I urge friends and readers to spend 42 minutes watching the following video, published to YouTube by VICE NEWS about one month ago. A well done documentary focusing on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the video mainly depicts ISIL’s efforts to establish the city as the central capital of their new “Caliphate.”
Westerners and moderate, state-aligned Muslims decry ISIL as out of step with traditional Islam. Or even as “not Islamic.” (For more, see here.)
Certainly we should celebrate the ways that the majority of Muslims, worldwide, seem determined to fit into a world order rooted in a rule of international law and respect for human rights. We don’t desire to be pulled into the madness of a third world war between two artificially constructed facades. We must not permit our conflict with ISIL to become a war between an “Islamic East” and a “Secular (or Christian) West.”
But I still maintain that the United States’ current policy towards ISIL is based on a profound distortion of the facts. US officials are trying to win a rhetorical war in which “ISIL” is denigrated as a mere “terrorist organization.”
IS partisans are not just “terrorists.” This is painfully obvious to anyone with a modicum of sense, or with access to what VICE NEWS is doing in their reporting on ISIL.
As the above video clearly demonstrates, the term “terrorism” is completely inadequate as a descriptor of what ISIL is doing. “Terrorism” doesn’t explain a thing about their goals, tactics, or actions within and on the edges of their territory. Outwardly, they appear quite “serious” about imposing a totalitarian “Islamic” order within the areas they control.
The vision of ISIL is to create a thoroughly Islamic society, international in scope, spanning and eliminating current borders in the Levant and indeed around the world. They employ a wildly ambitious expansionist rhetoric, articulating desired fates for Turkey, Europe, Russia, and America.
Thanks to a video like this, a great number of better categories for thinking through what ISIL is doing suggest themselves. “Cult of personality.” “Sharia-based Totalitarianism.” “Anti-secular reactionism.” “Fundamentalist Islamic social organization.” “Ritualized identity formation practices.” “Potentially pre-genocidal social classification systems.” “Indoctrination of the youth.” “Military training.” “Reeducation camps.” Etc.
All of this calls for scholarship that is outside of my areas of competence. Who is up to it?
Right now we are saddled by a leadership, a cross-party political and military-industrial order, that is determined to drop billions of dollars worth of ordinance on the nascent “Islamic State,” while claiming falsely that we won’t invade and put boots on the ground. They justify our policy with oversimplified propaganda that magnifies fear while minimizing understanding.
For the moment it appears that we Americans will have no choices between different policies, in either the 2014 or 2016 elections. We will be at war for the next few years—at least into 2017. An invasion may follow. What could stop it?
In the meantime, let’s at least be clear about who we are bombing, and honest about what we think that will accomplish.