Archive - February 23, 2015

Forgiving ISIS
New Book on Political Islam by ArcU Blogger John Owen
ISIS is a Religious Movement — and that is a controversial statement

Forgiving ISIS

In all of the back-and-forth since the recent beheadings of Coptic Christians by ISIS, one reaction is startling  — that of Coptic Bishop Angaelos, who extended forgiveness.  See here.  Forgiveness is hardly an obvious or natural response and is certainly not an easy one.  It is not something to which anyone has a right and it does not preclude condemning or fighting ISIS.  Why did Bishop Angaelos forgive?  He explains:

It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.

Bishop Angaelos was able to see a purpose in these horrific deaths:

I learned a long time ago that when one prays, one prays for the best outcome, not knowing what that outcome would be. Of course, I prayed that they would be safe. But I also prayed that, when the moment came, they would have the peace and strength to be able to get through it. It doesn’t change my view of God that these 21 men died in this way. They were sacrificed, but so much has come out of it. They brought the imminent dangers to marginalized peoples, not just Christians, but Yazidis and others in the Middle East, to the attention of the whole world.

He calls for united efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians — and all those who are denied their religious freedom.

I would like to see us all start to work towards human rights generally, because when we’re divided into different departments or organizations any change will be fragmented. If you look at the rights of every individual, God-given rights, we can all start to work together and safeguard any people who are persecuted anywhere. Of course, the vast majority of persecution falls squarely right now on Christians in the Middle East and that needs to be addressed. But, as a Christian, I will never be comfortable just safeguarding the rights of Christians. We need to help everyone.

His and other reactions to persecution on the part of Christians, ranging from non-violent protest to behind-the-scenes diplomacy to taking up arms, will be the subject of a major conference that the Center for Civil and Human Rights is holding in Rome on December 10-12, 2015.  Entitled “Under Caesar’s Sword: An International Conference on Christian Response to Persecution,” the conference commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.

All are invited!

New Book on Political Islam by ArcU Blogger John Owen

ArcU blogger John Owen has just published — and has been receiving wide attention for — Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West’s Past.  Here is Princeton University Press’s description:

How should the Western world today respond to the challenges of political Islam? Taking an original approach to answer this question, Confronting Political Islam compares Islamism’s struggle with secularism to other prolonged ideological clashes in Western history. By examining the past conflicts that have torn Europe and the Americas—and how they have been supported by underground networks, fomented radicalism and revolution, and triggered foreign interventions and international conflicts—John Owen draws six major lessons to demonstrate that much of what we think about political Islam is wrong.

Owen focuses on the origins and dynamics of twentieth-century struggles among Communism, Fascism, and liberal democracy; the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century contests between monarchism and republicanism; and the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century wars of religion between Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and others. Owen then applies principles learned from the successes and mistakes of governments during these conflicts to the contemporary debates embroiling the Middle East. He concludes that ideological struggles last longer than most people presume; ideologies are not monolithic; foreign interventions are the norm; a state may be both rational and ideological; an ideology wins when states that exemplify it outperform other states across a range of measures; and the ideology that wins may be a surprise.

Looking at the history of the Western world itself and the fraught questions over how societies should be ordered,Confronting Political Islam upends some of the conventional wisdom about the current upheavals in the Muslim world.

See here for an interview with John on the book.


ISIS is a Religious Movement — and that is a controversial statement

Much attention lately has been going to an article recently published in the Atlantic Monthly, “What ISIS Really Wants,” by Graeme Wood.  Wood makes the case that ISIS cannot be explained except as an outgrowth of the Quran and basic Islamic theology — in contrast, say, to the protestations of President Obama (and other American presidents — see this excellent piece by David Brooks) that ISIS is inimical to the true Islam and has roots in social dysfunctions like economic dislocation. Wood shows that the group adheres strictly and deliberately to Islamic teaching, including in its cruelest exploits.

Wood’s piece is getting lots of criticism (see here for a good example), much of it arguing, like Obama does, that ISIS is at odds with mainstream Islam and that Islam strongly forbids its gory deeds.

I am inclined to agree that ISIS should not be portrayed as the inevitable or even likely outgrowth of Islamic texts and core teachings.   I would also caution though, against latter-day secularization theorists who want to reduce ISIS to poverty, economic flux, weak governance, the desire of young men for adventure, and the ill effects of western intervention.  All of these factors might contribute to ISIS, but Wood’s article makes clear that the group’s methods and motivations take Islamic teaching quite seriously.  ISIS is serious about a Caliphate, serious about the apocalypse, and serious about divinely sanctioned offensive warfare that makes little distinction between combatants and civilians.

In the end, it would be better to say (as Wood does) that ISIS strongly adheres to Islamic texts and teachings but also to say (as Wood does not, at least very strongly or clearly) that its interpretation of these teachings is a highly unusual one, held by a tiny minority, and strongly at odds with the broad expanse of the Islamic tradition, both today and historically. ISIS is a religious sect: genuinely driven by faith, esoteric, atypical, and very, very bloody.





© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.