Who’s Responsible for ISIS?

Think Progress and Juan Cole present a well informed, substantiated representation of most of my thoughts on Graeme Wood’s article What ISIS Really Wants in the Atlantic.

Jerusha Tanner Lamptey
Professor of Islam and Ministry at Union Theological Seminary

By suggesting that Islam is ultimately beholden to specific literal readings of texts, Lamptey said Wood and other pundits inadvertently validate ISIS’s voice.
“[Wood’s position] confirms exactly what people like ISIS want people to think about them, which is that they are the only legitimate voice,” she said. “It echoes that rhetoric 100%. Yes, that is what ISIS says about themselves, but it is a different step to say ‘Yes, that is true about the Islamic tradition and all Muslims.’”

Nihad Awad
Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

“Scholars who study Islam, authorities of Islamic jurisprudence, are telling ISIS that they are wrong, and Mr. Wood knows more than what they do, and he’s saying that ISIS is Islamic?” Awad said. “I don’t think Mr. Wood has the background or the scholarship to make that dangerous statement, that historically inaccurate statement….”

Mohammad Fadel
Associate Professor & Toronto Research Chair for the Law and Economics of Islamic Law at the University of Toronto

“Yes, [ISIS is] Islamic in that they use Islamic sources to justify all their actions,” Fadel said. “But I think the question that bothers most Muslims is the idea that just because someone says they are Muslim or that their actions are representative of Islam doesn’t make it so. Just because a group can appropriate Islamic sources and Islamic symbols, and then go around doing all sorts of awful things, doesn’t mean that they get to be the ones who define for the world what Islam means.”

I have much greater respect for Jerusha Lamptey and Juan Cole as experts on Islam and Iraq, respectively, than I have for the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Princeton, which is closely affiliated with the neo-cons who took us to war in Iraq under false/exaggerated pretenses. Wood, in contrast, leans heavily on Princeton’s Bernard Haykel. I’m more trusting of the Edward Said school of Middle Eastern studies that Haykel dismisses as ‘rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”’

* * *

What I would add that I haven’t seen in other articles about ISIS is that the actions of the West in Iraq, from colonialism to Iran Contra to sanctions to invasion and occupation, have created fertile ground for conservatism, fanaticism, retaliation and flat-out fury.

Since about the time that ISIS emerged, I have given myself an entirely amateur self-diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If it’s an accurate self-diagnosis, mine is still only a mild, entirely manageable case. Still, coming to terms with my own trauma has changed my relationship to a long-held opinion of mine. I first formed my theory years ago in reference to the Palestinians, especially Gazans. Now I feel strongly that most of the Middle East, especially Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, suffers from the complications of several generations of moderate to severe trauma disorders.

In America, we’ve all learned since 2001 something about PTSD and how it effects our soldiers when they return home. Right now, PTSD is on trial in Texas in the so-called “American Sniper” case. But our soldiers get to come home. Our soldiers, to one degree or another, chose to enter the fight in the first place. What about the Iraqi kids who came of age during the Sunni Awakening, or the heyday of the Mahdi Army? What about their parents, who watched them die indiscriminately, as collateral damage in the conflict between Islamists and Coalition forces?

ISIL recruited them, but how much of a role did we play in making them recruit-able?

Sure, there are what Graeme Wood in another article calls the Psychopaths. I don’t believe – and I don’t think Wood believes – that their bloodthirsty enthusiasm for ISIS is really about religious conviction. If not this movement, I believe they would have found another, similarly bloody movement to join. In any case, Juan Cole makes a good case for their importance being exaggerated:

.01 percent of the community volunteered. They are often teens, some are on the lam from petty criminal charges, and many come back disillusioned. You could get 400 people to believe almost anything. It isn’t a significant statistic.

Al Qaeda, Abu Mas’ab Zarqawi, Salafi quietism, ISIL – all of these movements, self-styled resistance or liberation movements, were born at times when the United States and her allies were flexing their muscles in the Middle East. When do we turn from criticizing Islam to a serious critique of our own contributions to what’s happening in the Arabian Peninsula?

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