebrate. After the flourishing of world renowned culture, art, medicine and Algebra,(I wish they’d left that one alone) the Middle East spiraled. Abbasid, Omayyad defeat, withdrawal from territory won in Spain, conquering by colonial powers, humiliation by the Israeli upstart state, Arab Spring… Their identity is broken, poor and shameful. Seeing Jordanians celebrate a World Cup victory over a European nation just a couple years ago I was taken aback by the intensity in a normally stoic culture. One of my Arab friends pointed out “We really don’t have many victories to celebrate.” Into that vacuum moved powerful dictators, Al Qaeda, and now ISIS with the convincing argument that the reason for Arab shame is their lack of following true religion. It may not be a true argument, but it’s convincing.
    The West needs to supply a more convincing counter-narrative if it wants to have influence. Certainly economics is a monster piece of this, but this is ultimately not a battle of flesh and blood.

  3. tension check. Has not God has given nations the power of the sword? thousands of innocents are being brutally slaughtered. Is it right to stand by and do nothing to stop it?

  4. Additional entry… MUST read this Atlantic article (http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/) which is quickly becoming a go-to source for understanding the inter-Islamic tension and seems to be a proponent that we stay out of the theological debate. Militarily, another story, but advancing forcefully will backfire, as it will usher in the very end-times confrontation ISIS wants and legitimize the Caliphate for millions of Muslims worldwide. Very tricky, and I’m going to stay out of the political/military discussion. As far as the church, which is definitely in my circle of influence, we should be actively advancing the gospel, and advocating wherever possible to alleviate the suffering of our brothers/sisters.

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