A favourite tactic of trolls is the 'wall of facts'. You would be surprised by the amount of people who attribute weight to an argument because of its volume. Last Thursday The Atlantic posted 10k words with the title, 'What ISIS really wants?'. The answer is take us back into the medieval world.
Here's the chorus of response. Lets see who praised the article,
Wood, of course, didn't accidentally invent the idea that violent passages in Islamic texts make the religion especially prone to violence, or that ISIS's supposedly Islamic nature is evidence of deeper issues within the tradition. These concepts have been around for some time, but are becoming increasingly popular among two groups that usually find themselves ideologically opposed — namely, right-wing conservatives and the so-called "New Atheists," a subset of atheism in the West.
Ah, the usual Islamophobes. Now lets see a balanced reception to the article,
The beliefs of Islamic State... are expounded upon at length. In arguing the case for Islamic State's religious legitimacy, The Atlantic quotes exactly one Western academic, Bernard Haykel, a Princeton scholar of Near Eastern Studies,... From there, Wood does a brief tour of several Western cities... This entails traveling to places like London and Melbourne to seek out the opinions of people such as British radical Anjem Choudary and Musa Cerantonio, who lack any religious credentials or mainstream following, and whose qualifications seemingly do not extend past their ability to behave provocatively in front of journalists.
It seems like a fairly consequential oversight to ignore the views of influential and traditional scholarly figures like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir and Sayyid Hossein Nasr — all of whom who have spoken at length in religious terms against the Islam preached by Islamic State, and who are easily accessible to an English-language, American publication.
At worst, such an approach replicates the irritating practice of writing about foreign or minority populations as though they are passive subjects with no voice of their own, save for fringe characters who can be relied upon to confirm a particular narrative.
Such a style of writing and argumentation may make for enjoyable reading to a casual observer attempting to gauge the relationship between ISIS and Islam from the outside. And indeed, the piece is erudite, well-written, and one may even say well-intentioned despite its flaws.
But the underlying premise is nonetheless poorly substantiated.
While Wood is correct to push back against the flawed notion that Islamic State has absolutely no relation to Islam, he neglects to engage the predominant view that the group embodies one of the heretical versions of the religion that have cropped up periodically throughout history.
The end result is a 10,000-word exercise in confirmation bias. If the Islamic State is indeed, as Wood claims, "very Islamic," his essay makes an unconvincing case of it to anyone familiar with the historical and religious context in which the group has arisen.
Well, What did the expert quoted, Dr. Bernard Haykel, have to say,
"The reason ISIS emerged clearly has to do with the chaos in Iraq, the disenfranchisement of the Sunnis of Iraq (which is the result of the American invasion-occupation), and the chaos in Syria (which is a regime that has also disenfranchised Sunni Muslims),"...
"I see ISIS as a symptom of a much deeper structural set of problems in the Sunni Arab world," he said. "[It has] to do with politics. With education, and the lack thereof. With authoritarianism. With foreign intervention. With the curse of oil."
Right. Now can we have a polemic against this piece,
For all this fearful talk of a global Muslim Caliphate, it's the West that has made real progress in creating transnational institutions. There's no Muslim counterpart to the European Union, the Schengen Treaty, NATO, the G-20—a Western initiative—or the many bilateral and multilateral agreements and processes that make the West what it is. Nor is this exclusively a mark of the Muslim world: You think China, Brazil or India enjoys the alliances we do? The kinds of integration that make our societies so prosperous and powerful?...
What would you think would happen to people raised in that kind of place [Iraq]? What would you think could possibly come out of this kind of context? Would you be surprised if I said ISIS? ISIS didn't come out of nowhere. Already our intervention in Libya has opened the door to the same kind of chaos Iraq has seen so much more of — is it any surprise there's an ISIS franchise in Libya now, too? The same foreign policy mistakes produce the same results.
Finally, can we have the truth about Islamic fundamentalism?
It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology, with a very significant debt to western political history and culture...
When he made his speech in July at Mosul's Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A'la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state.
Such sovereignty is completely absent in medieval culture, with its fragmented world and multiple sources of power. Its origins lie instead in the Westphalian system of states and the modern scientific revolution.
But Maududi's debt to European political history extends beyond his understanding of sovereignty. Central to his thought is his understanding of the French Revolution, which he believed offered the promise of a "state founded on a set of principles" as opposed to one based upon a nation or a people. For Maududi this potential withered in France, its achievement would have to await an Islamic state (The Process of the Islamic Revolution).
In revolutionary France, it is the state that creates its citizens and nothing should be allowed to stand between the citizen and the state. That is why still today French government agencies are prevented by law from collecting data about ethnicity, considered a potential intermediary community between state and citizen.
This universal citizen, separated from community, nation or history, lies at the heart of Maududi's vision of "citizenship in Islam" (Islamic Way of Life). Just as the revolutionary French state created its citizens, with the citizen unthinkable outside the state, so too the Islamic state creates its citizens. This is at the basis of Maududi's otherwise unintelligible argument that one can only be a Muslim in an Islamic state.
Don't look to the Koran to understand this – look to the French Revolution and ultimately to the secularisation of an idea that finds its origins in European Christianity: Extra ecclesia nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation), an idea that became transformed with the birth of modern European states into Extra stato nulla persona (outside the state there is no legal personhood). This idea still demonstrates extraordinary power today, the source of what it means to be a refugee.
If IS's Islamic State is profoundly modern, so too is its violence. IS fighters do not simply kill. They seek to humiliate as we saw last week as they herded Syrian reservists wearing only their underpants to their death. And they seek to dishonour the bodies of their victims, in particular through postmortem manipulations.
Such manipulations aim at destroying the body as a singularity. The body becomes a manifestation of a collectivity to be obliterated, its manipulation rendering what was once a human person into an "abominable stranger". Such practices are increasingly evident in war today, from the Colombian necktie to troops trading images of body parts to access pornographic websites during the Iraq war.
So what was the argument for connection with the medieval world? Mr. Wood has three words for us - "Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings." Ah, those sensational idiots. Why can't they kill people in a 'humane', modern manner - the injection, the chair - a manner which turns this cathartic event into a humdrum daily occurrence with nothing film worthy about it. Hey lets agree to show only fictional gore in this nation, all right? & what was the policy measure anyway for which such a hefty argument was constructed?,
Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options.
So much labour and controversy, just to justify the status quo explicitly. Centrist journalism mystifies me.