Like so many Americans, I was appalled by the reports of the beheading of an American journalist, James Foley, at the hands of the self-styled “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS). Like so many Americans, my immediate reaction was, we have to get those guys. What we want now is revenge, take care of those “Islamic terrorists” once and for all.
But then my (too many) years of experience caused me to think. Who are these people, whom we label as “Islamic terrorists”? Attributing group characteristics to individuals is the very definition of prejudice. Moslems, Christians, Jews, and atheists all come in many varieties. Violence is all around us, unfortunately. Adding the adjective “Islamic” before the word “terrorist” contributes less information than not adding it. How would we feel if the Edgefield Advertiser reported that “two Baptist burglars were apprehended at the scene” or that “four Methodists were arrested for speeding this week by Sherriff Dobey”? Unless the crime were backed by most adherents of the perpetrator’s religion, adding those adjectives obscures rather than enlightens.
Notwithstanding the word “Islamic” in ISIS, its adherents are not mainstream Moslems. Nor are they a state, nor do they deserve treatment as enemy soldiers. Soldiering is an honorable profession, and ISIS is not honorable. Many of them are thugs, criminals, indeed murderers. Their leaders have to answer for their actions as did Al Capone for his criminal enterprise. (Was Capone a “Roman Catholic gang leader”?)
Islam is as disunited as Christianity. There are many “denominations” within Islam. “Salafism” is one whose beliefs are centered on the doctrine that Moslems should live now just as they did in the first century of Islam; progress takes you away from God. Within that group are adherents of “Salafist Jihadism,” whose doctrines include total intolerance of all other beliefs, including all other forms of Islam. This is not a new belief, it is a very old one; what is new is the emergence of ISIS as the most recent Salafist Jihadi sect.
According to Wikipedia, less than one percent of today’s Moslems believe in Salafist Jihadism. There are many, many adherents of Islam – so one percent is a large number. But this is certainly not mainstream Islam, any more than David Koresh and his Branch Davidians could be described as mainstream Christians defending their beliefs in Waco, Texas, 20 years ago.
Our re-invading Iraq would not solve this problem. The Salafist who actually killed James Foley spoke with a British accent, but we should not revenge ourselves on England. We are not sure whether the killing took place in Iraq or in Syria, but as corrupt as they are those two governments are fighting against ISIS; invading either of those countries probably wouldn’t help, either. What would work, in my opinion, is to keep firmly in mind that these terrorists are not soldiers, they are not in the mainstream of Islam or any other religion, they are mostly “followers” of individuals whom most Moslems, like most Christians and atheists, would describe as murderers. Most of their victims have been Moslems. What will defeat ISIS and others in the long run is vocal denunciation and prosecution not by us, but by Moslems throughout the world.
Islam is not our enemy. We need to stand solidly behind the majority of moderate Moslems, who oppose murder and terror. They are not significantly different from most citizens of our planet. Our national policy ought to be aimed at increasing their number within Islam, by supporting those Moslem governments – indeed, all governments – that espouse Human Rights.