Saturday, February 21, 2015

What If ISIS IS The Reformation?

Obama recently had his summit on Countering 'Violent Extremism'--the administration euphemism for Islamic Terror (okay, Islamist?). There are a lot of people talking about what Obama / the administration should / should-not be doing as well as (perhaps more interestingly) what Islam itself ought to be doing. Let's take a look:

Advice for America:
The Omnivore isn't especially impressed with most of this (for example the geo-politics of Egypt vs. Turkey ignore all kinds of things such as strategic locations--Turkey is the landing-point for people getting into ISIS and the fact that while secular, the current Egyptian government is the result of a coup) but this doesn't mean all the suggestions are bad though (figuring out where individuals stand on extremism in American communities is probably next to impossible, for example--we are probably empowering people we ought not to).

Advice for Islam:
What The Omnivore Thinks
One of the more interesting articles The Omnivore ever read (this was about health care--but bear with me here) pointed out that in America, unlike (presumably) England, there were actually three different health care systems (the insured system--best outcomes, the medicare system--okay outcomes, and the uninsured system: bad). The fact that these were all mushed together in statistics (at least most of them) led to confusing (the article suggested that the insured health care system had better outcomes than the UK's single payer).

The point here is that not only isn't there 'one Islam'--which is a point everyone keeps making, but still makes talking about Islam conceptually difficult--there also isn't 'one America.' For instance, there is Obama, the GOP, and the State Department at least. Things that Obama may or may not say are very differently understood than how the State Department (or the military) may act. There are different concerns (fears of Islamophobia-driven attacks in the US vs. perception of the US abroad).

One policy to solve everything would require a big chunk of gold and . . . Mt. Doom. 

On the other hand, a few things seem to be clear, important, and under-served.

American Islam vs. The Rest of The World
A 2011 Pew study of American Muslims makes a strong case that they are (a) pretty American in general (a little more likely to be more religious) and (b) equally concerned about Islamic violence around the world (7 points less at home). They also (c) view largely disavow violence (not 100% but close).

In contrast the Pew study of the rest of the world wasn't as rosy. Whatever the case elsewhere, though, while there may be problematic Mosques in America and there have been some recruits to ISIS there are not nearly as many as from Europe. America doesn't make one immune to ISIS's charms--but it seems to help.

The Omnivore suspects that as Muslims come to the US by choice rather than as refugees--and as they generally must assimilate into a work culture rather than government housing and aid (as in Europe)--there is probably a more liberal selection bias at work.

When Obama refuses to use the term Islam to refer to ISIS he is, at least partially, speaking to the American Muslim population for which, very very largely, this is true. Their Islam does not invoke the harsher versions of Sharia law, does not make it okay to commit honor killings (yes, some have happened--but they are not condoned at all by the vast majority of American Muslims), and so on. American Islam, The Omnivore thinks--from looking at the stats--is a lot more like a modern western religion than Islam in many other countries around the world (and a lot of the Muslim populations in Europe).

The Allure of a Harsh Religion
The ability of ISIS to radicalize and recruit is something that everyone is grappling with. It has a number of different dimensions we understand:
  • They have a not-crazy theological argument.
  • They appeal to a sense of adventure and even 'romance.' Add in brothers-in-arms and being part of something important and you have a draw.
  • They speak to a sense of victim-hood many Muslims feel (and it appears there is a correlation between feeling victimized and going to fight).
  • They have a "cool brand." They're winners (kinda). They're too-Xtream-for-The-West.
The Omnivore thinks we're missing something else: that harsh religions (very judgmental religions) have a more powerful draw to those in harsh conditions or who have been traumatized (such as in a natural disaster). The Omnivore also thinks a kind of take-no-prisoners back-to-basics position has an appeal (apparently Opus Dei has increased its membership). The Omnivore suspects that the very harshness of ISIS may make it more appealing to those who feel rudderless than less judgmental strains of Islam.

Horrible Governments
A key point of ISIS's leverage is that a lot of Middle Eastern governments are seen as both corrupt (by their own people) and oppressive when they are trying to establish more westernized codes. The Omnivore thinks it's unlikely that the rulers of Saudi Arabia would sentence a blogger to 1000 lashes for blogging if they had much of a choice--but they don't. Their people demand that kind of sentence be levied (if not fully carried out: high profile cases such as his usually get a pardon . . . eventually).

Governmental corruption is one of the enablers for Islamic extremism--it plays in Lebanon and Palestine. It played in Egypt (until it kind of didn't). An absolute theocracy can be pretty oppressive and if they aren't on the take (exactly) a lot of people will see that as preferable.

ISIS's government, right now, is probably as corrupt as it can be when in a state of total war--but that probably isn't "very corrupt." Right now they are likely seen as stand-up guys by people who long for ultra-fundamentalist Sharia Law and horrible atrocities to avenge various perceived humiliations.

In other words, for a lot of people who want an unflinching theocracy over their semi-secular, vaguely westernized government ISIS probably delivers. This brings us to . . .

What If ISIS IS The 'Reformation'?
While it's clear that ISIS isn't anything approximating either global (closer) or American (much further) Islam, we should consider that its appeal is way, way higher than it ought to be. If it turns out that ISIS's gestalt (an uncompromising hard-line, the semi-viable claim to being a caliphate, and a brand as a 'winner') is enough to establish it, then if not destroyed, we should consider the possibility that its real threat is that over time, so long as ISIS exists, Islam may slowly become more like it than like American Islam (or, well, American Muslims--there probably isn't such an actual thing as 'American Islam').

In other words, what if ISIS really is the 'Reformation?' What if it's selling something people somehow want--even when they really, really shouldn't?

Here are 6 people who went to fight for ISIS who don't "fit the profile."

Here is a writer who thinks that what is happening with ISIS right now DOES look like the 'Reformation.'

(Take all this with a grain of salt--but it's interesting reading)

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