I Say ISIS You Say ISIL…

ISIS atrocities make it imperative the world respond

ISIS atrocities make it imperative the world respond

ISIS or ISIL?   It’s really a question of translation.   The borders of Arab states are for the most part artificial – that’s why Kurds reside in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, and why Iraq is divided between Sunni and Shi’a.  It’s why there even is a Kuwait (the British figured a small state with lots of oil would need British protection and thus be loyal).

The Levant is a term given by the Europeans back in the 1500s for a geographic region that includes Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and some of southern Turkey.   The word comes from a French word meaning “rising” – the sun rises in the land of the East.   ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is one way to translate “al-Sham,” which the Arabs also use to describe a broader set of territory than just the state of Syria.

Practically, however, it’s fair game to translate it as “Syria” or “levant.”  Levant is not a direct Arab translation, and the group operates only in Syria and Iraq.   Its ambitions may be broader, but its reach is not.   Of course, one might eschew both ISIS and ISIL.   The French go for Daesh, which is from the Arabic acronym – not translating the Arab words and taking it from the official name of the group, Al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham.   That could also give us Daish.

ISIS controlled areas in blood red

ISIS controlled areas in blood red

Daish has the benefit of not saying Islamic – most Muslims are offended by that group using the term.  On 60 Minutes tonight King Abdullah of Jordan was indignant – there is nothing Islamic about what they are doing.   Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested calling it the Un-Islamic state.

Is it a state?   At one level it is a more effective state than many third world governments.  It collects taxes, sells oil (at cut rate prices), sells other items (including women to be slaves) and earns $6 million a day, making it self-sufficient.  It controls a large area of territory within Iraq and Syria.

On the other hand, the community of states haven’t granted it sovereignty, and are not likely to.  Moreover, they will fail – there is no way for them to sustain this if the international community and Arab world bands against them.  Most Arabs do not practice Salafism, their form of Islam.  That suggests going back to live the way the Umma did in Yathrib/Medina back in 630 AD.   That doesn’t mean eschewing technology – they are very proficient at using technology against the modern world – but that in tradition and rules, they want to turn the clock back 1400 years.

Those who say we should have supported Mubarak don't understand the demographic change taking place as a large youth population come of age in the Arab world.  The old dictatorial regimes cannot last.

Those who say we should have supported Mubarak don’t understand the demographic change taking place as a large youth population come of age in the Arab world. The old dictatorial regimes cannot last.

That is NOT something most young people in the Arab world want.  And while people can point to examples of people in the West and elsewhere joining ISIS, it’s still a tiny minority.  Even the people in Syria and Iraq under their control help them out of fear rather than conviction.  This is a criminal gang that functions through raw fear, and the conviction that they’ll scare away any opposition and thus win.  They can’t win the hearts and minds of the Islamic world, but they might make them cower into submission.

Right now, the international community is waking up.   Arms are flowing from Europe and the US to ISIS enemies, and it’s possible this might finally bring the US and Iran together in a constructive way.  Iraq’s notoriously incompetent Prime Minister al-Malaki has been forced out.  His anti-Sunni bully government is one reason why Iraq squandered the chance the US gave them to succeed.   Haider al-Albadi promies to unify Iraqis, and Sunnis who realize their faith is not the same as the Salafist extremists (and who themselves are terrorized) are likely to embrace Iraqi rather than ISIS unity.

The answer is not US ground troops - they are one reason ISIS emerged as it did!  It can't be a US war.  It must be multi-national.

The answer is not US ground troops – they are one reason ISIS emerged as it did! It can’t be a US war. It must be multi-national.

I use ISIS because I think we’re better off with the jargon of the current state system, and it’s practically correct.  ISIS is only strong in Iraq and Syria.   But ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, or Daish…it’s all the same.

