The Islamic State (IS, ISIL, ISIS)

In 2014 the Islamic State was declared in Syria and Iraq. It even managed to break through the self-imposed news/reality filter that Kiwis seem to have, that normally shuts out events in the outside world. Nevertheless it was still not seen as an acceptable conversation topic in middle-class politically-correct circles and most kiwis chose to ignore it.

There are many issues involved here, but the key one is that moderate Muslims themselves, both in NZ and the rest of the western world in general, simply do not have the same view of Islam as ISIS/ISIL. The values that the moderates espouse, having lived in the West for years, are at odds with the values of IS and fundamentalist Islam. Thus they cry, ‘IS are not true Muslims’. Even after the public beheading of UK aid worker David Haines in September, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron said ‘Islam is a religion of peace’. Cameron has evidently been heavily influenced by the thinking of the moderate British Muslims – which to be fair probably do represent a significant number of those in the UK. However what is  true of moderate UK Muslims is not true in a uniform manner within the UK or the world over. As Steven Pinker shows in The Better Angels of our Nature, morals and values have drifted in a liberal direction over time; we in the West have generally become more tolerant, better able to identify with others.

This drift of values has become so extreme that Muslims in NZ (who have taken on board those values) even question that the media are telling the truth, they simply cannot believe that ‘Muslims’ could do such things. Therefore it cannot be happening and must be some kind of conspiracy by the western governments to give them an excuse to invade Muslim lands again – no doubt in search of oil…

Westernised Muslims need to do some research into the history of their religion and look at where their own valuesreally come from. The truth is that the values of peace, harmony, equality, respect for others etc simply do not originate from within Islam (as they believe), they’ve simply been appropriated from Western culture and retrofitted to the religion of their choice (Islam).  So in a sense middle-class westernised Islam is indeed a personal religion of peace but this is no longer recognisable as any kind of true Islam for Islamists who see the religion as something which must control the structure of society – the symbolic universe of its inhabitants (Berger).

ISIL are playing the publicity game and separating the beheadings of unfortunate westerners over time for maximum news coverage, keeping it on the front pages. This has a number of aims. To terrorise the West and prompt retaliatory attacks on Muslims in those countries, who of course should fight back raising the ante, and a tit-for-tat feud should ensue in the West, destabilising countries already weakened by the financial crisis.The publicity is also intended to challenge the West to act. If it does not act, it will be seen as weak. If it does act, the aim is to drag it back into another messy war in the Middle East, providing plenty of opportunity for division within the UN and public dissent at home. Finally the publicity is intended as additional pressure softening up the local Iraqis, Syrians and anyone else in the ISIL firing line, reducing their will to fight.

Cameron and Obama must insist on the ‘religion of peace’ line to try and nip potential destabilising internal retaliatory attacks in the bud and provide a platform for building international support for attacks against ISIL. The aim is to divide and conquer. The attacks need to take place without generating sympathy from other Muslim states who might see ISIL as ‘brothers in arms’ or victims of the Crusaders (unlikely but possible) and to try and stem the flow of extremists from western nations fighting in Syria now.

The infographic below is circulating at the moment (mid Sept 2014) and the figures are questionable, but doubtless contain an element of truth.

Foreign Fighters

In an effort to stem the flow of British Muslims to the conflict in Iraq and Syria, the Association of British Muslimsissued a fatwa (edict) declaring the Islamic State to be un-Islamic and heretical. The full text of the fatwa can be found on their website. In NZ, FIANZ has issued a short statement rejecting ISIL methodology but not the ideology behind it.

And in response the cartoon below is one of a weekly series published at

Jesus and Mo - Takfir

To date, the only real public attempt at refuting the ISIL ideology, is the Open Letter to Baghdadi and this seems to have received very minimal publicity worldwide.

Finally it must be said, that aerial bombing runs or even ‘boots on the ground’ cannot eradicate ISIL. You cannot fight an ideology by military means. A few misdirected American air-strikes hitting civilian targets will give give ISIL and other Islamist groups a Public Relations field day and boost the anti-war protests in the US and around the world. The way to combat ISIL and other Islamist groups is by education – an inevitably slow process. But let’s be clear; many of the Western jihadis flocking to ISIL have good levels of general education – limited to the usual school curriculum. This is not sufficient.

What is needed is for Muslims to read-widely; to study their own religion and history in an objective manner; to read some of the things they know will conflict with their existing views – and follow up on them; to realise that the myths about early Islamic history they’ve been indoctrinated with, are largely a false ‘salvation history’. To question the origins of their own faith … Not an easy task!