The Truth Behind ISIL
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
12th September 2014
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Two questions for today: Is ISIL Islamic? Is ISIL a State?
President Obama objects to the name ‘Islamic State’ (IS) because he says it’s neither Islamic nor a State.
This may well be good politics and wise diplomacy in a time of great world crisis. However, as truth is 'the first casualty of war' so truth has little to do with either politics or diplomacy. The patron of all politically wise diplomats is the man who asked the rhetorical question “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
Politics and diplomacy usefully deal with the present and short-term future but rarely address the long-term problems of humanity. They deal with the symptoms of distress but not the causes of conflict.
The problems of South West Asia are indicated whenever we call it the Middle-East. For it is only ‘East’ of Europe and only ‘Middle’ when European Empires spread to the ‘Far East’ of China. The European carving up of the ‘Middle-East’ at the end of WWI lies as the background to the present conflicts.
America and its allies, like Australia, do not want to be drawn into conflicts that are based in religion. These governments are secular by nature, if not constitution, and have no mandate to promote or defend any particular religion. We certainly do not want the religious diversity of our own nation to be inflamed into conflict. It becomes critically important, therefore, to maintain religious neutrality and defend military action as humanitarian in intention.
To do this our governments need to put a wedge between Islam and the Islamic State. So Mr Obama this week
- pointed to the barbaric inhumanity of the Islamic State’s actions,
- showed no partiality to any persecuted Christian minority group,
- pointed to the conflict with other Islamic groups,
- affirmed a positive attitude toward Islam and
- declared that the Islamic State is not Islamic.
To his credit Mr Obama seems to have also engaged other Islamic states to join in the military action against ISIL. This will further put a wedge between Islam and any military action against ISIL.
However, in Mr Obama’s statement this week he made two points clear, both of which are not really true.
The first was that “ISIL is not ‘Islamic’.” And his evidence for this claim is that “No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.”
Unfortunately it is not true that “No religion condones the killing of innocents.” History is replete with religious sacrifice of innocents and religious wars have all too often ignored the plight of the innocents. (Atheists need not feel smug about this as their guilt, especially in the twentieth century, is as great, if not greater. And none of us can feel smug while tens of thousands of innocents are being aborted annually.)
That the majority of ISIL’s victims are Muslim does not exclude it from being a religiously motivated movement. For ISIL is part of the group within Islam whose motivation is religious - namely, the removal of apostasy.
We should take our opponents self-identity seriously. They are waging war in the name of Islam and in accordance with their Islamic beliefs. They wish to create the Caliphate. Their commitment is more than a power grab for land – it is a religious zeal and if we ignore it, we will seriously underestimate them.
We must not try to conform Islam to Christian ideals of religion. Jesus and Mohammed were very different in their life as well as in their teaching. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey to be executed, a week later, for our sins. Mohammed arrived at Mecca in front of an army of 10,000 soldiers to take the city by force. In countries where Christianity has dominated, mosques can be built, the Qur’an can be read and studied and preached in the streets, and citizens can change religion without fear of persecution, let alone execution. None of these corresponding freedoms are available for Christians in countries where Islam holds sway.
The second statement of President Obama was: “ISIL is certainly not a state.” Again this claim is seriously flawed. For what is a ‘state’? President Obama seems to require recognition by other governments and by the people it subjugates. However, during a war or an invasion, a line on a map or recognition by others doesn’t determine nationhood. If ISIL succeeds - and I hope it doesn’t - then it will come to be a state, recognised by both the people it rules over and by other nations; just as Russia and China, and any number of other states who came into being through bloodshed, are recognised today. To claim that: “ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.” is not true of an organisation that is trying to establish the Caliphate. They have a vision for something far greater than slaughter.
Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese Philosopher, said “There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent.” While, in The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote; “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.” The politically correct, diplomatically wise, avoidance of understanding the Islamic basis of ISIL, will doom our attempts to quell this movement. It is a monster who will rise again after its head has been dealt a mortal blow (Revelation 13).
It is time to face the truth that Islam itself is in part to blame, and to help our fellow Australians, especially those from Islamic background, to understand that Islam is false. This can only come from an open and free explanation of the truth – something not allowed in Muslim countries – but available to us.
Jesus, the prophet whom Muslims claim to accept, said “if you abide in my word… you will know the truth, and truth will set you free” (John 8:31f).