Fear mongers want to make ISIS larger than life, and somehow insinuate that massive numbers of Muslims are supporting them.  Bullshit.   Those fearmongers want to demonize Islam and their imaginative life is stimulated by fantasies of super powerful enemies.  It’s dramatic and some people want something to hate and fear.   The reality is that ISIS is an opportunity.  Moderate Arabs, the Iranians, and the West can unite to help overthrow the neanderthals and continue the progress started in the Arab Spring.

This is a process of modernization and transformation.  It took Europe 300 years to change, the Arab world is changing much more quickly.  Yet there is a kind of poetic justice to this.  Back when the Islamic world was more tolerant than the Christian world, Islamic rationalist scholars and Islamic knowledge from Spain started the process that would lead to the renaissance, the enlightenment and ultimately modernism.  The West owes a debt to the Islamic world for keeping Greek and Roman knowledge alive, and helping ignite the cultural development of the West.

Now it’s our turn to return the favor.

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  1. #1 by SShiell on September 22, 2014 - 12:20

    And how long do you want us to wait for Islam to progress from the 8th Century, approximately where it is today, to the 21st? What do we do in the meantime? Kneel to them? Offer our throats to their knives? The “rest” of the world does not have a problem co-exiting with Muslims, Muslims have a problem co-existing with the rest of the world.

    Now I know the first thing you are going to do is attack my premise that it’s Islam that is the guilty party. Well I do not see Lutherans wearing suicide vests, nor do I see Methodists hacking off the heads of unbelievers, and I do not see Catholics killing Protestants en masse because their brand of Christianity does not conform. You saw it in the 13-14th Centuries, yes, but Christianity went through something called The Reformation. This began with Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” nailed to the door of the All Saints Church of Wittenberg, Saxony in 1517.

    Interestingly enough the timing could not have been more significant because it virtually coincided with the greatest extent of the Muslim conquests. The Moors controlled the Iberian Peninsula of what is now Spain and Portugal. And Muslim armies were marching up through the Balkans having conquered what is now Greece, Albania, Hungary, Rumania, and what was once known as Yugoslavia. This surge crested in 1529 with the siege of Vienna where a Muslim army of 300,000 was defeated at the gates of Vienna. Their ultimate objective: Rome and the Vatican. It has been downhill ever since for Islam until its recent resurgence within the last century. But philosophically they are still mired in the middle ages. The Islamic world was “tolerant of the west” when their military arms could no longer conquer the west.

    20 years ago, Al Qaeda was the epitome of Islamic Fundamentalism, but they were beaten back and, according to Obama, well on their way to defeat. Well today they are joined on the stage by upstarts like ISIS and Boko Haram, while the virtually defeated Al Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan. Islamic Fundamentalism is not on the wane but surging and, more significantly, attracting many from the west. As many as 300 from the United Kingdom and 60 from the United States have been known to have joined ISIS and others have traveled to Somalia and other areas to join similarly radical elements from comfortable confines in the west. Their stage may not be a world wide one but they are getting the attention of the world and their recruitment is much larger than the small area they control. And the one thing they have in common? Islam.

    I repeat: The “rest” of the world does not have a problem co-exiting with Muslims, Muslims have a problem co-existing with the rest of the world.

  2. #2 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2014 - 12:27

    Islam is going to be around, the question is what form. Nobody can defeat a major world religion, to try to attack all Islam when over a billion hate ISIS would be insane. You can’t change reality by complaining about it.

    We can look at history and find atrocities by all civilizations, especially the Christians – the West have been more violent than any other civilization. So complaining about Islam is pointless, Islam is here, it’s going through a process of change. Most Muslims are peaceful, very few are extremist. Again, making it a fight against an entire religion would be utterly and completely insane and idiotic. All we can do is try to help destroy the extremists, help the moderates (King Abdullah is a very powerful voice – and most Muslims hate ISIS) and return the favor. It is thanks to the Muslim world that the West got the impetus to modernize, after all. Islamic rationalism once dominated Muslim theology – it could rise again.

