Ideas and the Islamic State

Ideas and the Islamic State

Why you should care

It’s rich, armed and brutal.

Barbaric, subhuman, sadistic — the Islamic State (IS) group’s terror reverberates around the world, sending refugees en masse to neighboring countries and popping up on our smartphones. Last month, John McLaughlin, former deputy CIA chief, described the IS, with about 20,000 fighters, as a beast that is growing — one that will keep growing unless the anti-IS coalition retakes Mosul. Read more here.

Beastly, yes, but the IS is at least notionally based on a glorious idea: a caliphate. Last year, in her piece on Islam’s Golden Age, Emily Cadei looked into the fantasies and history that ostensibly motivates the IS’s terror. In the years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death in the 7th century, the caliphate stretched from Spain to Afghanistan. It legitimized its rule in Islamic terms, and though its true era lasted only about 300 years, the dream of establishing a new caliphate has reverberated through the centuries since. The IS’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, clearly understands its power. Read more here.

If ideas motivate the IS, shouldn’t ideological counter-warfare be part of the anti-IS strategy? Over in Lebanon, a little band called Al-Rahel Al-Kabir is attacking terror with song and satire, Eva Marie Kogel wrote in October for OZY. The liberal Arabic press is already calling the band the voice of a generation — a generation of war-weary young people who want to live without bombs, without religious conflicts, without fear. Their biggest satirical hit is called “Hymns to the Caliph.” One of its lyrics: “Master Baghdadi! You will lead God’s servants to an abyss like no other.” Read more here.

Jordan is taking an unhumorous ideological tack, OZY’s Laura Secorun Palet wrote in January: The little Hashemite kingdom is at a full-fledged ideological war, its officials say. It’s not just surveillance. The government is looking to implement a national anti-extremism policy and has enlisted leading scholars from around the world to refute the IS’s religious arguments and define “moderate Islam.” Read more here.

Later in January, Palet brought up an even more interesting proposal to counter the IS: Stop talking about them all together. Give them the silent treatment. Rob them of the attention that feeds them. Every newscast, video and article about them — including this one — enhances our sense of threat and their feeling of power, she argues. The IS murders innocents in utterly gruesome ways to get our attention. Why should we give it to them? Perhaps, instead, the media should treat them like parents treat children who are acting out. Ignore them. Refuse even to acknowledge them. Read more here.

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