Don’t mistake IS for Islam

IS is the bogeyman for the United States, a nation firmly focused on misdirection to the point of insisting that an extremist group in the Middle East is a bigger threat than domestic terrorism — while the actions of IS are without doubt reprehensible and the organisation does need to be put to a stop, the framing of IS as the number one risk to US national security is puzzling. What’s also frustrating is the repeated attempts to contextualise IS as a Muslim organisation, or as one somehow representing Islam. It’s not. It’s an extremist terrorist organisation using Islam as a very thin front to commit violence, as its members are well aware.

In the wake of horrific terrorist attacks by organisations that position themselves as warriors for Islam, all Muslims everywhere are expected to immediately abase themselves with apologies as though they’re responsible for the actions of extremists hiding behind their faith to commit unconscionable acts. Notably, many point out that Islam is a religion of peace, that fellowship is a core value of Muslim communities, that committing violence in the name of faith is a profound violation of the ideals of the Muslim community — the retort from conservatives in the West is usually sneers about how ‘a religion of peace’ condones such acts, reiterating the insistence that Muslims are to blame for people like those in IS.

The thing about IS is that regardless of its name, and the faith of those involved in the organisation, it’s not a Muslim group, its members don’t represent Islam, and its actions are not reflective of the Muslim community. Not just in the abstract sense that we need to stop blaming Muslims for what IS is doing, but in the very real and immediate sense. It’s an extremist terrorist organisation that’s focused on gaining territory and control in the Middle East for the purpose of exerting political and social power, targeting minorities in a war that includes the destruction of lives, families, and communities, along with history and culture — the loss of cultural antiquities at the hands of groups like IS and the Taliban can’t even be catalogued or fathomed.

These aren’t the actions of a group that’s attempting to convert people to a given religious faith, or even the actions of a group that’s focused on ensuring that their particular sect gains precedence over others. These are pure acts designed to control a populace, and religious pretenses create what the group thinks of as a shield, and as a lure to bring in disaffected people looking for meaning in their lives and longing to be a part of something greater. For conservatives who also happen to be Muslim, who use their faith to justify hateful ideas, IS can represent a golden opportunity — but it’s still not a Muslim group.

Every time the organisation is framed as Muslim, it strikes a blow against actual Muslims around the world, without IS having to lift a single finger. It serves to further isolate Muslim communities and create a world in which it’s extremely difficult to safely integrate, as interfaith communities resist the presence of Muslims among their ranks — we need look only to the controversy over broadcasting the call to prayer on a university campus that hosts a chapel with a famous carillon for an example. Were the organisation to actually be Muslim in nature, surely creating more difficult circumstances for other Muslims across the globe would be rather a violation of values — the group is dedicated to stamping out Islam itself, not just minorities and ancient cultures on its home turf.

That’s not the action of a Muslim group. Within Islam, there are many interpretations of the Qu’ran and many ways of looking at the faith, including conservative, moderate, and liberal ones; one Muslim is not a perfect match for another, and while some are highly liberalised, others take much more conservative stances. Some conservatives think that liberals aren’t ‘true’ Muslims and that they need to be rejected from the flock on the grounds of their impurities, while some liberals argue that conservatives don’t represent the true Islam — but terrorist groups, again, aren’t Muslim.

To suggest that they’re such is to harm even conservative Muslims — people with whom I have a number of bones to pick, suffice it to say — just as Christian terrorist organisations are not truly Christian, but only extremist groups using Christianity in an attempt to hide their real values. This isn’t about god, or faith, or sect, but about power and control, and a lust for territory and ultimate rule. IS and its actions are not Muslim, not even from the perspective of those who would argue for an extremely conservative interpretation of Islam that argues for only the strictest and most extreme definitions of ‘acceptable’ Muslimness — no group that would attack a mosque during Friday prayer during Ramadan is Muslim, no matter how conservative.

Islam is a religion of peace, and IS is not Islam. The group claims to want to restore a Muslim caliphate, complete with extremist religious values, but it’s not about that. It’s about establishing a dictatorship and seizing all the power that comes with it, and it could just as easily hide behind conservative Christianity or states’ rights or any number of other causes, depending on where it operated and who it was trying to appeal to. For a group working in the Middle East to detabilise nations, selecting Islam as a false front is a natural — and reprehensible — choice.

Image: Muslim Woman, Canterbury, Chris Beckett, Flickr