  3. #3 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2014 - 12:29

    The West gave us: colonialism that decimated African culture and created conditions that persist now, including the divisions that caused the Rwandan genocide. The West gave us the holocaust, fascism, the Soviet Union and Communism. The West created weapons that could threaten the world’s existence, and almost used them. The west gave us Stalin’s purges. So complaining about Islamic violence over the years while turning a blind eye to that from the West is, well, a bit comical.

  4. #4 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2014 - 13:08

    By the way, for anyone in the region – I’m giving a public talk Wednesday at the Auburn public library (September 24) and in Gorham at the Baxter Memorial Library on Wednesday October 1st – the subject is “Oil, Islam and the Arab Spring.” I believe the one in Gorham will be taped so I can try to post it if I can get a copy.

  5. #5 by timactual on September 22, 2014 - 13:09

    Most of the world’s borders are artificial, including ours.

    ” It’s why there even is a Kuwait (the British figured a small state with lots of oil would need British protection and thus be loyal).”

    Kuwait has been in existence for centuries. As an Ottoman province, it became a British protectorate in 1897.The British were there to counteract German influence. Oil was discovered in Kuwait in 1938.

    “That is NOT something most young people in the Arab world want.”

    Great. So we don’t need to do anything because ISIS will be kicked out in the next election.

    • #6 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2014 - 13:12

      Alas, the post-Ottoman world does not have a democratic political culture and thus brutality has reigned as have dictators. We need to facilitate a move towards modernism. It’s in our self-interest, and better for the vast majority of peaceful Arabs.

  6. #7 by timactual on September 22, 2014 - 13:13

    ” especially the Christians-the West have been more violent than any other civilization.”

    Horse hockey.

    There. I have answered your reasoned argument with my own reasoned argument.

    • #8 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2014 - 14:40

      You are ignoring the evidence – the holocaust, massacre of native American Indians in both North and South America, fascism, Soviet Communism, Stalin’s purges, European colonialism destroying the traditions and political cultures of the African continent. World War I and World War II. People like to overlook their own faults and focus on those of others. To be sure, that doesn’t mean the West is bad any more than violence in the history of the Islamic world make them bad. Nor does it change the nature of the problems we’re encountering.

  7. #9 by SShiell on September 22, 2014 - 15:05

    First: You keep putting up a straw man no one is espousing: The demise or the eradication of Islam. I don’t know why you keep bringing that one up in this forum and others. No one is advocating it. No. One.

    Second: None of the “evidence” you espouse justifies current barbarities. The history of the world is of one culture conquering or dominating another throughout the centuries. An example you yourself use in another forum is the fall of Jerusalem to the forces of Saladin almost 1,000 years ago – can you imagine the forces of Islam today allowing the people of another culture/religion to walk away from a surrendering city? Viewing todays world, that’s a heck of a reversal from the tolerance of 1,000 years ago. Now that’s what I call progress!

    Third: You speak of Islamic Rationalism that once dominated Muslim theology – that was centuries ago. What is dominant today? And how long is the rest of the world supposed to wait for the Islamic Reformation you think will occur with the full development of the “Arab Spring”? 10 years? 20? 100? And in the meantime? So far the Arab Spring has brought what? Tolerant societies in Libya? Egypt? Syria? Iran? Anywhere? Anybody know the words of the song Kum-By-Ya in Aramaic?

    Bottom Line: The “rest” of the world does not have a problem co-exiting with Muslims, Muslims have a problem co-existing with the rest of the world. Try responding to that instead of hand-waving about pie-in-the-sky Islamic Rationalism – Sounds a lot more like Islamic Rationalization to me.

    • #10 by lbwoodgate on September 22, 2014 - 17:45

      “Muslims have a problem co-existing with the rest of the world.”

      You must live on another planet. Muslims exists in nearly every country in the world and they are hardly all calling for the overthrow of those governments. Radical elements yes but then that’s what the right-wing extremists here in this country want to do. Who knows, they may ultimately resort to the same kind of violence their radical Muslim brothers are. Many of the fervent 2nd amendment advocates have espoused as much.

