The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Greyhound

Understanding religious divide is crucial to fighting the Islamic State


In his remarks to the U.N. General Assembly in 2014 President Obama rejected any notion of a “clash of civilizations” between America and Islam. He called Islamic religious terrorists “extremists who cannot build anything” and “peddle only fanaticism and hate,” while all the real Muslims want peace and justice and want to be integrated into the American society. Politically it was a smart move because the last thing Obama wants to do is to alienate the vast majority of peaceful Muslims with whom he needs to work if America is to defeat Islamic terrorism. However, from a foreign policy perspective such rhetoric is pure folly. The fact is that there is a clash of civilizations (to borrow the phrase from Samuel P. Huntington’s famous book) going on between Wahhabi Islam and America and in order to defeat Muslim extremism, Obama needs to take their religious pretensions seriously.

The last few months have proven this abundantly clear. From the Charlie Hebdo attacks to the three men that have been arrested in New York City on the suspicion of supporting ISIS, it is clear that the West is at war with an ideology. Not to mention the damage terrorists are doing to their own civilization and the countries surrounding it. From the over 2,000 locals killed in Bagra by Boko Haram, to the recent shooting at the Tunisian Museum, Islamic terrorists are not only engaged in an inter-civilizational war, but also in an intra-civilizational one as well.

Hopefully President Obama knows that, with his above remarks made just to placate peaceful Muslims. Either way, a recent article in The Atlantic entitled “What ISIS Really Wants” and authors like Jurgensmeyer show that those terrorists are not just a bunch of thugs who like destruction for its own sake, but see their actions as part of a greater cosmic struggle meant to bring about the Apocalypse. Graeme Wood, author of The Atlantic article, puts it bluntly that by pretending that the Islamic State “isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group…has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.” The fighters of the Islamic State consider themselves true Muslims and consider their coreligionists who refuse to join them to be heretics. They sincerely want the United States to put its troops on the ground in Iraq because they believe this will help to bring about the Apocalypse and God’s reign on Earth. Retaking land from them will not assure an easy victory because one of ISIS’ core tenets is that before the Apocalypse, the enemy’s armies will push them back and kill many of their fighters until there is about 5,000 cornered in Jerusalem. Then, Jesus is supposed to descend from the Heaven and bring about God’s Kingdom. As crazy as this might sound, Wood thinks we should take these beliefs seriously if we want to put an end to IS once and for all.

Mark Juergensmeyer, a political science professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, in his article “The Logic of Religious Violence” argues that religious terrorists impose a greater cosmic struggle onto their worldly one. This increases the morale and will of the terrorist because then he is fighting for something greater: God. His struggle is no longer a petty fight for measly worldly concerns but part of a great battle against good and evil. With a conviction like that, it is hard to wonder why a youth would strap a bomb to himself and blow up civilians or fight for a caliphate. Once you are fighting to purify the world and do God’s bidding nothing else matters.

Religious terrorists think of themselves as soldiers of the Lord because of a sick and disordered consciousness. This same false consciousness was observed in the anarchist and Marxist terrorists of the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They thought of themselves as bringing about a just and equal world order and following writings which they considered as infallible as the scripture. Basically, today’s religious terrorist is the former Marxist, but with a different ideology.

For President Obama to wage an effective counter-terrorism offensive he must recognize that religion is a motivating force for many of them. Otherwise he will fail to follow one of humanities oldest maxims: “Know thy enemy.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Greyhound Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
Understanding religious divide is crucial to fighting the Islamic State