      Your problem is that you’re comparing apples to oranges when you point out silly stuff like “I do not see Lutherans wearing suicide vests, nor do I see Methodists hacking off the heads of unbelievers, and I do not see Catholics killing Protestants en masse because their brand of Christianity does not conform.” The form of government we live under here allows us to make changes through the electorate although it does have its weaknesses. But compared to what the radical elements over in the Mideast have had to live with, its far sight better to make change with.

      • #11 by SShiell on September 22, 2014 - 19:33

        No, I live on the planet Earth but I do not make excuses for barbarity. Who said anything about overthrowing governments – I never said anything about overthrowing anybody and what does that have to do with the price of tea in China. I know Muslims exist all over but where they are dominant, what do you see?

        The Middle East. Take a look at the map and show me where extremists are not running rampant or on the verge of same. Care to come out of the closet and declare your homosexuality in ______ (Name the country).

        North Africa: Libya? Yeah, looks real calm there, why don’t you take a vacation in the middle of that mess. Egypt? Once again, another real lovely place to be.

        Central Africa: Right in the middle of Boko Haram’s territory. Easy there, Woody, you want to watch out for the girls.

        Asia & the Pacific Rim: Indonesia – Largest Muslim population on the planet so I hear. You want to walk down Main Street with a sign on your back telling all you’re a Christian? Didn’t think so. Malaysia? Same thing. Philippines? Ditto.

        So take a moment, or even two, and show me the error of my ways. Show me where Islam is the dominant religion and Muslims are the cultural majority where you would want your children (especially daughters) to grow up. Show me where Muslims are dominant that you can sing to the heavens about co-existing with them.

        This ought to be fun . . .

      • #12 by lbwoodgate on September 22, 2014 - 21:58

        “So take a moment, or even two, and show me the error of my ways”

        It’s completely out of sync because you insist on comparing apples to oranges. Extreme poverty and a lack of democratic institutions in these regions will have outcomes different where such conditions do not exist. Religious extremists use these weaknesses to incite hostilities. When people are secure in their ability to provide for themselves and their families they are less likely to be influenced by radicals.

        And BTW, your wrong when you say Xians haven’t killed on any large scale since the 13th and 14th centuries. Let’s not forget the brutality of slavery in 18th and 19th century America where views of slavery was supported by all christian churches in the South. And then there are the black families in the South still living who lost relatives to lynchings by white Christian men in the 20th century.

        Christians were killing each other not that long in Ireland too.

        Islam is not the problem here. Your contempt for it is however.

      • #13 by lbwoodgate on September 22, 2014 - 22:05

        ”I know Muslims exist all over but where they are dominant, what do you see?”

        I see extremists within the larger Muslim community terrorizing and harassing moderate Muslims and non-Muslims. I see the same things in Tennessee and Orange County, California where Muslims reside but in this case its the white Xian majorities that are doing the harassing and making death threats to Muslims. Does that mean that all Xians in these communities deserve to be rated the same as the extremists there?

      • #14 by lbwoodgate on September 22, 2014 - 22:11

        ” Care to come out of the closet and declare your homosexuality in ______ (Name the country).”

        WTF?!? Care to admit you still where your wife’s undergarments when she’s not around?

        And I believe it was the Christian majority in Uganda that passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 which initially would have executed any one found to be a homosexual. But that was changed to life in prison when the world expressed their outrage over it.

      • #15 by lbwoodgate on September 22, 2014 - 22:29

        “Asia & the Pacific Rim: Indonesia – Largest Muslim population on the planet so I hear. You want to walk down Main Street with a sign on your back telling all you’re a Christian?”

        Now you’re just being nonsensical. How about you walk into a biker bar and tell them you voted for Obama. The fact that there are domains where death threats exist from extremists doesn’t allow you to condemn an entire religion.

        In the real life story of Navy seal Marcus Luttrell portrayed as Mark Wahlberg in the movie Lone Survivor, his life was saved by a Muslim from the Taliban who were hunting Luttrell down.

        Mohammad Gulab, and three other Muslim men from their village “carried the wounded warrior back to their village of Sabray. Bound by a tribal code of honor known as Pashtunwali, Gulab gave Luttrell food, water and shelter. Although the Taliban encircled the village and threatened his family and neighbors if he didn’t turn over the American, Gulab refused. For four days, Luttrell was shuttled among houses and even into a cave to prevent his capture.

        Finally, Gulab’s father traveled to a Marine outpost with a note from Luttrell. The military launched a large combat search-and-rescue operation with warplanes and ground forces that attacked the Taliban fighters and brought home their missing man.” SOURCE

        There’s at least one Muslim that doesn’t fit your profile of them

  8. #16 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2014 - 19:48

    You’re simply engaged in a logical fallacy. It’s cultural, not the religion. It’s a history of dictatorship. If it was the religion, Islam would not have had its golden age, while the Christians were barbarous, backwards and brutal. It’s politics and culture. To blame the religion is illogical. The Rwandans weren’t Muslim. Stalin wasn’t a Muslim when he committed his purges. Hitler wasn’t a Muslim. The Khmer Rouge was not a jihadist group. In any event, what is your point? Do you want to make war on a religion? And why has Islam had so many centuries of peace while the West was committing atrocities?

    Or are you just trolling?

  9. #17 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2014 - 22:11

    Good point Larry. A friend of mine in New York posted on Facebook a piece with “Go home you’re not wanted” painted on a Muslim Community Center devoted to building positive cultural ties. Anti-Islamic adds will be put on billboards in New York. When people demonize a collective based on the actions of a few, it leads bad places. It’s also contrary to the basic ideals behind American values.

  10. #18 by SShiell on September 22, 2014 - 22:16

    So your contention is “The Islamic State”, previously calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS‎), and also known by the Arabic acronym Daʿesh has nothing to do with the religion of Islam or Muslims? Is that what you are implying, suggesting, contending or just flat stating there is no connection to the religion of Islam. And the same can be said of Al Qaeda? Boko Haram? Absolutely no connection to the religion of Islam? So I, a Presbyterian, can walk into one of these organization’s recruiting offices, much like an Air Force Recruiting Office, and sign up for a tour of duty.

    By the way, did I ever say or imply or contend in any way that acts of barbarism can only come from a Muslim? No. Not once did I ever even imply that but I did state that acts of barbarism committed in the name of Islam should be acknowledged as such. You want to call it cultural? OK. You want to call it part of the history of dictatorship? OK. But to state unequivocally that these organizations are in no way associated or connected to the religion of Islam is madness. I never, and I will repeat this for the slower witted among you, I NEVER said it was the religions fault. Nor did I say in any way that the religion of Islam condoned it. But there is a connection.

    If that is what you call trolling then BAN ME!!!!!

    • #19 by lbwoodgate on September 22, 2014 - 22:34

      “So your contention is “The Islamic State”, previously calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS‎), and also known by the Arabic acronym Daʿesh has nothing to do with the religion of Islam or Muslims?

      No more so than the KKK was acting from biblical authority. That burning cross of theirs was no more a Christian symbol to them than the Swastika was to Nazis who persecuted 6 million Jews.

      • #20 by SShiell on September 22, 2014 - 23:01

        I do not know how to respond to that. But I will try:

        Are you and Erb so determined to defend Islam that you do not even read what I write? Let’s repeat something I just wrote so you can try something you have evidently not tried today – COMPREHENSION!!!

        “But to state unequivocally that these organizations are in no way associated or connected to the religion of Islam is madness. I never, and I will repeat this for the slower witted among you, I NEVER said it was the religions fault. Nor did I say in any way that the religion of Islam condoned it. But there is a connection.”

        ISIS has “Islam” in its frigging name!!!! A non-Muslim dare not even try to join because you will find your head separated from your body if you even tried.

        The KKK was a monstrous organization. You’re right. And the Nazi party was an abomination. I agree. But they did not cry glory to their God as they killed in his name, burning cross or not. Nor did they recruit people promising them 72 virgins in paradise if they would just martyr themselves.

        So if you think there is absolutely no connection in any way to Islam I have only one last thing to say to you:

        See Ya

      • #21 by lbwoodgate on September 23, 2014 - 11:52

        “The KKK was a monstrous organization. You’re right. And the Nazi party was an abomination. I agree. But they did not cry glory to their God as they killed in his name, burning cross or not. Nor did they recruit people promising them 72 virgins in paradise if they would just martyr themselves.”

        So the specifics of how some so-called radical Islamists go about justifying genocide and cruelty bothers you more than how non-muslim sociopaths do?

        “So if you think there is absolutely no connection in any way to Islam I have only one last thing to say to you: See Ya”

        Oh, if only. I suspect however that we will always be seeing your brand of tunnel vision around here.

    • #22 by Scott Erb on September 22, 2014 - 22:52

      The Westboro Baptist Church is Christian. Christian crusaders said “convert or die.” The point is that radical extremists do not define the religion, and to equate the extremists with the religion is simply wrong. But if you are NOT blaming the religion, I welcome that. We should agree that the key is to help moderate and young Muslims change their culture. Let’s condemn violence and extremism (which I do!) not a religion writ large. None of us like ISIS, we all want to combat it and stop it from engaging in atrocities. So maybe we can be on the same page and not focus on Islam as the problem but radical extremists!

      • #23 by SShiell on September 22, 2014 - 23:13

        Scott, I will repeat myself one last time: I have never stated or implied in any way that Islam condones the actions of ISIS et al just as no Christian organization condones the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. But I believe ISIS is a symptom, not the disease. And organizations like ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and even Hamas and Hezbollah foment the same kind of madness. The separation of the culture from the religion seems to be near the heart of the matter. And I believe that should be near the center of the debate.

  11. #24 by Scott Erb on September 23, 2014 - 13:56

    Up until the late sixties there were very few Islamic extremists, and nothing like the brutality we see now. So the driving factors have to be political and cultural. Religion is often used to justify violence because it is effective – if you can convince people you’re killing for God, they’ll follow. So the religion is being used that way by the extremists. But violence and anger are natural in places where there is no hope. Hitler got 3% of the vote in 1928 – the National Socialist share went up over 30% after the Great Depression hit.

    The post-Ottoman world had dictators, and now with the rising youth something has to give, the Mubaraks, Assads, and even the Saudi royal family are ill suited to the 21st Century. Democracy is not easy to create, and this is the start of a process that will last decades. It is about Islam in that the extremists are really trying to fight to make their vision of Islam the dominant one. I think they have no chance – I think ISIS is weaker than most people believe, just as al qaeda proved not to be as strong as people imagined after 9-11. They’re fighting against modernism, against reason, and most Arab youth do not want to live like it’s 630 AD.

    But we play into the extremist’s hands when we make it about Islam. Since most Muslims are peaceful and only want to work and have a future, we should respect and honor their faith, and work with them to counter the extremists. If it appears we’re attacking Islam, then they’ll use that to recruit, trying to convince the youth that it’s Islam vs. the West. That’s the war they want, it’s not the war we want. That’s something both President Bush and President Obama agreed on.

    Unfortunately President Bush thought it would be easy to build democracy if we got rid of the dictator and gave lots of add and support. We’ve learned that it is difficult and time consuming. But even Putin now is talking about combating ISIS and in this threat I believe there is an opportunity to find a way to bring the world together and act effectively in trying to combat brutal and even genocidal thugs.

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